SUFE transforms data analysis and visualization with Tableau

Tableau is not only easy to use, but its strong design capabilities also allow us to create beautiful and engaging dashboards that enhance the value of our reporting. In addition to the visual element, Tableau also shortened our analysis time frame from one to two weeks previously to just one to two days now.

Data analytics in education

China has one the largest education system in the world. According to the China Education Center, almost 9.4 million students took the National Higher Education Entrance Examination in 2014. Compared to about 1.4 percent of China’s college-age population receiving higher education in 1978, the country now has about 20 percent of this group of people in tertiary education institutions.

Shanghai University of Finance and Economics (SUFE) is a renowned research university in China that specializes in economics, finance and business studies. It has over 20,000 students attending its undergraduate, graduate and targeted research programs at any one time.

Established in 1917, the university is now a multidimensional university best known for its applied economics and management studies, with economic theories as its basis. Specialty subjects taught at SUFE include science, social sciences, laws, philosophy and humanities.

Student enrollment figures at SUFE have been rising over the years, and the university is increasingly dealing with more data. Operations have also become more complex. The school’s Office of Data Engineering and Analytics now deals with more data than ever before.

Viz showing the number of theses generated from each college

The team regularly uses Tableau to analyze data to gain insights into things like the number of academic theses generated at each of the colleges, as well as the composition of the students and teachers. Through the data, they also find out about student enrollment, student-teacher ratio, resource distribution, and employment trends.

Data engineering made easy

There are currently 20 people in the Office of Data Engineering and Analytics, and six of them use Tableau regularly.

“The amount of data that we analyze is actually not massive, but they come from a wide range of sources involving many departments and various systems,” clarified Gao Liang, a data engineer at SUFE.

Gao and his team discovered Tableau in 2011 when they were looking for a data analytics and visualization tool that could assist them in quick and fuss-free data analysis. He added: “We found Tableau to be extremely easy to use, and it has very low barriers to adoption even for people with limited analytics knowledge. You don’t have to be a data scientist to make the most out of what Tableau has to offer.”

Furthermore, Gao feels that Tableau has greatly enhanced the derivation and presentation of the diverse range of data that they commonly deal with. He said: “With its interactive features, Tableau also helps us analyze trends from a more macro point of view. This allows us to make big picture comparison and draw informed conclusions about trends. Compared to the past when we depended on Microsoft Excel almost exclusively, we can now have both a macro and detailed view of things within a shorter period of time.”

Faster and more complete insights

The team used to take one to two weeks to get results from their data before they could present to management at the university. This included cleaning up their data and performing analysis using spreadsheets.

These days, time from data to insights is significantly reduced to just one or two days from having clean data sets to work with. Gao’s team can now quantify and represent the various dimensions of analysis much more easily, presenting figures such as ratio of professor to students, students to courses in a more visually appealing manner.

“We find the Tableau visualizations very attractive, and when we share these dashboards with the business development and management teams. We have also received positive feedback from our internal audience regarding the depth of our analysis and the striking visuals of our reports. Honestly, these reports do not take us very long to create these days,” Gao commented.

Rapid-fire analytics for everyone

Gao Liang believes adoption of Tableau will spread further across the university. Over the last five years, he and his team have conducted five training sessions for university staff with each session attended by 30 to 50 people. These sessions are designed to introduce Tableau as an effective data analytics and visualization tool suitable for anyone. It is also Gao’s intention to interest some of the head of departments across the university to deploy Tableau and use it for their daily tasks that involve data.

Gao believes Tableau’s ease of use and low barriers to adoption allows would be users to try it. He said: “Anyone can and should start using Tableau to get a sense of how his organization or his team would benefit from it. He can explore before deciding on whether it is the right tool before deciding to deploy it on a larger scale across the organization.”

Gao concludes that Tableau has allowed him and his team to cut through the clutter of information available to them across the various channels in the university. “Tableau has liberated the data for us, and it allows us to conduct the complicated and multi-layered analysis in a shorter amount of time. The lively colors and visuals also make our audience – academics and management – more receptive to the findings,” Gao opined.

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