Business challenge

Every year, tens of thousands of students and guests make use of hundreds of facilities at MSU. How can RHS deliver stellar services that keep everyone satisfied, while sticking to a tight budget?


RHS is empowering business users to dig deeper into financial, facilities management, survey and social media data with IBM® Watson Analytics™.



service quality with new awareness of people’s usage and perception of facilities


access to analytics, helping more employees make smarter decisions


RHS to make more targeted, effective use of its resources

Business challenge story

At the heart of life on campus

27 halls of residence, a hotel and conference center, 10 dining halls, 21 convenience stores, and two golf courses: this is just a snapshot of the many facilities that the Division of Residential and Hospitality Services (RHS) at Michigan State University (MSU) operates and maintains.

Managing such a diverse portfolio of services would be a huge task for any organization. As a university division that needs to operate within a tight budget, it’s an even bigger challenge.

Michael Dawisha, CIO of RHS at MSU, takes up the story: “RHS is highly focused and has a huge impact on the student and guest experience at MSU; we touch almost every aspect of life on campus, from housing and culinary services to hospitality, retail and sport.

“Our number-one priority is our students, and shaping a university experience that makes them feel fulfilled and included. The quality of campus life plays a crucial role in helping MSU to attract and retain the very best students; we work hard to create spaces that keep students coming back year after year, and help them succeed both socially and academically.

“Alongside that core mission, we also operate a number of other commercial ventures, such as our hotel and golf courses, which must be run efficiently and produce enough revenue to provide essential services. It adds up to a very diverse set of needs for us to manage—and we must do it all with a limited set of resources.”

Troy Stroud, Strategy Integration Manager at MSU RHS, adds: “To fulfill our many responsibilities effectively, it’s vital for us to understand how students and guests are making use of our facilities, how they are spending their dollars, and how they feel about their time on campus. Analytics plays a key role in helping us to answer these questions.”


We can make the best use of our resources to shape a campus experience that exceeds expectations, and keeps students and guests coming back for more.

Michael Dawisha, CIO of Residential and Hospitality Services, MSU

Transformation story

Changing the way people work with data

RHS has been using IBM® Cognos® Business Intelligence as its main analytics and reporting platform for several years. The release of IBM Watson Analytics™ offered RHS the opportunity to take the next step on its analytics journey.

As a division with such a broad scope of responsibilities, RHS has similarly diverse analytics needs. Troy Stroud states: “We have around 33 different datasets and we need to speak everyone’s language—whether it’s academics, housing, catering or events management—and deliver the insights that matter the most to them.”

RHS uses analytics to dig deep into data from different university sources including housing, culinary services and finance, along with commercial transaction data and information collected from student surveys. More recently, RHS has also been able to gain new insights into an increasingly important source of data: social media.

“Social media will be a useful complement to our existing data sources, especially student surveys,” notes Michael Dawisha. “It will give us access to a broader, less-filtered range of opinions and trends—not just the views of people who are willing to participate in surveys.”

He gives an example that RHS could potentially put into production: “If we run a marketing campaign aimed at encouraging students to eat at a specific dining hall, we can go back and analyze social media data from when the campaign was active to see if there was an uptick in posts mentioning the dining hall, and whether the responses were positive or negative. This kind of insight will allow us to understand which marketing strategies are most effective, and refine our efforts to ensure that future promotions and campaigns have the best impact.”

We are building bridges between different areas of the business and increasing collaboration across teams that were unable to work together previously.

Troy Stroud, Strategy Integration Manager, MSU

Results story

Bringing analytics to all

The new analytics capabilities that RHS has developed are helping to transform the way the organization thinks about data and insight. Instead of viewing analytics as the province of IT teams and business analysts, senior leaders at RHS are now increasingly eager to leverage analytical tools for themselves.

“Traditionally, business intelligence has been difficult for non-technical users to adopt,” says Michael Dawisha. “With the solutions we’re building today, that’s all changing. Our senior leaders now have the confidence to interact with the data and build their own analyses.”

Troy Stroud gives an example: “We recently ran a demo for our executive board, where we looked at student feedback on the information they received during move-in at our halls of residence. We were analyzing a combination of survey responses, student demographic data and social media sentiment.

“During the demo, the analysis revealed that students in one hall hadn’t received a specific piece of information—a gap that otherwise might have remained buried in the survey data. And as the business owners of that data were right there in the room, they immediately understood the implications and were able to advise on follow-up actions to be taken.”

By making analytics easily accessible to all, RHS is empowering its teams to work together more effectively. Troy Stroud says: “We are building bridges between different areas of the business and increasing collaboration across teams that were unable to work together previously.”

With deep analytical insights now within reach of all its people, RHS can look at its operations in new ways, and seize opportunities to deliver an even better on-campus experience for both MSU students and visitors.

Michael Dawisha concludes: “We have such a passionate team here at RHS; they know the business inside-out and are truly committed to MSU’s success. Our people need the tools to help them best understand our data so we can make the best use of our resources to shape a campus experience that exceeds expectations, and keeps students and guests coming back for more.”

Michigan State University Residential and Hospitality Services

Michigan State University (MSU) is a public research university, consistently ranked among the top 100 research universities in the world. The Division of Residential and Hospitality Services (RHS) touches nearly every aspect of the MSU campus by providing support and auxiliary services to students, the campus community and guests.

Solution Components

  • Cognos Analytics
  • Cognos Analytics
  • Cognos Business Intelligence

Take the next step

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