Data Overload!


Schools are great at duplicating data when it’s not necessary.  Schools don’t do this for fun, its most often because they don’t fully understand what they have.

Here is what I mean.

I’m often asked to add new features to Safe Newsletters.  I find this exciting because its takes the existing platform and makes it better.

Sometimes I’m asked to add features that are crazy complicated.  These just take a little more time.

Then I’m asked to add features that schools already have.  I call this data duplicity or data overload or data for the sake of creating data.

Here’s some good examples just in the last few weeks.

School A

A principal emailed me the other day and loved the Safe Newsletters system.  He wanted me to add a feature where student names could be added alongside the parent name, email address and mobile phone number.  He went on to say that it would be convenient if he could email parents but identify them by the child.  Some parents have different surnames etc…  What he didn’t realize is that the short-term convenience would be a long-term black hole.

The school already had a student management system where parent and student data was stored.  The system would search students and show parent names as well.  It also showed the parent contact details as well as their email address.  Duplicating the data would mean that 2 systems would need to be updated and maintained.  Students would come and go.  Email addresses would change.  All changes and updates would need to be done twice.  The school management system can do the job with out the need for a second system.

Where data is concerned, always try to use a single data set.  It avoids errors and saves time.  Make sure you always back up you data too!

School B

A school wanted to streamline their cash flow.  They felt that emailing parents requesting payments for things like school excursions and the like would decrease the number of overdue payments.  They wanted all students loaded into Safe Newsletters along with their parent names and email addresses.  The school wanted to sort students into groups and then email their parents requesting a payment for an excursion.

Again … its data duplicity.  The school already had this information in their school computer system.  All that was needed was a way to export the data so that its useful.

This is the key part.  Extracting data so that it can be used in other applications where that data is working for you…. not the data working you.

In the end the school saved themselves a lot of time and effort.  They were able to extract the data they needed which then became a very simple copy and paste into Safe Newsletters to send the excursion information to parents.    There were no long-term maintenance issues, parents paid on time and they saved themselves a lot of work.

What have we learnt?

Each state government has a school management system installed in all their schools.  Non-government schools use systems purchased from vendors specializing in school management.  ALL systems both government and non-government, have ways to export data sets with only the data you need from the school management system.

If you don’t know how to do this, just call the support phone number for your school management system and ask.  You may find that there is a button somewhere that will make an export super easy.  When you know how to do this, your data becomes infinitely more useful.

Most systems will export the data into a spreadsheet where you can then delete the data you don’t need.  Save the data to a place where you can find it.

Top 10 Tips

  1. Where possible, always work from one set of data.  Data is scary dangerous if you have too much.
  2. ALWAYS back up your data
  3. Avoid duplicity.
  4. Use disposable data.  This is where a data export is used once to do a job.  Often the data goes out of date (eg students move schools and their parent email addresses is no longer needed).  The data is used and then deleted.  The data is exported again when the time comes to run the job again.
  5. Think about how your existing data can be used WITH applications rather than duplicating data FOR an application.
  6. Before you commit to buying data tools… be sure they are compatible with your existing data.
  7. ALWAYS be security conscious.  Data can be scary dangerous in the wrong hands.
  8. Be maintenance conscious.  Who will maintain your data sets?
  9. Save time.  Ask yourself if what you are doing will make more work in the future.
  10. Save money.  Ask yourself if what you are doing will cost you more money in the long run.

About the Author:

Damon Taylor is director of Safe Newsletters and has been working with school data for many years to make it more useful, more reliable and more secure.

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