How a simple question grew into a vision for a data-informed future

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stairs with a floating question mark in a blue sky with clouds
(Arek Socha from Pixabay)

Some of you may have heard folks from ITS talking about the “Where’s Our Data?” effort that spun up around seven months ago and probably wondered: What exactly does that mean?

When our new VPIT-CIO Ravi Pendse arrived on campus last August, he spent several months listening to the U-M community about IT needs and asking questions. With an eye toward enabling campus to leverage enterprise data to support making data-informed decisions, Pendse asked ITS leaders a simple question: Where’s our data?

A simple question with a complex answer

It might seem easy, but the answer to this question is actually very complex. ITS enterprise systems house a tremendous amount of data, but what data is available, who can access it, where it goes, and how it is used, is anything but simple.

From this question sprung a “Where’s Our Data?” project to inventory the data currently housed in each of ITS’s enterprise systems and the integrations that exist between ITS systems and other campus systems managed outside of ITS. The effort also documented the sensitivity classification of the information. The project team analyzed and diagrammed the integrations among the enterprise systems listed below and presented the results to ITS staff and other groups on campus:

Data Informed Campus

A vision for the future

Recently, the team worked with ITS leaders to create a document that outlines our vision for the future. Achieving this vision will require many steps, and will take quite a bit of time and effort by ITS and the U-M community. We are at the starting line, working to document, classify, and increase awareness of the data we currently manage. We have expanded the scope of our work beyond the original question of “Where is our Data?” and are exploring other data-related initiatives.

We have renamed the effort “A Data-Informed Decision Making Ecosystem at U-M.” The program calls for U-M to be an empowered community of data consumers who have on-demand, role-based access to enterprise data.

Next steps: partners & bots

So what comes next? The project team is beginning to engage with schools and units on campus that are interested in working collaboratively with ITS to further explore enterprise data and the metrics it can provide them. We are also looking to partner with a school, college, or unit to continue our data inventory and to better understand the use of the data they receive from ITS within their systems and business processes: Where is it stored and where is it sent from there? How is it manipulated and integrated with other data? And what it is being used for? This feedback will help us understand how we might make it easier for units to access the information they need.

The team is also working on a proof-of-concept Voice Assistant Chatbot, a tool for data consumers to interact with enterprise data by asking natural language-based questions and using Google-like search to get right to the information they need. A group of Michigan IT staff started work on this effort as part of the Hacks with Friends event in March, and that work is being continued and improved by several ITS staff. Hopefully you will get the opportunity to see a demo of “MiBot” in the near future, but for now, check out this test video.

Schools, colleges and units that have an interest in learning more about this effort should reach out to the project team at its.whereisourdata.coreteam@umich.edu.