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Straight Talk IT

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Over the past five years, colleges and universities globally – with hot spots in the US, UK, and Australia – have made significant investments in constituent relationship management (CRM) solutions to support a myriad of institutional functions. Increasing competition to recruit, as well as financial and political pressure to retain, and ultimately graduate, students is largely driving these investments. Failing to address these drivers has meaningful and far-reaching implications, including long-term institutional viability.

Institutions are following one of two paths with their CRM investments: replacement or greenfield. Replacement strategies target aging applications that, while designed specifically for higher education, have failed to keep pace with the capabilities required to support more modern marketing techniques or multichannel communications with students. Greenfield typically represents an institution's first foray into using CRM to support recruitment and retention functions, often replacing cobbled-together workforce productivity tools and/or manual workarounds.

While institutions such as Arizona State University, Tulane University, and Valdosta State University are shining beacons of what is possible when institutions take a more transformative approach to student recruitment and retention efforts, they are exceptional cases. Most institutions are firmly entrenched in department-led CRM deployments that enable the more efficient execution of largely traditional functional tasks and student interactions – a significant accomplishment, but not a transformational one.

Change, however, is afoot. Over the last 24 months, many of these institutions, having seen the outcomes of early adopters and feeling more confident with cloud-deployment models, are now pressing their noses up against the glass, pining for the promise of institution-wide CRM but baffled at how to break through and make the leap.

Best practice is emerging, but Ovum believes that breaking through the glass will require CRM vendors and their partners, particularly professional services firms, to draw practical guidance from other industries and apply it to higher education in accessible ways. Some of this will be horizontal technology aspects such as governance and integration, but other aspects will fall outside of "bits and bytes," such as how to accelerate business transformation. As colleges and universities embark on these journeys with CRM, they should seek out providers that combine these capabilities with rich higher education experience.

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