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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  Using internal benchmarking allows for organizations to gain a better understanding of themselves. Organizations can solidify their internal processes by looking within and across their units or divisions to benchmark. Looking from within ensures the easiest management of idea exchange and availability of partners since all information is “under the same roof”. However, internal benchmarking does have a lower probability of achieving significant breakthroughs due to comparable departments within the same organizational system usually having similar practices and processes when compared to those of external organizations.
  2. Competitive Benchmarking The goal of competitive benchmarking is to measure performance by studying the product design, process capabilities, and/or administrative methods used by competitor and peer organizations. Organizations strive to know what the competition is doing and how their internal processes otherwise compare to one another. In order to improve and excel beyond the practices and processes of competitor and peer organizations, it is essential for organizations to adapt benchmarking information through their own internal needs, which in turn allows for them to benefit from competitive benchmarking through an outside perspective.
  3. Collaborative Benchmarking – This type of benchmarking involves a limited exchange of information from organizational consortiums which usually focus on quantitative statistics versus qualitative analyses. Most institutional departments regularly collect this type of data.
  4. Shadow Benchmarking – This type of benchmarking involves creating competitor-to-competitor comparisons without the organization’s benchmarking partner being aware of the comparisons being conducted. Benchmarking information is gathered through any competitive intelligence that is available. Shadowing allows for the collection of new data that organizations use to improve their practices and processes without altering their competitor and per organizations. This is largely due to the fact that shadow benchmarking is not dependent on true partnerships or the cooperation of competing organizations.
  5. Functional Benchmarking – This involves comparing organizational practices and processes with similar, but not identical, practices and processes across diverse industries, often with industry leaders. This analysis seeks new ideas that have had superior results in compatible areas. The potential number of partners is much greater; however, the partners may be more willing to cooperate and provide their data since they are not in direct competition with the requesting organizations. Since the benchmarking information is gathered from different industries the applicability of the information to the organization may be more difficulty to apply.
  6. Best-in-Class Benchmarking – This benchmarking process involves comparing organizational practices and processes that are the same, regardless of industry, with the best-in-class organizations who have truly innovative and exemplary performance. Best-in-class benchmarking allows for higher benefits for organizations since they are able to improve their key practices and processes through applying new ideas and concepts that are outside of their industry norms.

Regardless of the benchmarking method an organization chooses to use, the purpose is still the same. Benchmarking helps organizations to continually learn from their competitor and peer organizations. However, benchmarking involves more than just gathering data. It encompasses adapting a new approach to continually question how practices and processes are performed, seeking out best practices and processes, 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
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


Contact Us

Troy University Institutional Research, Planning & Effectiveness (IRPE)

011 Adams Administration Building
Troy, Alabama 36082
Phone: 334-670-3803
Fax: 334-670-3815

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