Delivery and Higher Education Practice Lead, Altis Consulting, Australia
Peter chose to be interviewed on a sailboard at sunset in Jericoacoara, Brazil.
1. Tell us about what Altis does, and the specific assistance it offers its customers in the UK.
Altis works exclusively in the field of data and analytics and has done so since being founded in Sydney in 1998. Whether it’s Big (or little) data, on-premise or in the cloud, our team of 100+ dedicated and highly-skilled staff provides services in all aspects of the data and analytics value chain. Through employing a proven combination of technical skill, expertise, leveraging experience, communication and listening, we deliver results that maximise business performance. We’ve grown over the years in terms of staff and offices without changing our focus on data or core ethos of ‘Connecting with Courage, Heart, and Insight’.
I set up the UK office of Altis in 2012 offering the same services we offer in Australia. Our point of difference to other consultancies is our higher education experience and vendor independence. Having offices in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom (UK) has allowed our staff to offer a wider perspective to our clients, and several team members have transferred between regions.
The UK office also works closely with many universities where we’ve delivered work for about 15 institutions over the past seven years. The UK higher education market is very similar to Australia—albeit significantly larger—with 335 higher education providers currently registered with the regulator (Office of Students).
2. Can you briefly summarise some of your collaborations with UK-based institutions?
Altis has worked with more than 40 universities across Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, and 15 of these in the UK. Our work at UK universities has mainly fallen into two categories: data strategy and roadmap initiatives, and delivery of analytics solutions.
We have worked with several UK universities that wanted a data strategy to improve their provision of data and analytics. Some had developed solutions in the past, others had changed strategic or technological direction, had grown or re-organised, or wanted to take advantage of newer technology. We worked closely with the institution to take stock of their existing solutions, look at their overall goals and devise an appropriate end solution. We then provided a framework to prioritise the work that needed to be carried out so that the university could deliver outcomes in tangible, valuable stages. One example of a client where we have helped with a strategy and roadmap is Cranfield University, a leading postgraduate institution.
Our delivery work has ranged from designing and delivering dashboards on ‘course health’, ‘student pipeline’, senior management dashboards, and monitoring students at risk of dropping out, through to delivering an entire data warehouse. One university we are currently working with to deliver dashboards on course health is Coventry University.
3. What are your thoughts around the future of data and analytics?
I think that the provision of cloud platforms in the last couple of years has made data and analytics much more affordable, flexible and accessible, and these platforms will continue to develop and offer even more value in the future.
Before cloud platforms, institutions had to estimate how much power they needed, purchase hardware and software, and provision and configure it long before teams could even start to work on developing a solution. Now with modern platforms, institutions can set up a working environment in minutes, spend a few days developing and testing ideas or concepts, and either shut down the solution or expand it once the outcome has been proven. These platforms only charge for usage, or consumption, so they are ideal for testing ideas and developing specific concepts at low cost. At the other extreme, cloud platforms allow institutions to scale effectively without the need to change hardware at regular intervals. Cloud providers such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon also offer a range of very sophisticated analysis machine learning and predictive services, as well as data transformation tools and storage.
I think this consumption—or service-based approach—is one that will spread to reporting and data visualisation vendors too, and will allow greater uptake and value to be gained from data and analytics solutions in the coming years. These platforms do however require some different skills and changes to security policies and approaches.
Another theme that I think is developing, is ‘data ethics’. As tools and systems improve in capturing, combining, processing and exploring large datasets, it raises ethical questions on how the data is used. There is a tension on what is possible to do with data and what is ethical or ‘right’ to do with the data.
We have seen this play out recently in high profile cases such as Cambridge Analytica and Wiki-leaks, where data is used in illegal ways or in a manner most would regard as unethical. This is leading to governments creating increasing legislation, such as GDPR, and privacy law changes; however, in contrast there is also a growing open data movement to increase data sharing.
Not all ‘data ethics’ challenges are legal ones. For example, I spoke to a DVC at a UK university who, when challenged on the ethical issues of monitoring student activity in a learner analytics programme, answered that he felt their ethical responsibility was to ensure they were doing all they could to support the students, and this outweighed the ethical concerns of monitoring certain student activities.
I feel that overall, universities have been considerate and ethical data stewards of data and err on the side of caution.
I think this debate on data ethics will continue to grow.
4. What has Altis planned or scoped to offer its clients in terms of data analytics and decision-making? (In other words, why should a potential customer choose Altis?)
Altis is the most experienced, specialist, vendor-independent data and analytics consultancy in Australia and New Zealand, leveraging our tried and tested frameworks to deliver a wide range of outcome-focused activities for universities, from strategy to delivery and managed services. Examples of what Altis offers its clients include:
We design and deliver data and analytics solutions to manage the full student lifecycle and wider shared services, including:
5. Tell us a bit more about yourself.
I like to travel and experience the world; taking pictures as I go. At the end of 2018, I took my long service leave and backpacked around Brazil with my wife and two small children. We travelled from the equatorial northeast of the country, down to below the tropics in over eight weeks. We saw beaches and cities, waterfalls and wildlife. The Amazon rainforest, and our stay in a favela in Rio, were particularly memorable.
Photos by Peter Hopwood on Flickr.
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