Athabasca University Brings the World Closer with greymatter


Athabasca University (AU), located 145 kilometres north of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, has a long history of educational innovation, including 50 years’ specialization in distance and distribution learning as well as the introduction of the world’s first online MBA program in 1994.  Founded in 1970, AU has since grown to over 1200 faculty and staff, currently serve a combined undergraduate and graduate population of over 40,000 students, and is one of only four comprehensive academic and research universities serving the 4.3 million residents within the province of Alberta.

With the addition in 2011 of Frequency Foundry’s flagship higher education Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) solution, greymatter, AU has moved towards providing complete flexibility and accessibility to online students, especially through greymatter’s functionality to improve upon institutional recruitment, admittance, and retention.

Built on top of Microsoft’s industry-leading business application platform, Microsoft Dynamics 365, greymatter not only captures constituent data from prospective students through to their alumni years but is unique in being the only full lifecycle CRM solution built specifically to serve higher education institutions.  While Athabasca University chose to focus heavily on recruitment and retention requirements, AU also extended the solution to cover facilitation of payments for registration through a PCI-compliant payment gateway, corporate partner relationships, registration management, and automated marketing. Considering the breadth of functionality, it was clear to AU that greymatter was the correct fit, which would not only fit AU’s current needs but also scale to meet future demands.

The Challenges

Before the implementation of greymatter, Athabasca University experienced persistent process challenges with its approach and execution of recruiting new students.  Despite being an innovative and creative institution, AU had used traditional approaches to recruitment, including newspaper print advertisements and manually collecting prospect student information. In contrast with their dedication to delivering innovative, technology-focused distance learning, AU’s traditional recruitment approach exposed several weaknesses, including the inabilities to:

Additionally, Athabasca University had been using a legacy student information system (SIS), Banner, which created further difficulties for the university, including the inabilities to:

These inabilities led to the disfunction of organizational data silos, as individual departments applied their own disparate, non-integrated IT systems, tools, and solutions to address their specific needs. These silos not only hoarded data from each other, but also from AU’s SIS, which acted as the system of record for student data.

The Solution

Athabasca University required an enterprise-wide implementation of a CRM solution that would meet the needs of student recruitment and retention.

Athabasca University’s long-term vision was a CRM that would cover the entire student lifecycle, beginning with an enterprise-wide implementation that would improve recruitment outcomes and retain an exceptional percentage of international students through the advancement of advisory and counselling processes. An additional aim of AU’s initiative was to solve data siloing with a CRM that could meet the requirements of individual departments or faculties. 

The solution needed to provide integration with:

The recruitment team members required mobile extensions to conveniently enter lead or prospect information. Examples of recruitment team requirements included:

To meet the requirements of student retention, the solution needed to include:  

In 2011, Frequency Foundry successfully implemented the greymatter CRM solution at Athabasca University with the following components:

The implementation of greymatter for Athabasca University would be Frequency Foundry’s first foray into higher education CRM solutions. Since then, greymatter has grown substantially in roadmap development and has been implemented in 16 higher education institutions, all of which we proudly maintain development, expansion, and service support with, including Athabasca, in support of their own roadmap requirements across all faculties and administrative departments.

The Technology

greymatter is built on the Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement Platform and Common Data Services and relies on Azure services for infrastructure, platform, and software. The solution sits within the customer’s Azure and Office 365 tenants and brings together the Power Platform, Azure AI+ML, Productivity, and business apps on the common data service. . It has been technically validated and certified for AppSource and is the only solution built on both Microsoft’s Higher Education and Nonprofit Accelerators

Foundry is the only vendor to combine two of Microsoft’s industry solutions using the Common Data Services model, which ensures that greymatter remains standards-driven and standards-based to allow for ease of integration.


The following list provides some key outcomes from the greymatter implementation at Athabasca University. The solution: 

After three years of successful usage, the client expanded the greymatter platform to add the following modules:

Since implementation, greymatter has helped to dissolve departmental data silos at Athabasca University by providing a centralized system from which all data can be accessed by multiple users according to their user permissions. 

greymatter is currently used by almost all administrative and academic departments in AU, who are able to leverage the ever-growing number of functions related to relationship management that are consistently being added to the CRM system, which is due to the flexible framework that the Dynamics platform offers. As a result, there has been a significant increase in the rates of enrollment and student retention at Athabasca University after the deployment of greymatter.

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