CRM for Higher Education is an exploding vertical, as more schools increasingly adopt the technology for various stages of the student life-cycle. The most common CRM need for Higher Ed (as evidenced by this discussion) is often centered on Enrollment Management and typically includes such departments as Marketing, Recruitment, and Admission. However, it is important to keep in mind that CRM can be applied to almost any area of the Higher Ed enterprise, including Student Services, Retention, Career Services, Alumni Relations, Community Relations, and beyond. A wise choice of CRM vendor will be the one that provides robust Enrollment Management functionality, but that also allows for the product to scale to other departments in future phases/iterations.
In the case of Enrollment Management, I am convinced that effective Enrollment Management must include a CRM. Band-aid efforts to “get by” within the existing SIS might work for a little while, but at the end of the day, the limitations within the products remain, and it is truly unwise to continue to suffer through the pain when great CRM solutions are available that demonstrate phenomenal return-on-investment.
If one looks around the Higher Ed community it is apparent that most schools are currently employing one of three tactics to handle their internal enrollment operations:
1) Rogue and legacy systems – Typically a “free for all” where each staff member is utilizing their own methodology (spreadsheets, email inboxes, paper records) to maintain their daily activities and interactions. Some legacy software systems may also exist which act as data repositories, but they are usually extremely limited in functionality.
2) Student Information System (SIS) – By far the most common system in place at most schools, however as many can attest, the leading SIS products on the market were not developed as “relationship management” tools and are therefore sorely lacking in their ability to provide CRM-type functionality. Admissions personnel find it challenging to quickly segment their constituency based on various filters, communicate efficiently on a mass or individual basis, and see real-time data within the Enrollment Funnel. Admissions SIS users often have difficulty getting the reports they need (without appealing to an already overburdened IT staff), and usually can’t easily customize the product to accommodate their enrollment requirements. Some of the more common SIS complaints seem to focus on the limited ability to create automation and workflow, limited communication and activity history, and even the significant expense associated with something as simple as adding a new data field to the system. While the SIS companies have made efforts to improve their CRM-type functionality, for the most part, the new modules require expensive and time-consuming deployment projects, with the final deliverables still lacking in robust CRM features. Furthermore, the integration between the modules is often overstated during the sales pitch, and clients only learn the truth after committing significant capital and time into lengthy deployment projects. By that time, it is too late to switch. In short, a mature CRM system is an Enrollment Management necessity that is best left to those companies that specialize in the space.
3) CRM – The third way in which schools are managing recruitment/admissions/enrollment is, of course, through some type of CRM. There are certainly many choices on the market and they are not all created equal. Major factors to consider include integration options (integration with the SIS is usually vital), Total Cost of Ownership, deployment timeline, Higher Ed specificity, and of course cost!
I would suggest that Higher Ed institutions also consider the following decisive factor when selecting a CRM vendor: Select a “CRM in the Cloud”!
The term “cloud computing” is the dominating discussion point in the tech space nowadays, although it is often misused and/or misunderstood. It may be easiest to define the term by first explaining what it is not….
Cloud computing does not require on-premise servers. Schools do not need to invest in infrastructure, hardware, software, IT support, real-estate etc. in order to operate. In the cloud, upgrades are seamless and new technology is readily supported (such as smartphone/mobile access, social networking integration). Workflow and automation can be easily created and modified to accommodate various business procedures. The concept is called “clicks, not code”….it is the idea that you do not need to be a Computer Science Engineer in order to add fields, create reports, control security access etc. With a true cloud-computing platform, regular folks can be trained to be system administrators and can learn to control much of the functionality that previously fell on the IT departments’ shoulders. It sounds unreal, and many are skeptical. Furthermore not all cloud-platforms are created equal, which casts even more doubt on the reality of the cloud-computing promise. Suffice it to say, however, that Cloud Computing is very real. The common concerns and roadblocks such as security and reliability have been put to rest. In fact, it is borderline-irresponsible of a decision maker to ignore credible cloud-computing options on the basis of security policies/excuses alone. Much information can be found on the success of cloud-computing CRM platforms across many industries, including healthcare, banking, government, and indeed Higher Education.
However, buyer beware…warning – don’t be fooled by the “false cloud”. Marc Benioff (Chairman and CEO of Salesforce.com) cautions us that cloud-computing is not simply defined as software that is “accessible over the web”. Many software vendors nowadays claim to offer “cloud” solutions, when in reality, they have simply taken their existing technology and hosted it remotely, accessible via the internet. This is NOT cloud computing. Just because the product is being hosted remotely does not solve the typical pain-points, such as limited flexibility and limited end-user empowerment (can’t create your own reports, can’t create automation, can’t control data access and governance etc.). The “false cloud” is the mistaken idea that one can simply host traditional software remotely, and thereby solve the same problems that were inherent in the product when it was installed on-premise at the client’s location. Since these products were not architected as cloud applications that live within multitenant environments, they continue to be plagued by their own shortcomings, even when hosted remotely. Furthermore, the total cost of ownership can be as costly as their on-premise counterparts because they still essentially require the same level of resources to support them.
It is important to understand that true cloud computing contains the following characteristics (the cloud-computing litmus test):
1) Efficiency – Cloud computing leverages a multitenant environment. To put it plainly, think of a server as a home. Cloud computing platforms can be compared to condominium buildings. Everyone has their own unique unit, with their own key and secure front door; however there are still tremendous efficiencies in terms of sharing one roof, one basement, one building etc. Traditional software is more akin to a single-family housing development; multiple roofs, multiple basements, multiple buildings. Just because a vendor is hosting a product remotely does not mean that it is able to operate within a multitenant environment. They still cannot offer seamless upgrades, agile development, and maintenance-free living.
2) Economical – Is the product affordable? What is the Total Cost of Ownership? Common wisdom dictates that true cloud computing is deployed, upgraded, and customized at a rate of “5 times faster and half the cost” of traditional software products (source: Salesforce.com). Anyone who has been through an 18 to 24 month enterprise software project can appreciate the tremendous savings intrinsic in cloud computing systems. With cloud-computing, product customization and configuration occurs on the fly. You do not spend 6 months gathering requirements before hard-coding the product. Instead, the Subject Matter Experts at the school can participate in a Business Process Review project that includes an almost real-time creation of their vision. If something is incorrect, it can usually be remedied with a few mouse-clicks. If it sounds like magic…..well it almost is…but I promise you that we do it every day.
3) Democratic – can the product be used by large and small institutions alike? Can some schools only have 5 users of the system, while other schools have hundreds or thousands of users? False-cloud products might be available over the web, but they are still exclusionists towards small schools that cannot afford their hefty price-tags. True cloud-computing products work equally well for very small teams, but can scale upwards to essentially limitless users, without the slightest impact on operational effectiveness.
If you are talking about CRM, then in my opinion, Salesforce.com is by far the industry leader (their stock symbol is “CRM” for goodness sake; NYSE: CRM). No other CRM product is as mature, with the largest user-base, as well as a marketplace of custom “apps” built specifically for the platform. However, like any technology, if poorly deployed, even Salesforce can be difficult to handle. That is why our company, Enrollment Rx, is dedicated to developing solutions specifically for Higher Education on Salesforce.com. We transform Salesforce into a Higher Ed product that draws upon all of Salesforce’s CRM features, while infusing the unique functionality needed for academic institutions.