For the people who steward campus facilities, tracking data about the care of assets which are often 4-5 times the value of an institution’s endowment is now essential standard practice. Analyzing that data year over year and comparing amongst colleagues provides a way to measure how a campus is doing with its stewardship. But how data is tracked and what is done with it remains inconsistent, at best.
In conversations I’m having across the country, finance and facilities leaders share their stories of success and struggle, wondering whether they are keeping up or falling behind. Rarely does anyone feel like they are ahead of the game. The implications of their facilities choices reach far and wide. These leaders want an objective means to determine what to focus on and to assess whether resources are being put toward the critical issues, today and well into the future.
10 Essential Questions to Ask about Data Analysis
When preparing to measure performance, college and university leaders need to gather the right information. Here are 10 essential benchmarking questions.
- What are the key data points?
- Is all data relevant to performance and are there key performance indicators?
- What is locally important and what is uniform across the industry?
- How does one assure that the data collected this year is collected the same way as last year?
- Are benchmarks being assessed in context or by themselves?
- Is my trusted colleague on a peer campus tracking the same way?
- Are benchmarks used to guide a decision-making process or are they simply success/failure measures?
- Does the data you review today tell you what your campus will need next year or next decade?
- Does your process help connect decision making to mission or educational success?
- Can you tell if you have made any progress?
What Good Benchmarking Does for You
Successful benchmarking delivers reliable, trusted information for more focused campus leadership. It enables jargon-free dialogue using common vocabulary among the many constituents on campus so the people in the board room and the boiler room can collectively make better choices: better decisions about operating practices, better understanding of space, better insights on capital demands and allocations. Quality benchmarking unleashes potential and makes it possible to rein in waste. It extends consistent knowledge across the community and allows the alignment of facilities investment with the mission of the campus. It empowers wise financial discipline and strategic leadership.
Making Benchmarking Analysis Actionable
All the facilities data in the world is useless unless it can be interpreted and turned into an actionable plan. Many colleges and universities without the internal resources seek help to complete this effort. Those with internal capacity often seek the partnership of external colleagues to bolster, challenge or expand their insights. These collaborations have allowed Sightlines to establish strong benchmarking relationships where facilities leaders have secured more money from leadership long skeptical of the value of investment. Some campuses have altered the trajectory of capital investment plans by demonstrating the negative impact on the institution long term. Still others have reshaped their strategy for deploying their talent to optimize maintenance, reduce costs or enhance service. No matter the outcome, there is value in gathering objective input to make current practice stronger.
The people who steward campuses facilities face an increasingly complex leadership environment. They must understand their facilities activities and decisions today through effective measurement and analysis, so that their campuses can be positioned to thrive tomorrow.