Purdue Streamlines NIFA Reporting with Smart Activity Insight Customizations

Purdue Streamlines NIFA Reporting with Smart Activity Insight Customizations

Complex faculty activity reporting (FAR) challenges require smart customizations to your FAR solution. Customization is part of the Activity Insight promise, and the Digital Measures Development team consistently exceeds expectations on the customizations they create. In fact, the team has a remarkable satisfaction rating averaging just over 4.8 out of 5 so far in 2017. We reached out to Purdue University’s Alee Gunderson, Associate Data Analyst at the Purdue College of Agriculture & Purdue Polytechnic to hear about her experience collaborating with Digital Measures to meet Purdue’s unique reporting objectives.


Land-grant institutions have a specific mission to share the fruits of research with the citizens of their state. One major stakeholder in the work of land-grant institutions is the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), a part of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Research, Education and Economics and mission area. Because NIFA invests in and supports initiatives that advance agriculture-related sciences, they look to the institutions whose research and outreach they fund, such as land-grant universities, to report on their research, education and extension programs and their impacts.

Smart Customizations Start with Report Outcomes

For NIFA reporting, there are many different ways to report on data to tell the story of how an institution is fulfilling its plan of work, both qualitatively and quantitatively. Numbers come in for direct stakeholders, but impact statements are more anecdotal. Knowing what you need your data to tell you is the starting point for successful Activity Insight customization.

Complex Reporting Requirements

“One of the biggest challenges for our NIFA reporting is that three populations come into it: faculty, extension educators and extension specialists, who fall somewhere between academic and extension educators,” Gunderson explained. “In addition, some of them are reporting on the academic calendar, and some on the federal calendar. We needed screens for different user needs, but also needed to bring data from those screens together into one number.”

The Value of Critical Customizations

“For reports like Purdue’s NIFA reporting, customization is critical,” said Andrew Wiech, Digital Measures Senior Engagement Specialist. “We use our expertise gained helping hundreds of clients to provide robust reports that don’t require rethinking each time they’re used. That saves clients many hours of unnecessary work, and provides more reliable and accurate output.”

“If customizations can help clients be successful, we want to do them,” Daniel Farmer, Digital Measures Developer, explained. “We’re excited to take on work that meets a unique need, as it adds to our knowledge base, in terms of helping others with similar challenges in the future, and for identifying common needs so we can add to the reports available to everyone in Activity Insight.”

Uncommon Requirements Surface Additional Use Cases

“With Extension, there are people who aren’t faculty, so you have to determine how to account for them, whether in the system or outside of it. Purdue’s Activity Insight customizations could help us tackle other cases where not all users are in the same category, such as collecting adjunct faculty activity data,” Wiech noted.

Collaboration Is Key

“Clients know their data, and what they need from it, and we know the tool, so building database fields and screens is a consultative process,” Farmer said. “Alee is very collaborative, which really helps. She comes to us with a vision of what she’s trying to accomplish, and is receptive to feedback and ideas from the Client Success and Development teams that take her vision to the next level.”

“Andrew and Daniel have both been so helpful. I’d send Andrew an email saying, we’re about to do this, is that okay? And Andrew can point out things that might happen that we hadn’t considered when we planned the change,” Gunderson said. “And the developers often know a better way to accomplish our end goal, or can outline the consequences of a proposed change. Daniel’s good about saying, if we do this, X and Y will happen.”

Satisfaction Ratings Reflect Quality

“Our primary client contacts are usually on the administrative side, so the best work requests are based on their reporting needs,” noted Jim Raymonds, Digital Measures Development Team Lead. “Clients definitely see value in the way we customize their data and reports. Our developers have so much experience helping clients create screens and reporting to meet their unique needs. Based on their satisfaction ratings, I know clients really appreciate the results.”

That’s true at Purdue. “We are running the custom reports for NIFA now and the team can clearly see the data and who we need to ask for clarification on their entries,” Gunderson said. “Will there be refinement, some tweaking? Sure. But these customizations provided an entirely new level of confidence in our NIFA reporting.”

Purdue University’s collaboration with the Digital Measures Client Success and Development teams show just how much smart customizations can do to help universities meet complex reporting requirements. Do you have a complex reporting issue? Share it with us here.

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