Best practice #1: Secure strong executive sponsorship


As the Industry Marketing Manager for Education at SAS, I get to talk to lots of education customers about how they’re using SAS software.  I hear the many great things they’re doing with SAS and often wonder: What is the secret of their success? So I started working with our education customer reference manager (thanks Christine!) to see if customers would be interested in telling me what they think are the best practices for getting the most out of SAS software. As a result, I talked with several K-12 districts and several universities. These customers were excited to share with me their best practices for information management, reporting and analytics. In my next several blogs posts, I’ll share these best practices.

When taking on an information management, reporting and analytics initiative, they were unanimous on the importance of securing strong executive sponsorship. This goes beyond just getting approval of a budget to purchase software; you also need executive sponsorship at the highest level – someone who fully understands the value that reporting and analytics can bring to the district or institution and has a vision for using it to transform school, program and student outcomes for the better. Here are the ways this sponsor can play a vital role:

  • Creating a vision around a student-centered, data-driven culture with increased accountability. For example, in one customer’s K-12 school district, the superintendent’s vision is embodied by the mantra, “Every child, every day.” Education professionals at all levels are encouraged to use data to understand what’s working and what’s not – and make decisions that are right for every child, every day.
  • Gaining the support of school leaders, such as principals, the central office staff and departmental chairs, so that everyone has a shared understanding of the importance of making data-driven decisions.
  • Helping to eliminate “data jails” within departments by sharing his or her vision, addressing concerns about losing control of protected data, getting buy-in from colleagues to share data and navigating political issues that can quickly derail a project.
  • Determining what information will be “kept in front of the curtain” (i.e., made public) and what data must be protected and secured.

Effective executive sponsors also provide “felt leadership,” meaning they are fully engaged and accessible. This builds momentum for the growing use of reporting and analytics by staff members at all levels by:

  • Regularly attending key meetings about data requirements and desired metrics to learn how a district, college or department plans to use reporting and analytics to improve student outcomes and enhance operational effectiveness. Attendance at these meetings communicates that these initiatives are important and are a high priority to senior management.
  • Communicating the vision and value of reporting and analytics broadly, regularly and in a positive manner. It’s vital to build awareness that the use of reporting and analytics is to accurately assess the current state – without judgment – and collaborate on how to improve the current state. The message is, “This is not about making you look bad, or finding ‘gotchas.’ We are about understanding reality so we can make it better.”
  • Modeling the use of reporting and analytics to understand and help solve reporting problems. Reporting and analytics empower users to go from saying, “Something’s broken and we don’t know what it is” to “Something’s broken and we know what it is – let’s discuss how to fix it.” Executive sponsors can model the power of analytical insight by bringing reports to meetings, making decisions based on hard numbers rather than educated guesses and more. The goal is to show that, “I buy into this – and I expect you to do the same.”

These ideas, insights and best practices really can apply to any industry, not just education. I have a great deal more to share in terms of best practices in education – so stay tuned for more upcoming blog posts, or read the full white paper now: 10 Tips from SAS Education customers. 


About Author

Georgia Mariani

Principal Product Marketing Manager

Georgia Mariani has spent nearly a quarter-century exploring and sharing how analytics can improve outcomes. As a Principal Industry Marketing Manager at analytics leader SAS, supporting the education industry, she passionately showcases customers using analytics to tackle important education issues and help students succeed. Georgia received her M.S. in Mathematics with a concentration in Statistics from the University of New Orleans.


  1. Very true. And not just for educational institutions, but pretty much applies to any organization that uses SAS/ analytics.

    To add on to what you say, in my experience the top two reasons for success of SAS / analytics in an organization are

    Strong executive sponsorship
    Strong analytics leader

    Sometimes I don't know which is more important. I have supported analytics leaders in a variety of corporates and divisions. Some of the analytic leaders were strong and some not so, and some organizations had strong executive sponsorship for analytics, while others no so.

    What I have seen is that where there is a strong analytics leader, it has lead to incremental business impact. And in cases where both factors were present, not only has there been incremental impact, but it has redefined and changed the way the organization conducts its business. And in those cases where there is neither a strong analytic leader nor strong executive sponsership, the analytic division has got relegated to a corner, creating reports that not one reads and without any voice or influence.

    Amar Harolikar

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