Running a university of more than 21,000 students and 4,000 staff sounds like a serious undertaking. And when you consider that’s roughly the same population as Taupō, the scale of the task becomes even clearer.

The University of Otago is New Zealand’s oldest tertiary institution, with students from all over the country – and the world – flocking to Dunedin for the Scarfie experience. When borders are open, staff travel the world to conferences, courses and recruitment fairs, students do exchanges and participate in extracurricular activities, alumni and guests visit for events, suppliers and contractors make deliveries and maintain properties and equipment. New and existing relationships are made with hundreds of research funding organisations and industry contacts, and thousands of research applications and contracts are signed. And of course, there’s a never ending round of lectures, labs and tutorials, exams, assignments and graduations.

That’s a lot to keep track of.

The university’s leaders realised that to ensure every person was getting the most out of every interaction, they needed to know exactly what was going on in their bustling academic city. Were students receiving all the support they needed to maintain their studies? Were alumni records completely accurate? Did anything result from that speaking engagement in Milan? How effective was that industry engagement and how up to date were the university’s contacts? A few years ago, they didn’t have a clear answer, using a disparate assortment of technology platforms and services, following different processes, which were blurring the university’s vision and holding it back from delivering a truly A+ experience.

Mapping a path to excellence

Fusion5 is no stranger to academic challenges. As a technology solutions adviser to higher education institutions around New Zealand, with industry experts who’ve worked in universities on staff, it knows the issues facing today’s universities better than most. It also knows these challenges aren’t limited to academia – that in fact, running a university takes real business nous.

Leon Nguyen is Principal Consultant at Fusion5, with broad experience across both the business and tertiary sectors and the lead of its Higher Education Centre of Excellence. He knew that in order for any new technology to be effective, the right structure had to be in place first. “A business transformation is not simply about technology – it’s actually about how you structure your business as well as the platforms and technologies you use. A lot of our tertiary customers know what they want at a high level, but not how to get there. That requires a full business analysis, which is where we always aim to start,” he says. “We took a thought leadership approach to guide the University of Otago along the journey, not just delivering a product but doing a deep dive into their business operations.”

That meant applying Fusion5’s Higher Education Centre of Excellence approach at Otago. While the university was already a centre of academic excellence, the Fusion5 version is effectively a framework composed of robust approaches, tools and delivery templates that ensure higher education organisations and workers are set up for success.

Fusion 5’s experience taught it not to focus on the technology, but rather on outcomes and steps to achieve them. Leon and his team worked with the university’s staff to create a roadmap, identifying all the things the university wanted to achieve for its students, staff, business partners and alumni and putting the right standards and structures in place to build the foundations. There’s a lot more to it than you might think.

“Even something as simple as how you name your stakeholders in the system – as customers, guests, students – needs to be consistent so you can find that information easily. This streamlines reporting and establishes best practice across the organisation,”

Leon Nguyen, Principal Consultant at Fusion5

“Otago staff didn’t have a clear view of their customers and relationship management activities due to multiple segmented systems and tools. Instead of simply giving them new tools, we worked with them to map best practice end to end business processes that would help their relationship management to be centralised and proactive.”

“A business transformation is not simply about technology – it’s actually about how you structure your business as well as the platforms and technologies you use. We took a thought leadership approach to guide the University of Otago along the journey, not just delivering a product but doing a deep dive into their business operations.”

Leon Nguyen, Principal Consultant at Fusion5

Creating a uni-versity

Once the Centre of Excellence approach established the right processes and rules, Fusion5 set about helping the university engage better with all its stakeholders. Underpinning the whole framework was a Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement platform, bringing all the departments’ systems together in one unified platform. As the various phases are deployed, it means all information will be stored and accessed in one place so both staff and students have much greater visibility of the things that are important to them.

Instead of fragmented pieces of the puzzle across various databases, staff will now have a 360-degree view of the whole student life cycle, from the course advice they’d received as prospective students to the status of their applications to who was due to graduate. This lays the foundations for much better engagement with students at the right time to help them along their journey. The AskOtago service for students was world-class, but used to rely on a lot of manual follow-up. A standardised process and platform made follow-ups easy, ensuring any requests for course advice or support were actioned and all staff could see what had resulted from the previous interaction.

The whole platform was also integrated with the alumni database so the alumni relations team share one view of information with service management team. This ensures any communications can be directed to the right place (and are not being sent to people who didn’t wish to receive them). This approach also helps avoid duplicate letters. The International Office team, key for attracting and retaining international students, are better able to monitor their engagements with agents overseas, transforming this into a more efficient process for staff and agents, and an improved experience for international students. Within Research & Enterprise, Business Development Managers can also track their interactions with industry, maintain accurate contact details, and link effort to outcomes.

Information sharing has been key, be it within or across affected departments. And phase one is just the beginning of this exciting journey.

Tools such as Microsoft’s Power Automate are integrated into the Dynamics platform aiming to automate repetitive tasks, which will create better efficiencies and help staff focus on delivering more valuable work.

“People have been so excited, they’re asking what’s next”

“We’re changing the whole perception of what a CRM is at the university. It’s not just a database, it’s a powerful suite of tools to build relationships and drive insights. They can use it for lead nurturing, service management, marketing – all sorts of things they’d never previously associated with a CRM. What Dynamics does is enable them to identify and focus on the best next action, know where to find information and what to do next.”

Leon Nguyen, Principal Consultant at Fusion5

The Centre of Excellence and Dynamics 365 rollout have resulted in hugely increased engagement. Usage statistics gathered by the university demonstrate this. Thousands of contacts have been added since go-live in May 2020 and over a million records have been viewed – proof of how valuable the CRM is to Alumni Relations, the International Office, and Research & Enterprise.

“We usually expect some resistance from employees when we introduce a new system, but people have been so excited about the changes they’re asking what’s next. They all want their areas to be first in the queue.”

From an external contact perspective, all pertinent information is on record when people contact the university or the university contacts them, enhancing their experience – no longer will they need to repeat the same information over and again. Recording and linking data greatly enhance the university’s business intelligence, and this will only improve as further phases are delivered.

 

From support on demand to proactive student engagement

As the programme evolves, the university is looking forward to supporting struggling students better with early intervention. Phase three is soon to get underway, with Fusion5 weaving marketing and pastoral care functionality into the customer engagement platform as well. The platform will better enable staff to spot signs a student might be having difficulties, such as reduced class attendance, so they can offer support before they fall too far behind or even withdraw from their course.

The technology also enables communications to be automated, so in time, any students requesting prospectuses or other materials through the website can be automatically sent the right documents. Even better, the university will be able to capture data on who is visiting their website, from where, and what sort of information people are looking for so it can ensure its outreach programmes and communications are on point.

Information sharing and removing gaps in knowledge is a key goal of the university. Hitherto, the processes have been siloed, either within teams or confined to individuals. The CRM/CRSM is removing these siloes, freeing information to be put to its best use. Staff no longer need to maintain a myriad of systems within each department. As staff change, the information is retained and accessible to all.

With more improvements planned, the University of Otago is set to deliver an even better experience for thousands of students and stakeholders for the next 150 years and beyond.

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