The University of Auckland

Better agility, speed and transparency is delivering benefits for one of NZ’s oldest institutions…

The University of Auckland

Ranked amongst the best universities in the world, The University of Auckland (UoA) is also one of New Zealand’s largest, with eight faculties over six campuses serving more than 30,000 equivalent full-time students.

Such a large and complex organisation generates a significant amount of data, and converting that data into information that is valuable to management, staff and students is critical.

Fast, agile and accurate data transformation had long been identified as crucial to business intelligence and reporting functions, but a rapidly aging data warehouse and its tooling to extract, transform and load data (ETL) were struggling to deliver. While it had served the University well, it was reaching its end of life and needed replacement. A lack of experienced local support resources made the University largely reliant on a single vendor, which was adding significantly to support costs. The decision was made to retire the old solution (Oracle Warehouse Builder or OWB).

Nicola Jackson, the University’s BI and reporting delivery manager knew that a simpler data warehouse environment was needed that could be supported with more in-house expertise. Not only would this be more cost effective but it would also enable faster, more agile work.

“We’re trying to do more agile delivery and produce the ETL faster. We were running OWB, and urgently needed to find an up-to-date technology.”

Faster, smarter, simpler

Knowing they needed a new ETL tool to replace OWB, the University went out to tender to find a solution that would meet their immediate needs and keep them in good stead for the future.

RED, WhereScape’s data-warehouse automation tool, ticked all the boxes as a replacement to OWB. It also offered the capacity to report on the data lineage – something that “really sold” UoA on RED and the team at NOW Consulting, says Jackson.  Data lineage allows the University to see where a piece of data is being used and, working backwards, where the data that makes up the data warehouse comes from.  This is very useful for change impact analysis as the university updates their data warehouse.

Jackson says developers love the transparent way in which RED creates objects and code, eases navigation and has a reliable user interface. That makes for a happier – and faster – development team.

“It’s all-round a better experience for developers. I’ve been pretty impressed by how quickly developers can turn around the code. It’s all there in the shared repository, so it makes a big difference.”

3D modeller

Jackson identified WhereScape’s 3D modeller as a big tick allowing the University to model existing subject areas, and design new models. Combined with its strong documentation, Jackson says they see potential in being able to create more reusable datasets for business users.

“It means we can design data warehousing for reusability so other developers can use and understand those datasets.”

Building better architecture

The move to RED came with another bonus – the opportunity to refresh the University’s data warehouse architectural standards. This meant that once developers started using RED, they better managed projects and produced more consistent data store designs and dimensional models. This was particularly evident when the team created a new subject area for service request management in the data warehouse.

Jackson sees improved architectural standards as the biggest win so far from the project.

“Whenever you start something new, it’s a chance to do it better. We’re not building in silos any more. That was quite a shift.”

Better support, faster

NOW Consulting was pivotal in supporting the delivery of the RED solution. Jackson says she’s been really impressed with the team and the “level of ETL expertise that seems to come as the default”.

Jackson says NOW demonstrates a genuine interest in helping the University better manage the data warehouse.

“NOW consultants really listen to the University’s business requirements and work with us in a hands-on fashion. They’re also looking to the future, ensuring they help build capability in-house so the cost of delivery decreases over time.”

“For every engagement we’ve had with them, they’ve brought something more than just what we asked for. That's an illustration of their professional integrity and their expertise in the data warehousing area. People who have less integrity or don’t know what they’re doing will just go along with what you say.”

On the ground responsiveness

NOW and Wherescape are co-located in Auckland, and having a team on the ground who can quickly respond to their ETL developers’ queries and requests has been invaluable for the University.

Jackson says WhereScape has been very responsive to product enhancements put forward by the University.

“We have direct access to the product development team and that gives us a greater buy-in to the tool. It’s worth us putting forward enhancement suggestions. It’s actually been really fun working with them. They're a bunch of good people who do a job they seem to really enjoy, in a company they enjoy working for.”