Carnegie Mellon business school drives world-class education with data

Among the world's top business schools, the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University focuses on management science, decision-making based on quantitative models, and an analytical approach to problem solving. Tepper students partner with engineering, robotics, biotechnology, product design and computer science across the research university. In this interview, Executive Director of Finance Ted Curran spoke with us about how Tableau is helping the school continually improve innovation and education.

Tableau: How did Tableau originally get introduced to your school?
Ted Curran, Executive Director of Finance: The primary impetus for Tableau was our dean’s vision and strategic priority toward international expansion, visibility, and cross-campus collaboration. Tableau helps us put key performance indicators in place so that we can see how are we doing currently, where we’re going, and ensure we're aligning with strategic goals.

Tableau: How has Tableau helped you stay on strategy?
Ted: As a finance and business operations leader, being able to see quickly and easily how we're doing in our academic programs, our administrative programs and our research centers, and being able to see when things aren't aligned with plans is critical. When you have to set a budget a year in advance with business changing and business school education changing so rapidly, you need a tool that can help make sure you're on track from a financial and operational perspective and help you to change on a dime when you need to. We have some areas such as marketing where we've taken our entire budget and aligned it not only against strategic plans but also against where projects go across areas—to see which things are truly planned vs. unplanned and essentially recognize which things don’t come in a budget cycle.

Tableau: Has Tableau helped you consolidate data across campus?
Ted: The first thing we did was look at what kind of reports people were creating and ask questions about what information could help them make better decisions. It turned out data was being sent in from 14 or 15 different systems. And often, the answer involved looking across different types of data, like events data and gifts data, to discover if, for example, people who attend events give gifts, if certain events drive more gifts, where did a particular individual give a gift and what was it designated for. So, rather than having all these people sending in reports, Tableau allowed us to create a consistent look and feel with consistent metrics and setup in place to ensure that we're all using the same definition for specific terms. It's fantastic not only for the school in understanding its own operations, but also when we report externally for surveys or other kind of benchmarking information.

Tableau: Was it easy to get started and spread Tableau at the university?
Ted: The Tepper School of Business was able to do rapid prototyping in basically a two-week period, knocking out a 10-part dean's dashboard, which brought together the key information we wanted to track. This proved the concept for operational support, and it also became the springboard for other colleges on campus such as our engineering school or our facilities management to immediately latch onto the solution. We shared the work we were doing so we could have a consistency across colleges on the campus for financial data or admissions data or career center data.

Tableau: How has Tableau improved your access and use of information?
Ted: The ability to access key information anywhere has been fantastic. The ability to access key information anywhere in a secure format has been a huge value component for us. Our dean can be across the world in Asia and be able to get a quick financial summary or understand at any time what our current numbers are in faculty, staff and students.

The other benefit has been the drilldown capability, whether it's through the iPad or through a web browser. Say we have five students from a particular target demographic, to be able to drill in and understand basic information about these individuals—maybe we met them at a particular career fair or they were recommended by an alum. This is very powerful information as we continue to increase the quality of our experience and grow the Tepper School brand and Carnegie Mellon around the world.

Tableau: What’s the biggest impact Tableau has had on you personally?
Ted: One of my primary roles is to steward the finances of the school and ensure that we are able to sustain ourselves over time, and continue to be a world-class business school. Tableau has really helped me make sure that we maintain the long-term sustainability of the business.

For me, Tableau immediately put a flashlight onto our data, and that helped identify where we were strong, where we were weak, and what kinds of things we are missing in what we're collecting and capturing. Tableau has really helped us make sure that the data in our systems is solid.

To be able to quickly see information visually rather than looking at a report and trying to make heads or tails of it really make it easy for people of all levels to understand. Equally important, it helps us to focus on the things that truly matter, what we're doing well in, where we can make adjustments, what are the outliers.

Tableau: Can you give us examples of insight gained through Tableau?
Ted: Tableau's solution has helped us understand a number of things across both academic and administrative areas. For example, in academic areas seeing which classes are over or underutilized and being able to make changes on a room basis or making sure we have the right mix of faculty teaching appropriate classes.

We’re also looking at how we can use dashboards for our students, so that we can track their goals. Tableau is a fantastic solution to help really align business education with the career objectives are of our students. Maybe you're a military person and you want to go into operations. Well, there are specific things that will help you along that way, so why not capture and understand what they are so that the individual can see how their own progress is going against their own goals?

Tableau: How is Tableau changing your industry?
Ted: One of my passions in finance is understanding return on human capital. In so many industries, whether consulting or software firms or education, somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of costs are people. And oftentimes when you look at financial statements, you're looking at an income statement, you're looking at a balance sheet, but you don't truly get the metrics around people, the value of your talent. I believe we've just scratched the surface in what we can do with regards to understanding our people, knowing the value of when you have a key person who leads, when you're not able to fill a position, or how your mobility index is going.

For example, one of my upcoming kind of key objectives is skills inventory, understanding the skills that people have and where they want to go so that we make sure we're matching opportunities and giving a chance for people that maybe weren't aware of that had a desire to move into another area. For organizations that are really serious and passionate about growing their people and getting people new assignments and pushing them forward, being able to capture that key performance and human resources and goal data is going to be critical.

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