Building a Benchmarking Foundation on Consistent, Accurate Data

Data has become a foundational part of nearly all areas of higher education management. Performance indicators are used to help improve student outcomes, and data-based benchmarking has become critical as institutions seek to differentiate themselves in an environment where colleges and universities are competing against not just one another but also online and trade schools. Administrators see data as a necessary building block for creating a successful institution, and data has become a language through which all stakeholders can communicate their varying strategic and operational needs.

The Facility Management department is no exception. Data has become one of the most important tools not only for ensuring the proper performance of buildings across the campus, but keeping campuses competitive among similar institutions. But data can do much more for this department. Strong data can help professionals within the Facilities Department clearly lay out the value of campus improvements. It can also serve as the base for a common vocabulary with institution trustees, a step that can help secure needed funding. Today, data is very much the foundation of a successful Facilities Department.

Building with Consistency and Accuracy

Facilities professionals know better than anyone that you can’t build a building on an unstable foundation. If you are turning to data to strengthen high-level decision-making, Building a Benchmarking Foundation on Consistent, Accurate Data it’s necessary to use data that is accurate and consistent. Facilities managers need the best data available to build a reliable foundation for useful benchmarking.

The best data is not just accurate, but also consistent data. You would never employ different methods of collecting data across the buildings on your campus, because you know that the benchmarking would be essentially meaningless. Similarly, you need to use consistent methodology when making comparisons between campuses. But while you can potentially put metrics in place that ensure that the same data is collected across all of your facilities, this clearly isn’t possible when looking to compare your campus to other campuses.

The truth is, to get consistent and accurate information for benchmarking across campuses, you can’t rely on each college or university reporting their own data. There are simply too many variables, as every institution accounts for finances and resources differently.

By working with a third-party company for data analysis and benchmarking, facility managers gain reliable insight into the strategic and operational performance of their own campus, and their peers’ performance. It’s for this reason that consistency and accuracy is the basis of Sightlines’ data collection processes. We collect data ourselves rather than relying on reporting based on each institution’s varied best practices.

Because of this, we’re able to establish an accurate baseline that is consistent across all types of higher education institutions. When all of the collected data is tested for accuracy, reviewed longitudinally, and compared to other data pieces, we’re able to demonstrate uniformity, qualify the information on-hand and establish confidence in our comparisons.

Creating Context for your Data

Once you gather your data, the next step is to put it to use. You need to be able to use that data by putting metrics into place upon which you build and communicate your planning. These metrics need to be constructed in a way that’s technical, so that this information can be used to pinpoint improvements upon which the Facilities Department can act. But this information also must be used strategically. When it comes to data, context is critical.

If data is the foundation upon which you’re looking to secure funding for campus improvements, then context is your structural support. You can’t simply use your data to create a list of “need to dos.” You don’t want to go to trustees talking about chillers, boilers and roofs. You want to frame discussions around strategy, investment and commitment.

So how do you make this shift from data to knowledge to action? Consider the following four steps:

  • Talk to stakeholders to get an understanding of their priorities, and an overall picture of the overall institutional mission. This will help you to understand where facilities needs fit into future planning, and better prioritize improvements.
  • Use your data for prioritization. Not every campus need is equal. Some projects will have greater urgency than others, or push the campus closer to its ultimate goal more quickly.
  • Create a list that is framed, targeted and clear. To do this, it helps to have your end goal in mind. Focus on the data that supports your specific goals.
  • Support your data with an argument that the layperson can understand. By limiting the jargon on your list, and clearly articulating your plans for improvement, you’ll more rapidly win over your audience to your cause.

 For example, your discussions with stakeholders might reveal a common theme toward expanding the campus while reducing its carbon footprint to make the institution more competitive with nearby universities that are using sustainability as a marketing theme. Here you can turn to data to demonstrate how installation of a combined heat and power system will not only help meet the Facilities Departments’ goal of modernizing a quickly failing power system, but also help drive the institution forward in its sustainability mission and generate savings for future investments. With data that supports this goal, everyone wins.

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