Moving the Chains on Data Strategy

Ari Betof
Mission and Data
Published in
5 min readSep 7, 2023


Mike Kegler, Senior Data Architecture and Visualization Consultant
Mission & Data

In my last article, I talked about strategies for collecting data “outside of typical areas like enrollment, billing, and fundraising.” But what about the data in those core systems? Can one assume that just because it’s in an expensive system from a respected vendor, the data will be reliable and ready to use? Absolutely not!

I want to speak to data strategy and governance challenges, and I’m going to use [American] football to do it. Now, don’t get me started on all of the parallels between independent schools and football (people who know me will roll their eyes if I share my theory again about how a head of school is like a head coach and their senior administrators are like the offensive & defensive coordinators). But I find that using a couple of football metaphors can make opaque data integrity and stewardship questions more tangible.

If You Have Three Data Sources (for the Same Data), You Have None

In football, there’s the idea that if you have three first-string quarterbacks, you have none. Regardless of the talent level of those three players, if a team doesn’t have a go-to player they can trust to lead their offense, they’re in trouble.

The same goes for core systems. It is vital to establish a single source of truth for each discrete set of data. Take grades for example. Ask yourself, “Where is the one system I can go to to see the most recent and accurate grade data?” If you can’t answer that — or the answer is, “It depends” — you’re doing it wrong.

One school I worked with found themselves unable to issue reliable, accurate transcripts. A big reason why was historical grades were coming from one place, term grades were coming from another, final grades were coming from yet another system, and so on. Even if someone were able to pull together the data from this morass of sources, they would have had no confidence that it was correct. I had to work to change the culture to make the student information system (SIS) the authoritative location for transcript grades. I updated the transcript report to draw directly from the SIS, so if the data was wrong there, the transcript would be wrong too. I also designed data import and update processes in the core system leveraging delivered functionality.

Before long, stakeholders were learning how important it was to keep the core system updated. If they chose to use auxiliary systems, they had to figure out a way to get that data back into the main system. Moving the organization in this direction was a long, and at times painful, human-centric change process, even more so than a technical one. But, in the end, I was able to change transcript generation from a task that took days to complete and produced questionable documents to one that took minutes and was exceedingly accurate.

Don’t Fumble the Handoff

If you’re an aspiring star football player, ball security is paramount. Fumbling the ball once is the surest way for a young player to find themselves on the bench. Fumble more than once, and you will probably find yourself buried on the depth chart.

When does someone become a student? Getting this handoff correct is essential for schools, especially if a school is using separate admission and student systems. Imagine if someone is applying from out of state, and they put their current address on the application. They’re accepted, enroll in school, and the parent/guardian wants to update their information with the local address. They go into the admission system and update the address, but the student has already been moved over to the SIS, and there are no data flows between the two systems. Now the school is in the unfortunate situation of not knowing where one of their families lives. All current student and family mailings are going to a different address. The student and the parents/guardians miss events because they never received an invitation, and their early impressions of the school are negative. The school has essentially fumbled the handoff between admission and enrollment.

How could this have been avoided? The school could have formed a data governance group to determine which office is responsible for the student’s information in each phase of their affiliation with the school. That group could have more clearly defined when the applicant becomes a student, and which system should be used in which phase. The school could have made the admission system read-only once the student is enrolled, and redirected the family to the SIS to make updates. Or they could have used Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and/or established integrations to move data between the two systems.

Finding that single source of truth is essential, and it’s a lot easier to do when an organization is mindful of data ownership in each phase of the student experience and designs system handoffs accordingly.

If these challenges sound painfully familiar, I welcome you to reach out to Mission & Data. We have extensive experience auditing a school’s data infrastructure, designing data warehouses and accompanying data flows, and coaching up teams on data strategy and governance. Contact me at for more information.

Mike Kegler is Mission & Data’s Senior Data Architecture and Visualization Consultant. Mike is a former administrator and data visualization faculty member from the Latin School of Chicago, where he was responsible for building dashboards for a variety of audiences, creating self-service tools for students, families, faculty, and staff, and managing academic and demographic data. As a certified Project Management Professional (PMP), Mike ensure’s Mission & Data develops a deep understanding of a client’s needs before launching a project. Mike obtained his Master’s Degree in Higher Ed Administration from Northwestern University. He’s a certified user of Tableau, Blackbaud K-12 On, Google Workspace, and many other software systems that streamline and improve school data processes.

Mission & Data is a firm dedicated to the effectiveness, health, and vitality of educational institutions and other organizations that make the world a better place. We are committed to enhancing mission-driven, data-informed leadership and governance by:

  • Consulting to promote financial sustainability, improve organizational effectiveness, and facilitate organizational transformation.
  • Developing custom data products, visualizations, and dashboards to highlight progress, identify trends, and leverage actionable insights.
  • Auditing current practices and analyzing organizational data to recommend process efficiencies and strategic improvements.
  • Coaching leaders and boards of trustees to enact institutional vision and build a culture of inquiry-based decision making practices.

If you would like to know more about how Mission & Data can help your organization, please contact us at



Ari Betof
Mission and Data

Co-Founder and Partner at Mission & Data; Husband; Father; Son