IT Forum Perspectives

Weighing the benefits and risks of enterprise CRM

by Ben McGuire

Some of the most frequent questions we hear from our members are about which customer relationship management (CRM) software other institutions are buying, and which might be a good fit for their own institution. At the IT Forum, we strive to stay vendor-agnostic in our advice to members, but one trend we’re following closely is the shift from purpose-built, function-specific CRM applications to enterprise-wide CRM solutions.

It’s not hard to see why CRM adoption has been picking up speed in higher education; as the industry focuses more of its resources and attention on the student experience, we need better data to manage and impact interactions across the entire student lifecycle. A recent survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) found that CRM penetration varied widely by functional area.

Use of CRM by Department of Function
(n=385 institutions with active CRM

Use of CRM by Department or Function

While CRM implementations remain most common for core student enrollment functions (i.e., admissions and recruiting), half of the schools in AACRAO’s sample without a CRM are currently considering one.

The problem is that buying these tools in isolation can waste scarce resources, duplicate IT effort, and still not allow unit-based systems to communicate with each other. The worst fate for CRM would to become yet another siloed and distributed system. We recently spoke with an institution that had 12 separate instances of the same CRM running on campus, none of which could talk to each other.

To help other members avoid this trap, we want to share some lessons from institutions that are making the move to an enterprise-wide CRM solution, aiming to consolidate data from applications to alumni within a unified system.

Why members are moving toward enterprise CRM

  • Create common view of students: While some functions might collect and record student interaction information that can be used in other units (e.g., registration, housing), many still keep their data in unit-based spreadsheets or ad hoc mailing lists. Institutions pursuing an enterprise CRM hope that the shared platform for student data actually translates into shared information and as a result, optimized services across campus.

  • Improve service to students: An enterprise CRM holds the promise of a unified approach to student services, informed by a common dataset. The dean of admissions at Pepperdine University’s Seaver College saw an 80% reduction in phone inquiries on application statuses after implementing automated proactive outreach to prospects--a positive change they attribute to the implementation of a new CRM. (Johal, Navneet, “Enterprise Case Study: Delivering Exceptional Service Across the Student Lifecycle,” Ovum, Dec. 7, 2015.)

  • Save resources (money and time): A shared purchase of an enterprise wide system offers greater scale than unit-based purchasing and could reduce the need for integration of multiple, discrete CRM datasets by IT after implementation is complete.

Potential risks of the enterprise CRM path

  • Lose out on targeted functionality: While many units may have similar needs for constituent relationships that could be served effectively by a single system, others may have specific needs that require specialized solutions. For example, NCAA contact rules place limits on coach-athlete communications, and athletics offices may require a unit-specific solution to meet guidelines.

  • Get behind in a rapidly changing market: Many of our members are worried that making a ‘big bet’ in a sector with so many new entrants means they may pick a platform without staying power.

  • Consolidate risk into a single platform: Relying upon a single provider elevates the potential cost of a service outage, vendor management issue, and future switching costs; these costs should be measured against the potential efficiencies in purchasing and management gained through consolidation.

Don't forget about data quality

Establishing an enterprise CRM helps establish a source of record, but the data within the CRM must adhere to institutional standards to be of use in decision making. Review our study to learn how institutions are establishing accountability for data stewardship and standardizing data entry processes to improve data quality.

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