Achieving a new understanding of the student lifecycle with Dynamics CRM.

"We have a modern system, which a lot more of the organisation are using, and we can now report on how we’re interacting with students and stakeholders.”

Craig Collis, Director of Information Systems and Technology

Universal College of Learning (UCOL) achieves a new understanding of the student lifecycle with Dynamics CRM

Established in 1902, the Universal College of Learning (UCOL) is a high-performing, government-funded institute of technology and polytechnic.

UCOL has 500 staff, and offers 160 programmes of study to over 6,000 local and international students. Courses are delivered from campuses in Palmerston North, Whanganui, Wairarapa and Auckland, as well as locations in Horowhenua, Levin and Taumarunui, and also online.

The end of an era

UCOL started using AUT’s Arion Student Management System (Arion Gen 16.2) in 2001, and over the next 15 years it became the repository of a huge amount of unique student contact data.

However, the version of Arion announced in 2016 no longer provided inbuilt contact management functionality, and instead needed to integrate into Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2013 or higher. UCOL were still using Dynamics CRM 4.0 to manage their interactions with close to 200,000 prospective, current and alumni students, plus all their stakeholders. They knew they needed to act.

The drivers for change

The fact that UCOL’s aging CRM was underutilised meant the new impetus for change was timely.

With no management mandate to use the CRM system, only about 15% of staff actively used it to record student contact and interaction information, or to capture international agent details. The rest saved information on Outlook, Arion, the UCOL contacts database, their phones, Excel, Word, and even on paper.

Email marketing was done through Outlook with whatever lists could be accessed. It was time intensive and lacked the reporting capabilities the marketing team needed.

Another concern was that UCOL didn’t have an external Microsoft CRM partner, and were reliant on a single in-house developer for support. This put their ability to stay up to date with system improvements and enhancements at risk. It also highlighted the need to mitigate the potential ‘one point of failure’, in case their developer left, took prolonged leave, or was ill.

And a final, but important driver for the new CRM, was a desire to improve this part of the business ahead of an upcoming four-yearly NZQA evaluation. “One of the two key criteria in NZQA evaluations,” says Craig Collis, UCOL’s Director of Information Systems and Technology, “is being able to demonstrate to them that we understand and measure the quality of the services we deliver to our students and other stakeholders. We couldn’t do that easily with the old system.”

UCOL chose Fusion5, a long-time ApprovalPlus (procure-to-pay) and JD Edwards partner, to deliver their new Dynamics CRM 2016 solution. The project started in early 2016 and went live in November 2016.

A single source of the truth

Dynamics CRM 2016 provided UCOL with a much-needed single source of the truth for contact information.

“’A single source of the truth’ was the mantra that we used all through the project,” says Collis. “A major driver was gaining visibility across the whole student lifecycle. As it was, there was no way we could centrally report on how we were engaging with stakeholders, alumni and even students on a day-to-day basis.”

Since the implementation, Dynamics CRM 2016 is helping UCOL develop a full picture of the changing needs of their students and the individual student journey. Inbuilt marketing functionality, along with ClickDimensions (a Microsoft CRM certified add-on which provides email marketing, web intelligence, lead scoring, campaign automation, nurture marketing, social discovery, form capture and surveys) is now helping UCOL maintain strong relationships throughout the student lifecycle and beyond. The polytechnic can collect more details about their students, capture international data and processes, and generate effective, targeted reporting. It also allows them to communicate more efficiently and effectively with their key stakeholders.

And while it’s early days when it comes to measuring exactly how many more prospect enquiries are converted to enrolments, Collis is quietly confident that they have increased.

Then, and now

The new CRM system contains the last five years of UCOL’s data, consisting of 22,000 contact records and 60,000 contact notes previously held in Arion and the other solutions used by their staff.

Collis says the new solution is a breath of fresh air. “18 months ago, we had a very old version of a system. It wasn't well-supported or meeting our needs, and it was used by a very small percentage of the organisation. We had data all over the place and no single source of the truth. We’re a lot better now. We have a modern system, which a lot more of the organisation are using, and we can now report on how we’re interacting with students and stakeholders.”

Managing the tide of change

Gill Lawn, General Manager Business Development for UCOL’s Business Development Group, was internally seconded as the Dynamics CRM project owner. She recognised an organisation-wide desire to move forward, as well as the considerable effort that would be required to encourage users to embrace a new solution.

“It was a big business change for us,” she says. “It wasn’t just a matter of upgrading a system, it was a fundamental shift in how we did things.”

Lawn was conscious that a strong change management process was required to ensure a structured approach to supporting UCOL’s users as they transitioned to the new CRM. Lawn expects it to take time for many of the staff to gain confidence in using the new system, and says their programme of ongoing internal training strategy is an important component of the change strategy.

The road ahead

The next phase of the project will roll out the ‘nice to have’ functions, like texting groups of students en masse rather than singly, more hierarchy around access to records, and using the CRM’s Social Engagement capabilities.

And NZQA? “Dynamics CRM has been a great help to UCOL in understanding our services. When we were last evaluated by NZQA, our rating improved. The planning for Dynamics CRM 2016 was a key component in achieving that result.”

“Fusion5 was easy to work with, very knowledgeable and valuable to us in terms of what we needed to do. We came in within budget, and within deadline,” says Collis, “and their lead consultant was awesome. He absolutely knew the system backwards and had a brilliant understanding of our implementation requirements.”


Great outcomes start with great conversations