Legacy Systems in Higher Education: Roundtable Insights

Insights from our recent roundtable: Manchester, 27th February 2019

Over the last year or so, we’ve had more and more conversations with universities about moving from a legacy CRM system to a modern, online platform that can facilitate student engagement from enquiry to alumni (and everything in between.)

To further explore what is involved in this change, we arranged a roundtable with senior leaders in Higher Education as an opportunity for them to meet, discuss, and learn from others in the sector. Attendees represented organisations using a legacy CRM system as their primary communication method with prospective students, as well as those who have multiple instances of CRM throughout the university. This post focuses on some of the key themes to emerge during the discussion on the day.

How CRM is viewed at universities

One attendee noted that relationship management should be considered in terms of a strategy or mindset, not a system. A CRM system is not a silver bullet to transform the relationship a university has with its students. Instead, it is a platform that can facilitate better, more informed communication. By listening to your staff (and where possible, your students) about how they would like to engage, universities can create systems that are embedded into their users’ daily lives, and help rather than hinder productivity.

Attendees emphasised the importance of considering actual user needs, rather than perceived user needs, when determining how a CRM system should support each team.

It is important to minimise tech-talk when speaking to colleagues about relationship management, as attendees noted that this tends to make some staff nervous. Some users still feel uncomfortable about using the tools they are given for fear that they will make a mistake which will have wide ramifications, for example sending a bulk email containing a mistake. This fear can be minimised by talking in terms of process, not technology, and ensuring all users are adequately trained in the essential tools.

The absence of ‘digital’ in university strategy

When asked about the role of ‘digital’ in their overall university strategy, some attendees noted that the term is largely absent from published plans. It seems that universities are willing to invest in enhancing the student experience in terms of bricks and mortar, but more reluctant when investing in technology to support better experiences for students (prospective/current) and staff.

The consensus in the room was that universities would have to place digital in a much more central position in their overall strategy going forward. A dip in the population of UK 18-year-olds and the uncertainty around EU student numbers will all make marketing overseas all the more paramount. International growth has taken on new facets over the past few years as universities expand their offerings to international students beyond UK-based study. The increase in online courses and overseas campuses are opening up a whole new demographic of prospective students, and investment in digital communication methods is essential for universities hoping to capture this wider target market.

Budgetary challenges

CRM is a requirement for many departments across a university. However, some attendees noted that their current way of budgeting makes it difficult to share systems, as funds are often allocated per department. This makes it difficult to create a CRM system that spans the whole student journey, and can result in multiple disparate CRM systems springing up all over campus to address the individual needs of each team.

This leads to three key issues:

  • Firstly, this limits the analysis that can be performed with data, as each department is looking at a fraction of the rich information available.
  • Secondly, it leads to dissatisfaction from students, who aren’t used to having to provide their details more than once to what they see as the university as a whole.
  • Lastly, it incurs inefficiencies in terms of time (inputting data that already exists elsewhere) and money (by investing in multiple similar platforms, rather than one which enables everything).

This has an unwanted consequence too, as it causes departments to be protective over their systems. For example, even if a CRM system implemented for student recruitment could also be used for alumni fundraising, the student recruitment team may be reluctant to allow access to other departments having personally invested in its success.

Universities are now working hard to overcome these challenges, due to the clear benefits of a connected view across departments and stages of the student lifecycle. When discussing their ambitions to move away from legacy systems, many attendees noted that they will reduce the number of ‘CRM-type’ systems in play as part of this modernisation.

Concluding thoughts

The overall tone of the roundtable was positive and showed that universities are taking steps to reduce the number of legacy applications to increase efficiency and decrease costs. While it can be easy to compare progress to other universities, it was noted that all attendees shared similar challenges around buy-in, budgets and overall CRM vision at their institutions. There was a definite sigh of relief from attendees that they are not alone in the challenges they face.

What’s next?

  • Would you like to attend our next Higher Education Roundtable? Get in touch at info@pythagoras.co.uk to register your interest with our team.
  • Book your Discovery Day to find out how Pythagoras can help your university move to a more modern CRM platform.