Why the importance of smart data management in higher education shouldn’t be underestimated

05 October 2020 - Why the importance of smart data management in higher education shouldn’t be underestimated

More than ever, recent events have brought to the forefront the importance of integrated technology to respond to crises and digitally transform existing processes. A key part of this process is systems integration to allow the sharing of data across locations in real-time and connect siloed systems, which is vital for organisations across the board.

It’s this type of smart data management that InterSystems helped the NHS achieve in order to safely and securely share patient data between the newly-founded 5,000 capacity Nightingale Hospital Birmingham and 16 acute NHS trust sites during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, while it was the world health crisis that spurred on this type of digital transformation, smart data management has long been needed not only within healthcare, but also within sectors such as education – particularly larger institutions such as colleges and universities. This is because smart data management uses technology to facilitate the sharing of data between systems with the aim of improving the end user’s experience when dealing with their data.

The parallels between healthcare and education

This topic formed the basis for our recent webinar, in which we partnered with higher and further education association, ucisa to discuss not only how smart data management helped the Nightingale Hospital Birmingham to rapidly respond to COVID-19, but also how these learnings can be implemented in the higher education sector to enhance the student experience. After all, large organisations like healthcare institutions and universities have a lot in common in the way they treat and use personal data, and there are also a lot of similar challenges in the way data is shared between systems and across institutions.

The need for integration

As I’ve discussed previously, students are now demanding the same digital-first approach from universities and colleges that they get from almost every other aspect of their lives. For higher education institutions this has means continuing to digitise processes, but this in turn has left them with many disparate systems and data silos.

This is resulting in a more fragmented experience for students who may end up having to share the same information multiple times. This is a common problem echoed in healthcare settings. On enrolment, students are likely to share data such as their date of birth, email address, phone number, and home address. If each system within the organisation isn’t integrated then this results in the students needing to share this same data multiple times for different systems, such as those for the campus doctor to the library, becoming a cumbersome and slow process. Coupled with the fact that some institutions are spread across several campuses or even cities, the need for the seamless sharing of data between systems, departments, and locations is clear.

We’re currently in an age of improving data quality and smart data management plays into this, enabling the most up-to-date contact details for a student, for example, to be shared across relevant parties to avoid them being repeatedly asked for the same information.

Leaving home to go to university is an already stressful experience for many students, and with this stress perhaps likely to be intensified this year due to ongoing uncertainty, doing everything possible to streamline data sharing should be a top priority for higher education institutions.

Getting buy in for integration projects

One thing that anyone who has worked on implementing systems within a large organisation can attest to is that there are always challenges when it comes to adoption. As a result, whether in a hospital environment or a campus setting, adoption requires work, and this means ensuring that the benefits of new systems and integration projects are demonstrated from the very beginning.
Within universities, this means showing the impact data sharing is having not only on the student experience but also processes internally. Data sharing is likely to increase efficiencies and create consistency across departments and even across multiple campuses.

Specific security challenges
The importance of testing and undertaking due diligence before procuring a new system cannot be underestimated. It is also paramount for new data systems to be compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and working closely with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) can help to achieve this.

InterSystems possess the pedigree of managing 16 million patient records in the state of New York in the US, and in the case of the Nightingale Hospital in Birmingham, the organisation went above and beyond in ensuring GDPR compliance, which is crucial for UK based projects.

Storage of data is likely to involve use of a cloud hosting system. Educational institutions need to be mindful that although no internationally recognised standard of cloud hosting exists, many trusted providers meet the Cloud Computing Compliance Controls Catalogue (C5) requirements for information security.

Sharing student data

Ultimately, the challenge of organising data and making sense of it is a challenge that must be tackled collaboratively by engaging with end users, while staying mindful of specific security challenges that may apply to the project. It means getting the most up to date information from students and adopting smart data management strategies and solutions to then share it across the board. This will save them the time and effort of sharing the same information to save on admin both for the student and for the organisation.

Fortunately, it’s not just data challenges that healthcare and education institutions have in common, but it’s also the solutions. As demonstrated by the Nightingale Hospital Birmingham, integrating their systems will allow them to more effectively and efficiently share data between systems and locations to reduce the impetus on students to share the same data multiple times and offer an improved student experience.