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Think '360'

When it comes to CRM, higher ed institutions are bypassing traditional offerings in favor of targeted solutions that provide an up-close, all-encompassing view of student interactions.


KANSAS STATE administrators were
looking to grab students’ attention with
highly personalized CRM tools.

NO LONGER DO universities have to decide between off-the-shelf and custom programs, or between standalone constituent relationship management (CRM) applications and ERP-integrated solutions. Instead, today’s mantra is “360”—an upclose, 360-degree view of student interactions. Whether the processes and technologies employed to achieve this are called constituent interaction management, e-mail management, content management, or any combination thereof, administrators are looking for systems that enable them to monitor individual interactions throughout a student’s lifecycle with the institution. And the solutions universities choose rarely are traditional CRM programs that work alone or within an enterprise application; increasingly, colleges and universities are turning to third-party vendors to find more nimble programs that are highly targeted to the needs of a specific institution, department, or even course offering.

Making It Personal

At Kansas State University, administrators were looking for a system that would go beyond traditional, static CRM, and give admissions staffers more versatile tools to attract students. According to Jan Elsasser, associate director of admissions and technology at KSU, because higher ed institutions operate in a “highly competitive market for students,” schools are looking to grab students’ attention with personalized technology such as podcasts, personalized e-mails, and highly targeted content based on their interests. “A lot of institutions have customized their ERP systems for this purpose,” Elsasser says, noting that such customization is not always an option for every school. “It depends on whether you have the time and resources [to optimize your existing ERP system]. If you want to put in the time, modifications can make it work, but our ERP didn’t come out of the box as robust as we would have liked.” The CRM component of the KSU’s existing student management system “really didn’t meet our needs for recruiting,” says Elsasser. “We had been processing data on a mainframe that was not designed around a recruiting system.”

While the cost of a CRM solution varies, the true ROI lies in the value of the business intelligence administrators receive.

In February 2006, the school implemented Talisma’s Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) CRM solution, a highly configurable, internet-based system that includes e-mail, chat, self-service, and other channels of contact with constituents. According to Dan Vetras, president and CEO of Talisma, the program “offers a 360-degree view of historical as well as real-time interactions with students, and can funnel the data into an existing back-office environment, whether that be a traditional CRM or ERP system. Every interaction that has occurred is visible.” For KSU, this deep insight into interactions has proven invaluable because it enables highly personalized service. For instance, Elsasser says, during a marketing campaign, the system allows administrators to sidestep generic copy. “Instead, it pushes targeted content to existing constituents or prospects, based on the information those individuals have already provided.” She notes that the system’s highly proactive and flexible chat function is another benefit. “It can be configured so that if a prospect is on a web page for longer than, say, 30 seconds, it triggers a chat event with a live college representative.”

Empowering the Recruitment Office

The University of Alabama, another Talisma customer, is somewhat further along with its use of the same application, which the school installed in November 2005 after a two-year search for a comprehensive constituent management suite. Says Teri Terry, director of technology support services in the university’s Office of Enrollment Management, “We have 400,000 records in our system. We were looking for a provider that had everything to offer in one package; whose representatives didn’t tell us, ‘It’s in the next release.’” Terry found that the Talisma solution offers myriad channels and opportunities for customer contact, including phone, e-mail, a portal, web chat, telecounseling, and, in its most recent release, event registration. It affords the university insight into all interactions with students, and “recruiters enjoy it,” she says. “They can see every phone conversation with the office; every e-mail and every conversation with the counselor. It empowers the recruiter.”

The cost of the system varies, depending on whether customers purchase a point solution or the whole suite. But for Terry, the true return on investment (ROI) lies in the value of the business intelligence she receives. “We can track where we’re spending our money, from application to admission, from suspect [someone who may have expressed a slight interest in attending the university, but is not yet a real prospect] to prospect. It’s a huge source of information that we didn’t have before. For example, if an event is not yielding enough student enrollment, we can cut down on the number of times we do it. It enables us to see what’s successful and what’s not.”

Currently, administrators are in data-gathering mode for the university’s first full recruitment season using the new system. “We’re fine-tuning and using more and more of it as we go along,” Terry says.


allows administrators to closely monitor recruitment
events, to make sure such efforts are yielding enough
student enrollment to make them worthwhile.

The Virtual, Consolidated Contact Center

Investment in advanced technology is solving constituent management issues for Segar Annamalai, CIO of Alta Colleges (CO), the parent company of Westwood College, Westwood College Online, and Redstone College and Redstone Institute. (Westwood College and its online sister institution offer two-year, four-year, and specialized programs in business, industrial design, criminal justice, health care, and technology; Redstone College and Redstone Institute are a joint institution offering hands-on vocational training for the aviation and HVAC/R industries. Altogether, the colleges comprise 20 campuses across California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, and Texas.)

When the time came to upgrade Alta’s three contact center locations—which are dedicated to assisting prospective students with the enrollment process as well as handling queries from Westwood’s online students—Annamalai chose to move from a simple PBX system to what he calls “the latest and greatest technology.” In June 2005, Alta began deploying a self-hosted version of CosmoCom’s ( CosmoCall Universe, an enterprise IP-based unified communications solution that includes automatic call distribution, interactive voice response, computer telephony integration, predictive dialing, multimedia recording, interaction history, and administrative tools. Now students can dial a local or national toll-free phone number, send e-mail, or visit Alta’s individual college websites, and CosmoCall Universe seamlessly routes their inquiries to one of 450 admissions representatives located in any of the three physical contact centers—effectively creating a new, consolidated, virtual contact center that improves Alta’s ability to efficiently and cost-effectively guide prospective students through the admissions and campus/course selection processes. And in December 2006, the contact center was integrated with Alta’s PeopleSoft enterprise system, which the college has adapted for the higher education environment.

Many CIOs prefer a single-vendor integrated system because support is easier. Our consensus was that an integrated system would simplify maintenance. — Bruce Taggart, Lehigh University

According to Annamalai, Alta’s technology selection was driven by a two-pronged focus: 1) general service quality, and 2) the system’s ability to meet the unique needs of university students, who usually have specific questions about transcripts, grades, exams, course selections, career counseling, etc., which are not found in any environment other than a higher ed institution. “Anyone can have the first part, but the second part is focused on the educational environment. It’s very, very specific,” notes Annamalai, adding that while a traditional ERP system does not specifically cater to the educational environment, CosmoCom’s flexibility enables student queries to be routed to the agents who can best answer each question. The software also enables administrators to measure and monitor the performance of the school’s enrollment agents, financial services representatives, and new-student advisers, as well as track a student’s progress throughout his or her time at the college.

Next-Gen Contact Management

Contact management is the buzzword at Lehigh University (PA), where Bruce Taggart, vice provost for library and technology services, was looking to better manage “direct and indirect relationships based on a contact.” His goal: a more systematic approach to staying connected; the ability to communicate with everyone who attends youth camps, alumni events, and everything in between. “We want to organize the people who contact us: people who have an interest in the university, or may have expressed an interest in our lecture series or research areas,” he says. But, without a contact management system, “Who knows where that inquiry goes next? It may never even get checked.”

Taggart believes that the solution to such contact management challenges is to connect the various databases across the university (enrollment, admissions, athletics, performing arts, alumni) with a system that “puts a few more interfaces among all of them.” This would, for example, enable the university to send a personalized letter and performing arts calendar to an alumnus who attended a research seminar or a soccer or basketball camp. Taggart explains, “Anytime we make a contact, we need to enter it into a database so we can respond intelligently.”

With this objective in mind, he chose to beta-test a forthcoming enrollment management system (scheduled to be released this year) from SunGard Higher Education. The new system is actually a module that will fit right into Lehigh’s existing SunGard Banner finance and student management systems. “Many CIOs prefer a single-vendor integrated system because support is easier,” says Taggart. “Our consensus was that an integrated system would simplify maintenance. These days, a lot of users don’t want to run separate standalone systems.”

According to Jono Smith, director of marketing for Sun- Gard HE, the new system is the result of more than two years of intensive research on enrollment management. “Our approach is a little of both CRM and ERP, tightly integrated with student records, portals, and BI tools,” he says, adding that users can customize the system for their own needs. (While it is designed for existing SunGard customers, it is built on a service-oriented architecture so that it can integrate with other applications.)

“We will have some input into the system’s functionality,” says Taggart, whose priority is to be able to personalize communications with constituents. A school can differentiate itself not only by responding to a constituent’s individual needs, but also by marketing to those needs. For example, based on prior purchase patterns, he says, “You can promote new courses and new merchandise. The system offers a marketing opportunity for the institution.”

Lehigh’s return on investment is not quantifiable, at least for now: “Strict ROI? That’s a stretch,” admits Taggart. “But the return on value is very high. We get 11,000 applications; we admit 4,000. So we want that edge to be able to get the best students and faculty.”

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