Northwestern Connects Tableau to Live Cognos Data

The Senturus Analytics Connector delivers auto-updated KPIs “like magic” at Northwestern University

Spread across several campuses in the Chicago area, Northwestern University receives a significant amount of annual funding. In 2017 alone, the school received $675 million in sponsored research awards. A significant amount of data goes along with receiving and managing the distribution of those contributions to various university departments. The process involves many strategic decisions, and the school seeks to do so in a quantitative fashion. Departmental administrators and senior staff need to assess key performance indicators (KPIs). Data security is also a critical consideration.

The University wanted to create metrics that count research success and administrative efficiency. It also wanted to improve the speed and timeliness of reports and allow management to view up-to-the-minute KPIs.

Rinse and repeat: inefficient, time consuming manual process

The process for developing funding reports in Tableau and distributing them to various University departments was a manual, error-prone, time-intensive process that resulted in stale data. University analysts extracted data from the existing Cognos store, essentially using the venerable BI tool for ETL. To marry up the data, analysts would build complicated spreadsheets, using elaborate VLookups and other forms of data synchronizing duct tape. Once the (static) Excel files were synched and ready, they would source their Tableau reports from them. By the time they were able to deliver the reports, the data was already stale. This process would be repeated weekly, monthly or quarterly depending on the reports needed.

Given the complicated business logic data being pulled into Tableau from multiple sources, it was difficult to get the correct numbers together. Plus, for institutional research that deals with millions of dollars in grants, much of which is highly sensitive, security is also an important consideration. The University wanted to keep its data secure in Cognos and have live data flow through to Tableau without additional work.

Automated, current KPIs…like magic

With the Senturus Analytics Connector in place to bridge the curated, secure data in Cognos with Tableau, Northwestern has drastically cut the amount of time it takes to deliver reports and has ensured data security.

  • Data gets served up quickly and accurately and reports are immediately available to senior administration.
  • Leadership is able to drill through to the underlying data behind the visualizations, allowing them to answer the inevitable questions that come up when viewing KPIs.
  • Department heads can feel confident in the numbers being reported, since they are being drawn from the clean, sanctioned data in Cognos.

According to Kimberley Griffin, Director for Electronic Research Administration at Northwestern, the Analytics Connector delivers excellent business value. “[The Analytics Connector] allows us to meet our appetite for data that isn’t old news. Our senior leadership is able to access dynamically updated KPIs. The Analytics Connector makes us look like magicians.”

Using the Analytics Connector, the University has also been able to embed the analytics into a custom-built website (via SharePoint) while maintaining security. The research and medical departments have one-click access to live data on a variety of metrics. Because the Analytics Connector is pulling data against the Cognos system, users are prompted for their secure login.

The Northwestern senior administration staff now has timely access to secure and accurate data that enables them to understand the “why” behind their KPIs and to respond quickly. They can drill down on the bars or lines in their Tableau vizzes and get the data underpinning the metrics for which they are accountable. The data is secure and accurate. Northwestern’s inefficient manual processes and stale data are things of the past, thanks to the Senturus Analytics Connector.

If you’d like to hear the full details of how Northwestern is leveraging the Senturus Analytics Connector, watch the on-demand webinar for a firsthand account.

Connect with Senturus

Sign up to be notified about our upcoming events

Back to top