Key Takeaways from UCISA CISG-PCMG 2018

Conference notes by Lee Wise, Head of Marketing

I was delighted to be in Glasgow from 21st – 23rd November for the UCISA CISG-PCMG Conference. This annual conference brings together the Corporate Information Systems Group (CISG) with its sister group, the Project and Change Management Group (PCMG). Delegates at the event comprised of those responsible for the development and implementation of corporate and academic systems, programme and project management and business process improvement, their staff and CIOs and IT Directors.

Before I share a high-level overview of some of the key conversation topics observed I wanted to thank UCISA for the superb job organising this event. The level of engagement between the delegates and sponsors was some of the best I have seen, the agenda was varied with sessions for delegates and sponsors seemingly of interest to all.

I have complied the most common conversation topics we had into the top 5 takeaways.

Office 365 – Many still don’t leverage the full functionality and understand the wider ecosystem

There’s little doubt that Office 365 is the best collection of collaboration tools available in the marketplace, and the recent investments in Teams has only consolidated that position.

However, many organisations are still unsure about the best tools to use in different circumstances. This leads some to lock down new tools, for fear of confusing users with multiple options for collaboration and little guidance. On the other hand, some allow users to create their own Teams and experiment with Planner, Forms etc, learning about the Microsoft ecosystem organically as they use the tools. While this approach can cause some administrative headaches initially, a couple of universities we spoke to said that this had been outweighed by the productivity gains and staff’s new enthusiasm for Microsoft tools.

All universities we spoke to admitted that the best route would be to map out processes and train users accordingly, but expressed that achieving funding for this approach had proven difficult. Part of this is due to the huge variety in tools and benefits from Office 365, Microsoft’s Power Platform (Power BI, Flow and PowerApps), and Dynamics 365, which makes it difficult to isolate particular use cases for training.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 is the preferred CRM platform for universities

Every university bar one that we spoke to already had Microsoft Dynamics 365, or it was the preferred solution as they look for a strategic CRM platform. Our intelligence suggests an estimated 65% of universities have an instance of Microsoft Dynamics CRM or 365 within their institution.

The challenge for universities now is to ensure the CRM is delivered using a connected approach across the institution to avoid siloed instances popping up. We engaged with a university not so long ago who didn’t know they had 5 separate instances of Dynamics 365 (CRM)!

University intranets – a forgotten necessity?

“You can build an intranet on Office 365 in under 4 weeks? – I didn’t know that, ours hasn’t been updated in years” – That was the general feedback from the 5 universities we spoke to around their collaboration and communication tools. It’s a key area that is seemingly forgotten, possibly due to the perceived expense and time associated with legacy custom code intranets.

This links back to my point around maximising Office 365; there are superb, award winning tools like Valo intranets in the market place that can become the front door to a university’s digital workplace.

Could you replace your VLE with Microsoft Teams?

Two separate universities commented that they are evaluating the possibility of this, one was particularly keen, one incredibly sceptical.

It’s not my area of expertise so I’d be keen hear people’s opinions, feel free to comment below.

Proactive student engagement tools are key

Student engagement, and the ability to identify students at risk early, and reach out to them via tailored, automated communications and personal meetings is becoming an ever more important focus for universities.

One particular university we are working with has integrated their student analytics platform into Dynamics 365 to give actionable insight and outcomes. For example, at the start of a new semester students at risk will received tailored communications discussing the student services available to them, with live information on the availability of the student services team, from which they can book meetings.

From an efficiency perspective, managing their students “on-course” with Microsoft Dynamics 365 has enabled the university to consolidate multiple processes into one single solution, reducing manual work and enabling them to reduce the team size by 20%. Those in the team now have more time to deliver personalised, proactive services to their students.

A couple of universities had no interest in the traditional integration and “case management” a CRM solution provides, and were more interested in a student engagement platform almost as an extension to their BI capabilities.

If you’re keen to hear more about how we’re supporting universities across the UK to deliver their digital initiatives, contact us at or visit our Higher Education page. 

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