Jon Boeckenstedt: "A Ton of Data Seeks an Ounce of Insight"

Vanya Tucherov covering Jon Boeckenstadt of DePaul University at the Tableau Customer Conference 2011:

"If I were the king of the world, things would have proceeded much differently. That I'm not- and that I have to work collaboratively with others to get things done- meant that I've had to do things the way that I have." So started DePaul University's Associate Vice President for Enrollment Policy and Planning Jon Boeckenstedt.

At one point or another in our careers, we've likely all encountered situations where we've made similar statements, but hearing how other people overcome the obstacles they have needed to can help inspire, help get unstuck, or just provide ideas.

DePaul University has a series of data sources, and in order to meet their reporting needs may need to interact with five or six different types of servers to get the data they need. "We have data everywhere- and when I say everywhere, I mean it. We have Excel spreadsheets and Access databases on peoples desktops, all the way up to massive data cubes. We have people who are self-appointed Data Guardians, who can be incredibly proprietary about their data or concerned with strict adherence to regulatory guidelines. We have a Data Jungle."

All this can lead to stress and a need to juggle the dichotomies of rapid versus slow feedback and reward and high versus low risk and the costs involved with each sort. Even more conflict can come from dealing with known routine and tradition.

Boeckenstadt traced the progression he has seen during his career, from Harvard Graphics through one-off reports presented in PowerPoint which needed to be updated five times a year from data assembled from diverse sources and finally to Tableau- at first with a few Desktop licenses and a handful of Readers, but which has finally grown to Server.

Even after migrating to Server, there was significant resistance from within- concerns on who could access the views. After a significant number of discussions and evolutions, the implementation at DePaul has increased to include not only Server access to the audiences who need it on campus, but also Tableau Digital to allow for off-site access to particular pieces of information.

"Get rid of the elevator operators. Let people push their own buttons. Let them see what the data says." When you negotiate, empower your position by being able to bring to the table something which the person you're meeting with can't get any other way. That lets you have some instant credibility- and can really help to win the day. Particularly when you can do this easily and quickly on the fly to present information, you can really make a strong case. "If you have the patience in a slow-and-steady culture, you'll win the race. Sometimes- if you have the stomach for it, you can even go strong and fast."

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