Campus-Wide CRM Integration

In a world where people have become accustomed to having immediate access to all kinds of information, it’s becoming increasingly important for IT shops to approach technology solutions from an enterprise-wide perspective. At the heart of this shift is a renewed focus on integration — of departments, systems, and processes. Yet, when many people talk about technology, they talk mostly about hardware and software applications. They want system X to solve problem Y. But technology cannot be just about hardware, software, and programming; it also has to be about process. 

Today, more than ever, IT departments are tasked with 
finding ways to speed process while cutting cost. In the next four to five years, some of the innovative ways that IT departments are tackling these challenges today will be ubiquitous. However, it can be somewhat of a paradigm shift for colleges and universities to begin thinking about their students as customers who need to be managed using a high-touch, fully integrated methodology.

One of the things that I see many schools doing is investing in a very good customer relationship management (CRM) system, but then duplicating poor processes in that new system. To get the most return on a technology investment, it’s important to first evaluate the processes that will be supported by any new technology. 

One of the ways to approach this might look like the approach we’ve recently taken at Post University in Waterbury, CT. Although we continue to monitor and analyze usage metrics, the results to date are leading me to believe that this is a good road map for integrating technology systems upon which any college or university could build.

Here’s how it works.

Start at the End
Several years ago, Post University started talking about the need for a customer relationship management solution. The goal was to improve the student experience and retention rates by having a 360° view of our students and eliminating many of the manual hand-offs between departments, which slowed the ability to identify and respond to student needs.

However, upon looking at what was out there, it quickly become apparent that if CRM would be the platform to support our processes, we first needed to have the right processes. Identifying and committing to a CRM solution without first refining existing workflow would simply duplicate flaws into a new system, diminishing the chances of meeting our goal.

By defining the end game, it was possible to answer critical questions before investing a single dollar. Some key questions to consider: What do you want to be able to do? How quickly do you want to be able to do it? How many departments will need to be involved? How deeply do you understand and how satisfied are you with your current processes? By spending the time to answer the tough questions before engaging a vendor, you can save valuable time and money.

Keep It Simple
Start your campus-wide integration process with simple, up-front communication. Round up a small, targeted group of people to determine what you want to do. Think about the parts of the student experience that can be improved or made more efficient.

Do you want to make your admissions process run smoother? Do you want to increase your retention? Do you want your admissions, advising, registrar, and financial aid departments to have real-time access to relevant information on each student? Then consider the human steps that must fit together to meet these goals.

In this discovery phase, avoid talking about solutions. Rather, talk about the goal and how all the pieces of your business currently fit together. Identify areas for improvement. Stay focused on the outcome, not on the means to that end. Your solution will be determined based on your clearly identified needs, not vice versa. The key is to avoid building the solution, putting it into production, and then realizing there are glaring holes because it wasn’t thoroughly thought through before implementation.

Define and Develop a Process
The heart of a solid CRM strategy is defining what a process looks like and creating a powerful workflow engine. Take student inquiries, for example. What are all the inputs? What kinds of discussions take place between the student and the admissions counselor? How does the admissions counselor provide the student and the university everything that’s needed?

In addition, what does the workflow look like? Is it efficient? Is it customer-focused? It’s important to evaluate individual processes on a very granular level and then incorporate each into a larger universe of workflows. In this model, CRM is thought of as a process in and of itself. And its effective implementation first requires the breaking down of high-level processes into their piece parts. 

Consider the needs of all users. College and university IT departments have two basic sets of users: internal users, or business departments; and external users, i.e., students. A strong CRM integration should allow IT professionals to serve internal users who, in turn, will be better able to efficiently serve external ones. By removing barriers between students and the people who serve them, you significantly increase the likelihood of success.

Here at Post University, we spent a lot of time talking to our admissions counselors about their processes to ensure we understood the details from their frontline perspectives. We then determined our ideal workflow with the student in mind. We now have a more defined, efficient workflow for admissions counselor response to inquiries — a process that is well documented and accessible to other departments via our new CRM system.

Train Power Users and Champion Integration
Integration means the IT department’s systems and processes are going to be utilized by many different people and departments — students, advisors, faculty, financial aid, registrar, bursar, student life, etc.

Adoption will be higher if you lay the groundwork and support for the integration within each department before rollout, and thoroughly train a group of “power users.” Those who find value in the processes will naturally find productive uses for the technology and encourage others to use it. By taking this approach, we now have 100-percent user adoption with an application that’s used by more than 220 people. 

By creating a more cohesive plan for managing the workflow that supports the university’s relationships with students, IT departments can empower each department to more proactively serve students, which should result in higher retention.

When we’re done integrating through the full deployment of our CRM solution, we will be able to provide a 360° view of students from the moment they inquire to the day they graduate, allowing us to identify and respond to any red flags in real time. That’s good for students and it’s good for the university. 

Michael Statmore is chief information officer (CIO) at Post University in Waterbury, CT. He also writes at blog.post.edu. 

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