UNSW is a leading Australian university, one of the Group of Eight, and ranks among the top 100 universities in the world.
It has even bigger ambitions.
The UNSW 2025 strategy is focussed on establishing the University as Australia’s Global University with a stellar reputation for discovery, innovation, impact, education and thought leadership. It is investing $3 billion in the program of work to establish a level of research excellence that will place it in the top 50 global universities, while transforming its approach to teaching and learning.
At the same time, it wants to foster deeper relationships with its 60,000 students, industry partners and government.
That’s required a radical rethink about its information systems according to Frieda Maher, the program director for UNSW’s CRM project. That rethink even extends to the acronym – at UNSW CRM stands for constituent (rather than customer) relationship management, reflecting the broad community that UNSW serves and works with.
“Obviously, students are a big part of our constituency, but there are also business partners, research partners, government. For all of those constituents, our goals were to improve the experience, to grow our revenue base, and to improve our operational efficiency,” she says.
Market analysis led UNSW to a solution shortlist of Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Salesforce. The cloud-based Dynamics 365 took line honours, with KPMG the partner selected for the deployment which will ultimately replace 17 different CRM systems and datasets with a single consolidated solution across the University.
The standardisation and streamlining will improve the constituent experience and also save the University money in terms of reduced IT support and licence costs.
Dynamics 365 was deployed across all eight UNSW faculties for 400 users in 2017/8, and UNSW saved $250,000 in its 2018 marketing and recruitment budget alone. Two months after the start of the Dynamics 365 implementation UNSW was immediately able to turn off one system which saved $40,000 a year and reduced the time required for each student interaction. The CRM also earned its stripes as the digital backbone for an open day for 160 prospective post graduate students, capturing student records and interests on the spot.
According to Maher; “Our project has moved extremely quickly and we have delivered more to the University in a short space of time, and for less money, than has ever happened before.”
She said an Agile approach allowed the first site to go live within two months, with new software deployed every three weeks since then. Rather than blueprint the solution in isolation, UNSW and KPMG worked closely with the people who would actually use the system.
This supported an iterative approach which engaged the end users in the development of the solution, ensuring a perfect fit between user needs and delivered system.
Dynamics 365 has also ensured a step change in the student experience.
While UNSW has a central student system, it only covers core academic transactions. The other data collections about individual students and their interactions with faculties and divisions were often siloed. Now there is transparency in all student interactions with the University, all accessible in one location.
The ultimate goal is instead of battling to navigate their way through an array of different university information systems students have access to a single comprehensive platform.
With numerous service desks around campus, a student might approach one service desk, ask a question and potentially be told, “We can’t answer that question here.” Now, instead of sending the student around the campus, Dynamics supports students with complex questions, at the first place they approach.
Maher says that ability to support students and answer their day-to-day queries will be particularly important in 2019 as the University transitions to a new 3+ term model with three ten-week terms and a five-week optional summer term.
An added benefit of the single comprehensive platform is that the University can also tell if a student is asking the same question over and over – perhaps in the hope of getting a different answer. Now the consistency that Dynamics 365 affords means that admin personnel can let the student know the answer they have already received is accurate and final.
KPMG has also worked with UNSW to digitise five paper and 12 electronic forms handling everything from confirmation of enrolment to requests for time table changes, which are now integrated into Dynamics 365. This has allowed multiple older systems to be turned off, prompting savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
At the heart of the digital transformation platform is Dynamics 365 Enterprise and Dynamics 365 portals with Azure Active Directory managing faculty, administration and student portal user authentication.
The University has integrated the platform with Office 365 and Microsoft Flow for scanned document integration.
UNSW is also exploring how artificial intelligence techniques can be applied to the vexed issue of managing student retention using Azure Machine Learning to help identify at-risk students.
Student retention is an important issue for all universities. Although UNSW has the second highest retention rate in Australia, the use of AI could further improve that.
Dynamics 365 will also support those university teams engaged in business development for research projects. Maher explains that historically the university has from time to time missed out on grants because two different groups had tendered independently for the same grant.
As UNSW’s business development groups are brought onto the CRM, the University expects it will achieve greater grant success thanks to the transparency the system affords. This allows business development teams to see who is working on grant opportunities, which will encourage them to collaborate to win the grant rather than compete with one another and risk losing it.
It’s not just technology that has driven the successful transformation. Maher stresses the importance of culture and a willingness to share data.
The same sort of collaboration that will win more grants is playing out across the university.
“I don’t think we could have done this without our 2025 strategy. You need to have a visionary and ambitious institution promoting collaboration and sharing data, so that we can work together better,” she says.