USI's new Information System: reliable data for better decisions
Institutional Communication Service
2 May 2022
What is data-driven decision making? Having up-to-date, reliable and easily accessible data is crucial for making the best strategic decisions, consistent with organisational objectives. This is one of the reasons that USI is investing significant resources in updating its Information System in the field of business intelligence. We talk about this with Professor Benedetto Lepori, Head of the Research and Knowledge Transfer Service, who has been working on the figures for scientific research projects.
Prof. Lepori, the project developed for you makes information on research projects available via the business intelligence infrastructure with different levels of aggregation: by researcher, institute, faculty and university. Let's start by understanding what relevance an Information System has for research?
An Information System has several functions: one is strategic, providing an up-to-date, real-time view of the progress of activities, funding and research products. This is not only at institutional level, with monitoring of the service contract between USI and the Canton, but also at the level of organisational units and research institutes; the other function is of a managerial nature. On the one hand, it makes it possible to manage the day-to-day flow in a more streamlined manner, e.g. the management of institute contracts and their progress, the monitoring of human resources, etc., and on the other to share information between the various services dealing with research (SRIT, controlling, human resources, Pro-Rectors).
For whom and for what purpose is such structured data needed?
The Information System provides for different types of data. There is data on the acquired research projects, which are important from a financial point of view but also as a reputational measure; data on PhD students, which, in addition to statistics, make it possible to observe - for example - the time in which PhD theses are completed or the so-called 'drop out rates', which are an indicator of the quality of doctoral education . This data also make it possible to monitor the career path of PhDs (both at academic level and in industry and the public sector) and make it possible to understand what positions they obtain in the academic world. The Information System is therefore a very important tool for determining the effectiveness of doctoral education and, more generally, the quality of research.
The project also includes a module on scientific publications, managed by the USI University Libraries, which will make it possible to monitor the publication activities of researchers and institutes, and the research budget module, which will make it possible to quantify the university's research costs and the extent to which the university's income is linked to research activities.
The levels of aggregation are crucial as they reflect the organisation and strategy of the university. The aim is to produce data divided by units of interest. As far as the field of research is concerned, the main unit of interest is the institutes, i.e. the facilities where research takes place.
How did you define the most relevant indicators in the field of research projects?
It should be remembered that, in general, indicators are a field of study. There are journals and conferences on these indicators. I am part of this field as a professor in the Faculty of Communication, Culture and Society at USI. The indicators are modelled on international standards. The indicators on research projects are simple, they refer to the number of projects, or rather the financial volume that has been created. There are two indicators: acquired projects and annualised indicators. The former offer an immediate answer on the ability to acquire funds, the latter give a longitudinal view since all indicators are produced over time, since it is the trend that counts rather than the absolute level.
Do you also see advantages for individual lecturers?
Yes, but I would call them indirect. I don't imagine that professors and teachers are going to consult their data on business intelligence, because they already know it. The advantages are indirect in the sense that the institution's knowledge of precise situations allows the professors to work more efficiently. If the Research and Knowledge Transfer Service contacts a professor for a submission strategy, being aware of the history of the projects won by the professor provides immediate mapping for prompt advice. The Information System is a tool that allows USI's services, the Pro-Rectors and the Rectorate to be precise in helping the academic body. Aggregated data is also interesting at community level, as it enables comparisons to be made within the university.
In addition to bringing benefits in its field, this pilot project has made it possible to gain skills that will be useful in the implementation of subsequent business intelligence modules. In recent months, a module on the numbers of Bachelor's and Master's students' pre-enrolments has also been produced at the request of the Pro-Rector for Education and Students' experience, Professor Lorenzo Cantoni. The work plan foresees the systematisation of metrics on doctoral students as the next task.