Institutional Research, Planning and Effectiveness



Table of Contents


Definition of Benchmarking

Benchmarking is defined as an ongoing, systematic process for measuring and comparing the work processes of one organization or department to those of another, by bringing an external focus to internal activities, functions, or operations. The goal of benchmarking is to provide key personnel in charge of processes with an external standard for measuring the quality and cost of internal activities, and to help identify where opportunities for improvement may reside.

Benchmarking doesn't have to be a mysterious and complicated process. Any person, department or organization can and should do it.  At the core of benchmarking is the concept of learning and sharing. By comparing work processes and practices with others, you may gain valuable information that you can adapt to your own situation. Benchmarking is a useful tool that will help your department continually improve its processes by learning how others do it. To benchmark, you must first evaluate your own operation's processes to identify weaknesses and strengths; then you must identify, study, and adapt from others who may be doing it better!

People within an organization become used to operating in certain ways.  Even if those ways are harmful, most people resist change because the old way of doing business is so comfortable. What benchmarking does is challenge the old way. Regular benchmarking is like cleaning out your closet.  You always find some things you don’t need and a few things you didn't know you had, but could use. Regular benchmarking of critical functions and programs ensures that you and your managers and employees remain open to new ideas, evolving technologies and changing trends.

The benchmarking process attempts to answer the following key questions:

  • How well are we doing compared to others?
  • How good do we want to be?
  • Who is doing it best?
  • How do they do it?
  • How can we adapt what they do to our institution?
  • How can we be better than the best?

Four Steps in Benchmarking Procedures

  1. Plan the Study – This step involves selecting and defining the administrative or teaching process(es) to be studied, identifying how the process will be measured, and deciding which other institutions to measure against.
  2. Conduct the Research – Data is collected using primary and/or secondary research about the colleges, universities, or other organizations being studied.
  3. Analyze the Data – Calculate the research findings and develop recommendations.  At this point, the differences or gaps in performance between the institutions being benchmarked help to identify process enablers that equip the leaders in their high performance.
  4. Adapt the Findings to Your Institution/Department> -- Adaptation of these process enablers for improvement is the primary goal of the benchmarking process.


Six Types of Benchmarking

  1. Internal Benchmarking - Know yourself.  Know your internal processes.  Look within units and across units or divisions to benchmark.  Looking from within ensures the easiest management of idea exchange and availability of partners, since all the information is “under the same roof”. Even though it has these benefits, internal benchmarking has a lower probability of achieving significant breakthroughs because comparable departments within one college system tend to have relatively similar practices and process compared with external organizations.
  2. Competitive Benchmarking - This type of benchmarking process focuses on measuring performance against peer or competitor organizations.  The goal of competitive benchmarking is to study the product designs, process capabilities, and/or administrative methods used by an organization's competitors or peers.  Find out what the competition is doing and how your processes compare with theirs. The benefit you get from competitive benchmarking is a chance to learn how to do something better from an outside perspective.  However, if you only copy the competition instead of adapting the information to fit your needs, you will only be as good as your competitor, not better.
  3. Collaborative Benchmarking – This type of benchmarking involves a limited exchange of information from a consortium of organizations and usually focuses only on quantitative statistics rather than qualitative analysis.  Most institutions and their departments within, collect this type of data on a regular basis.
  4. Shadow Benchmarking – This involves making competitor-to-competitor comparisons without your benchmarking partner knowing you're doing it.  Shadowing entails no real partner so you aren't dependent on competitor cooperation, and information comes from whatever competitive intelligence you can gather. Shadowing lets you gather new data that will help you improve your processes or prepare yourself for market growth without alerting competitors.
  5. Functional Benchmarking – This involves comparing your processes with similar, but not identical, processes within the same industry, often with industry leaders. This analysis seeks new ideas that have already succeeded in a compatible area. The potential number of partners is much greater, but because they aren't in direct competition they may be more willing to cooperate in data exchanges.  However, the information is harder to transfer to your organization because many of the partners are from different industries.
  6. Best-in-Class Benchmarking – This benchmarking process involves comparing processes that are the same regardless of industry with the best-in-class organizations that are outside of your industry who have truly innovative and exemplary performance. Information obtained from this kind of benchmark is the hardest to transfer to your organization, since data often comes from very different kinds of organizations. The benefits can be the greatest in this type of benchmarking, however, because you may get ideas that improve your key processes tremendously.

Regardless of which benchmarking type is used, the purpose is still the same – to help the organization continually learn from other organizations.  Keep in mind that benchmarking is more than just gathering data.  It involves adapting a new approach of continually questioning how processes are performed, seeking out best practices, and implementing new models of operation.

*Parts of this are paraphrased from: James G. Patterson, Benchmarking Basics, 1996, Crisp Publications, Inc. and from Jeffrey W. Alstete, Benchmarking in Higher Education, 1995, ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Reports.


Troy University's In-State Peers

Troy University compares itself to six in-state institutions it considers comparable in terms of enrollment or mission. The comparable institutions are:

Alabama A&M University (Office of Institutional Research)
Alabama State University (Office of Institutional Research)
Auburn University - Montgomery (Office of Institutional Research)
University of Montevallo (Institutional Research, Planning, and Assessment)
University of North Alabama (Office of Research, Planning and Institutional Effectiveness)
University of West Alabama (Institutional Effectiveness)


Benchmarking Web Sites

The following websites may provide helpful benchmarking data and information:

National Center for Educational Statistics
Association for Institutional Research
Assessing National Surveys with Electronic Research Sources
Southern Association for Institutional Research
American Association for Higher Education
American Association of University Professors
Society for College and University Planning
Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System
NSF Division of Science Resources Statistics
College and University Professional Association for Human Resources
Southern Regional Education Board - SREB
Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia
American College Testing
Chronicle of Higher Education
Educational Testing Services
North Carolina State Internet Resources for Outcomes Assessment
USA Census Data and Information
National Association of College and University Business Officers
National Systems for Higher Education Management Systems