Athabasca University is a Canadian university specializing in online distance education and is one of four comprehensive academic and research universities in Alberta with more than 300 staff members and 40,000 students. Frequency Foundry Inc. first partnered with AU from 2011-2013 for the initial implementation of a specialized Microsoft Dynamics CRM software solution called greymatter. This unique solution is a full cycle student relationship management software that helps to facilitate communication between the university and its students and faculty, and promote student retention. The university had its focus on recruitment, retention, PCI payment gateway, and corporate partner relationship and registration management. The module customized for this project was the Grad Student Application Module.
Athabasca University was using traditional approaches to recruitment, such as print ads in newspapers and manual collection of prospect student information. The conventional methods had several disadvantages, including:
- Lack of multi-channel lead capture (lack of inputs from social networks, school counselors, academic and other administrative departments, student/alumni referrals, input from campus visits, integration with university’s web pages)
- Manual entry and maintenance of lead data in Excel sheets, leading to lack of ability to share the data
- Lack of ability to analyze data for targeted communication/campaigning
- Lack of ability to track donor and donation information
- No dedicated portal for prospects or alumni to interact with staff
- No follow-up with prospects, leading to lack of history of interactions
- Lack of data transfer/connectivity when transitioning from lead, prospect, applicant, student to alumni
Some of the constraints of Banner (student information system) are:
- Not able to serve the data storage and communication needs of recruitment staff related to prospect
- Inability to customize the forms and workflows to cater to the needs of graduate admissions
- Not able to serve the needs of individual administrative and academic department’s initiative for closed loop communication with current students
- Not able to meet the needs of program/course registration online fee payment for some of the graduate programs
- Web extension to Banner not serving appointment scheduling needs.
These deficiencies led to organizational silos when individual departments developed their own IT systems to address the needs. This not only created disparate IT systems which were not integrated well with Banner, but it also created non-uniformity in processes.
The university needed an enterprise-wide implementation of a student recruitment and retention system. The vision was to implement a relationship management system for the entire life cycle of students, starting from lead capture to applicant stage to current student and beyond. Also, the initiative was to fill the above-mentioned deficiencies of Banner system to cater to the individual needs of departments using a common CRM platform. One of the major requirements of the university was to have the CRM system tightly integrate with:
- -Banner ERP system used for application processing, student information and financial services
- -Telax multi-channel call centre platform
- -Third-party Learning Management System (LMS)
- -Central Authentication System (CAS)
Moreover, the recruitment team members were always busy and needed mobile extensions to quickly and conveniently enter lead or prospect information. Some of the recruitment activities are:
- -Conducting recruitment events which include visiting high-schools and colleges
- -Sending mass campaign emails and newsletters
- -Tracking the status of applications
- -Tracking of ROI and other metrics
Some of the student retention activities outside of the recruitment area include, but are not limited to:
- -Tracking of applications and status along with merging of user records
- -Tracking of course enrollment, transfer credits, payments and grades
- -Initiating advising services to students in academic and financial distress
The university also needed a scalable solution beyond these requirements. To meet all their needs, the university selected greymatter as the product of choice.
Following a successful implementation of a contact centre platform using Telax, Shekar Kadaba, VP of customer experience, created the enterprise student relationship management road-map and a program for implementing a Microsoft Dynamics CRM platform for AU. The aim of the program was to empower AU’s administrative staff with student information and to automate and streamline student and staff interactions. This would increase turn-around time in responding to various academic and administrative requests initiated by students. Having been engaged since 2010, this is an on-going initiative where the Foundry team continues to enhance customer experience for AU across all faculties and administrative departments.
The system was successfully deployed in 2011 with the following components:
- Prospect relationship management for recruitment (for information centre, recruitment, marketing and enrolment services)
- Ticketing/service request system (campus wide usage by all administrative departments)
- Knowledge base system (campus wide usage by all administrative departments)
- Student exam and appointment scheduling
- Integration with Raiser’s Edge donation management system
The greymatter system:
- -Provided seamless integration through single sign-on to greymatter portals (web extensions to CRM)
- -Provided a dedicated portal for prospects, applicants, students and alumni
- -Provided online payment facility for graduate students and corporate non-program students
- -Acted as a common platform for ticketing/service request processes and knowledge system
After three years of successful usage, the client expanded the greymatter platform to add the following modules:
- Registration and online payment for corporate clients
- PCI compliance for faculty of business for course registration and online payments
- Faculty of business online application form and payment for MBA, DBA (doctoral) and diploma program
The system is used by almost all administrative and academic departments in the university and more functions related to relationship management are consistently being added to the CRM system due to the flexible framework that the Microsoft CRM platform offers. There has been a significant increase in the rate of enrollment and student retention after the deployment of the greymatter system.
The following were some of the key lessons learned:
1. Use the Student Information System (SIS) as the single source of truth for student data.
2. Minimize the amount of data written back into the SIS from CRM.
3. Ensure institutional IT resources are committed to the project.
4. Ensure executive support for the initiative coupled with a modular approach towards enterprise implementation.
This project was considered an overall success.
Systems integrated include:
- Banner ERP system used for application processing, student information and financial services
- Telax multi-channel call centre platform
- Learning Management System (LMS)
- Central Authentication System (CAS)
- Office of the registrar system for admissions
Frequency Foundry, with the application of greymatter, provided seamless integration through single sign-on to greymatter portals (web extensions to CRM) with a dedicated portal for prospects, applicants, students and alumni. In addition, enabling online payment for graduate students and corporate non-program students. greymatter has improved the overall operations of Athabasca University regarding student registration, student retention, department collaboration, donations, scheduling and marketing.