Decision Inc. implements Adaptive Insights at GetSmarter


Decision Inc. supports the GetSmarter™ short course business in a unique Adaptive Insights implementation that offers efficient, end-to-end planning, budgeting, and reporting for its marketing functions.

As illustrated in the viral “10-year challenge” meme circulating on Facebook earlier this year, a lot can change in a decade.

Not only has physical technology been updated, but how we use it has changed as well.

When connection speeds were slow, and computers were desk-bound and expensive, having access to one–and the internet–was a luxury reserved for school projects and emailing distant family members. Similarly, graduate studies and academic advancement were reserved for the fortunate few with the funds to support the cost of their extended studies as well as the physical relocation to a campus.

With the introduction of mainstream access to distance education, individuals started to become empowered to take their education into their own hands–often working during the day and studying at night. In the last decade, organisations such as 2U, Inc., a global leader in education technology, have changed the landscape completely: through its GetSmarter short course business, the company partners with prestigious international universities, such as Cambridge, Oxford, and MIT, to power short courses that individuals can access without ever leaving their homes.

Reaching 1 Million Professionals

GetSmarter aims to change the lives of 1 million professionals, which requires a lot of proactive marketing and advertising to increase awareness and interest in the variety of courses. Various strategies are used depending on the course’s target student, which allows for a set advertising spend (adspend) to be allocated to a course.

Managing Adspend to Ensure a Profitable

Course Without Compromising Service

To ensure that each short course is profitable, the GetSmarter teams need to make sure that the adspend per course is aligned with the estimated number of students per course.

Jason Lu, VP,  Finance – Analytics and Budgeting at 2U, Inc., says the GetSmarter team worked with Decision Inc. to ‘implement the model where we can put in the amount of spend and assumptions, and it tells us how many students and how much revenue we would be likely to get out of our spend.’

Based on the number of assumptions, a percentage of interested students transition to become actual students. They are then allocated to the specific course, and the overall revenue per course is calculated based on a range of factors such as course price and number of students.

Time Consuming Manual Processes with the Capacity

for Errors

As with many businesses, when GetSmarter started in 2008 with one course, managing the adspend return was easiest to do with spreadsheets. One team was responsible for consolidating all the spreadsheets with the relevant data in order to report on the revenue values per course.

Project Snapshot


  • Adaptive Insights
  • Excel / Google Sheets
  • Tableau


  • 2 weeks
  • Multi-disciplinary team across Johannesburg and Cape Town
  • Tech-savvy client team

Client Challenges

  • Complex calculations using excel
  • No single point of data
  • Many versions of one document consolidated into a single document
  • Input from many employees
  • Time consuming and labour-intensive processes in place
  • Potential for risk to the business–with inaccuracies in data and spend
    due to manual interventions
  • Tracking or reporting not available at any time–must wait for the consolidation
    to see the return and spend to date


  • Better control of spend and ROI per course
  • More efficient tracking against spend and return per week
  • Time saving for all employees involved–allowing employees to be more analytical
    and strategic and spend less time managing data
  • Better accuracy
  • Better version control and record keeping of changes made
  • Reporting cycle time has been reduced
  • Costs are calculated in a single, stable data repository
  • Planning and forecasting is accelerated
  • Stable forecasts of future expectations based on historical data
  • Ability to compare actuals with previous forecasts

However, as the business grew, Lu said the manual management of this task became ‘clunky, quite difficult to maintain, and a risk to the business.’

Adaptive Insights Offers End-to-End Planning and Budgeting

As a 2U, Inc. brand who uses Adaptive Insights and has seen the benefits that the software provides, the GetSmarter team partnered with Decision Inc. to streamline the reporting and free up time for the team to play a more strategic role in student acquisition with the aim to reach the 2030 enrollment targets.

Combining the skills and expertise of both the Cape Town and Johannesburg Decision Inc. teams–with the support of the tech-savvy GetSmarter team–the entire implementation took place over the course of two weeks. ‘Having the team on site bringing expertise and teachings was valuable. The Decision Inc. team were instrumentally helpful with thinking through challenges.” Say Lu. The work is currently in progress to set up for 2020, as there are new courses and exchange rate assumptions that will be included, and Decision Inc. will keep offering continuous support with quick turn around.

Unique Project: Using Adaptive Insights to

Measure Advertising Spend Returns

Typically used to calculate and report on group financial reporting and the like, Decision Inc.’s opportunity to implement Adaptive Insights on a project as unique as this (measuring marketing adspend and student uptake assumptions per course) has truly demonstrated the flexibility of the solution. By utilising tactical ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking and being willing to implement a strategic change, the GetSmarter team is well on their way to achieving their goals.

Company Profile

2U, Inc.

Eliminating the back row in higher education is not just a metaphor–it’s our mission. For more than a decade, 2U, Inc., a global leader in education technology, has been a trusted partner and brand steward of great universities. We build, deliver, and support more than 250 digital and in-person educational offerings, including graduate degrees, professional certificates, Trilogy-powered boot camps, and GetSmarter short courses. Together with our partners, 2U has positively transformed the lives of more than 150,000 students and lifelong learners. To learn more, visit #NoBackRow

Decision Inc. Financial Planning and Analysis

The Financial Planning and Analysis (FP & A) division at Decision Inc. is focused on making budgeting, forecasting, consolidation and management reporting more efficient and accurate for their clients by combining superior technical skills and financial knowledge with industry best practice to consolidate strategic and operational information.

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