Nottingham Trent swaps spreadsheets for Cognos

Case study: How IBM tech is helping the university plan for the future

Case study: How IBM tech is helping the university plan for the future

Nottingham Trent University is using technology from IBM Cognos to improve the way it plans the allocation of money and resources.

Since November, the university has been using IBM Cognos 8 Planning suite in place of a series of Excel spreadsheets.

Speaking to silicon.com, IT director David Swayne said: "To get more control over our planning cycle, we decided that we would implement a more sophisticated planning tool."

"We're run much more like a business than many of the universities and so there's an awful lot of focus within the institution on planning and making sure that we know what our current business position is," he added.

With a 2007-8 turnover of £170m and an increasing number of courses and students, the university's changing planning needs meant spreadsheets were no longer adequate.

Swayne said using Excel made it difficult for several people to update information simultaneously and errors were sometimes overlooked until they caused problems for staff further down the line.

With Nottingham Trent already using Cognos financial reporting software, adding the company's planning tech made sense to the uni.

"The major benefit is that it's going to take a lot less effort from key individuals to populate the plan.

"Those people have a lot of knowledge and are constantly asked questions about what student numbers are, what's happening in particular areas, so it enables them to add more value in other areas of their job," he said.

The university is in the process of populating the planning system with information on student numbers and plans to complete similar work for staff and non-staff resources by the end of January next year.

The new technology will allow the finance team to look at different spending scenarios to inform decisions on the number of student places to offer as well as whether to run a certain course or employ more lecturers.

The planning tech will also help the university maintain progress towards an ongoing six-year strategic plan covering goals around teaching, research and student satisfaction.

Meanwhile, the university is working on a number of other technology projects including the linking up of two listed buildings and creating a 21st century hub, which Swayne discusses in this exclusive video interview.

Students have also been able to take advantage of a new virtual learning environment, called Nottingham Trent University Online Workspace, since the beginning of the current academic year.

Swayne said: "It's not at all about technology for technology's sake - it's all about enabling learning and teaching, research and making the administration processes that are needed to support all of that as smooth and as painless as possible."