Managing Information Systems in Higher Education
Higher Education as an industry has over the past few years experienced a tremendous evolution in the sense of business and competition. Enhancing the experience of the customers of higher education therefore, now, holds highest priorities for the educational institutions worldwide. Grant and Anderson (2002) view that educational institutions worldwide are undergoing fundamental shifts in how they operate and interact with their "customers": students, alumni, donors, faculty members, and staff members. Universities are now emphasising on restructuring and re-engineering their processes so as to improve the efficiency of processes as well as improve the customer experience. In this dynamic, competitive environment the future success of educational establishments rests on their ability to differentiate themselves and build meaningful relationships not only with existing students but with potential students as well. To achieve this, the internal processes, functions and information within the system need to be integrated to maximise the potential use.
The immediate and the most important customer to the education industry is the student. A student interacts with a university at numerous touch points, probably more than any other customer that an education institution or a university serves. The touch points for the student comprise of many process including the normal processes of enrolment, registration, finance, study services, etc. All these processes need and in turn generate large chunks of valuable information. This information segmented into respective functional databases. These databases then function while processing the student information during the time that student is at the university. A typical scenario of the all the information involved in the student life at the university can be seen in Section 2a (figure) on the following page which shows a process model showing the processes from initial contact with a prospective student up till graduation.Section 2b
As we can see the process diagram, various kinds of information is stored and reused at different stages of students' time at the university. Efficient management and use of this information and cost reduction is the need of the hour for the educational institutions to compete in the growing standards of the service. We look at technologies/ software that were identified in Section 1 of the assignment and try to identify their applicability to the processes in the model seen above.
- SOA (Service Oriented Architecture)
- CEP (Complex Event Processing)
- ESB (Enterprise System Bus)
- SIS (Student Information Systems) and SaaS (Software as a Service)
We see that information gets stored in different areas for different purposes. It might as well be stored in different legacy systems. Information stored for applications, finance, administration may very well have different forms of data usage and requirements. Different software systems to suit the specific needs are needed to provide different kinds of service.
An SOA basically provides a system which is capable of interoperability, efficient of performance and security for information which are essentially required for business factors like business agility and business process efficiency (Selamat M H et al, 2009). Information databases shown in figure for Administration, Library, Finance, etc. can interact and benefit from a system like this.
The application of CEP can be done in conjunction with the usage of SOA for real time applications. According to Magid et al (2008) Complex event processing (CEP) is about extracting meaningful and actionable information from event streams. The CEP technology is aimed to provide applications with a flexible and scalable mechanism for constructing condensed, refined views of the data. CEP correlates the data (viewed as events streams) in order to detect and report meaningful predefined patterns, thus supplying the application with an effective view of the accumulated incoming data (events), and allowing the application to react to the detections by executing actions.
A possible example would be the use of RFID technology. Such an application in the process model shown can be monitoring of staff, students for faculty and student information databases, real time monitoring of library assets and other assets in university for library and university services databases respectively. This would give essential real time data in evaluating and improving university services from time to time.
If SOA is the way to provide flexible and interoperable software for higher education, then the "enterprise service bus" (ESB) may be a key piece of infrastructure for supporting SOA (Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, 2007). ESB can be termed as mode of communication to aid inter-operability of various systems that is characterised with the usage of SOA. Hence, ESB is the technology that needs to be concurrently used with SOA.
It is essential for universities to be able to market themselves and attract students from right backgrounds. Therefore, managing information for marketing and student prospects becomes necessary. Enrolment management needs the best available technology to automate and manage its marketing campaigns (Hobsons, 2009). Student Information Systems(SIS) are very efficient in maintaining key details like contact, demographics, grades, financial details, etc. These promise to eliminate isolated silos of information, streamline training and support, and maintain a central data warehouse (Hobsons, 2009).
As seen from the process diagram, student interacts with the university at many touch points and the information/knowledge is exchanged. This information can very well be stored and applied by implementation of SaaS (Software as a service) application. Such applications could be used wherein third party software can be subscribed and accessed over web. The benefits of SaaS are:
- Lower costs & faster implementation
- Next to no burden on IT
- Better security, with data stored in a professionally maintained data centre (Hobsons, 2009).
ECM model is to encourage campus-wide collaboration by providing an integrated, fluid environment for users and programmers to gather, report, and publish data. When integrated with existing systems and business rules, ECM offers campus users access to accurate content and historical business data. (Woolson, 2009)
Such implementation can be made to manage information in the databases for library and university services. ECM also includes the Image Management, Document Management, Records management and Web Content Management. Hence, a system model can be used to effectively maintain all service information for all the services that educational institutions provide. Such a system would provide interflow of information across various departments and databases.
Similarly, technologies like, Mobile computing, cloud computing, Geo-everything, etc. which provide network solution to facilitate data exchange/access on the go can be used to serve student information services and student information databases which students and staff can access easily without actually using a desktop computer. Also, this can facilitate virtual classrooms, or enable the establishment of e-Learning methodology across the campuses.
All the technologies/software discussed above stress upon information management and interconnectivity within the organisation to enable free flow of information. Also, information management should aid in evolving process and improving the serving standards. In the current scenario of the education industry, a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system can provide solutions with handling information as well as making sense out of it to grow as business. Aspects of the CRM are discussed in Section 2c.Section 2c: CRM within Higher Education
The rapid growth in the education industry is widely stressed upon fact. The globalisation, growing market and competition as well the sheer amount of investments involved are driving education institutions towards proactive thinking; thinking towards innovation in processes, marketing, cost-cutting and improving standards of services to its customers. Kotler & Fox (1995) quote, "The best organization in the world will be ineffective if the focus on "customers" is lost.
First and foremost is the treatment of individual students, alumni, parents, friends and each other (internal customers). Every contact counts!" Higher education
Institutions are now shifting towards transforming their processes and information systems management to best serve their customers.
CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is one of the technologies that educational institutions have turned towards in increasing numbers. CRM is basically a system or a set of practices that provide a consolidated, integrated view of customers across all business areas to ensure that each customer receives the highest level of service (Karakostas et al., 2005; TDWI Industry Study, 2000). CRM can be termed as a strategy for business as well as a practice which primarily aims at transforming a business from product/service orientation to customer orientation. CRM can also be termed as set of a set of discrete software tools and technologies, with the goal of reducing costs, increasing revenue, identifying new opportunities and channels for expansion, and improving customer value, satisfaction, profitability, and retention (Grant, G. et al, 2002). CRM builds a very customer focussed view of the business and places customer as the centre around which all the organisational operations revolve.
Why CRM in Higher Education?
Increasing expectations of students/customers, information about student behaviour and trends, internal operations, etc. generate tons of information through various mediums like web, daily operational touch points, campus information. Information systems help a great deal in achieving all sorts of such information. It is however, difficult to make sense out of the gathered chunks of information in order to make use of it to improve the standards of service. Various departments function independently within educational institutions. Due to the functional and divisional boundaries of each department/office, it often becomes difficult for them to co-ordinate and operate in conjunction towards customer service. Also, in organisations like universities, the interaction with students, faculty, alumni, etc. happens at various places and touch points. At times it becomes difficult for to capture and manage all this interaction data in an efficient manner so as to make sense of it and use it for further necessities. Moreover, from the point of view of students, it is necessary to implement a single entity interaction system for processes/services like financial matters, enrolment, registrations, admissions, accommodation services. For the staff, things to matter are the administrations, payrolls, training and other staff services. And importantly, for the institutions themselves, it matters to manage all these and at the same time cut on costs by improving the internal organisation and process.
From the perspective of an institution, a CRM system aids in gauging the overall picture of all the process pertaining to individuals. CRM systems provide a common platform to all the in house departments and offices to work in conjunction. It also enables them to proactively engage and focus on common goal, i.e. best service to customer in his perspective. CRM enables an ongoing one-to-one relationship with the customer. When relationship management is enhanced by technology, a "seamless integration of every area of business that touches the customer" is provided (Seeman E.D. et al, 2006).
The rise in the education industry has seen institutions around the world taking steps to grow their business with innovative strategies and measures. Hence, there is need for them to know about the new trends around to plan and strategise accordingly. Prospective students now come from an age where access to information on anything is just a click away. Hence, students nowadays, before selecting particular institutions, analyse a wide range of information about the universities like academic reputation, pass rates, relationships with employers, etc. Universities necessarily need to know about such factors which affect prospective students' choices. Most students view administrative activities as a necessary evil; thus, an information system with an enhanced CRM initiative that provides an individualized fast-track to completing these activities can be a strong incentive for selecting a particular institution. CRM systems enable customers to interact with the business in an individualized, need-specific manner, and include processes to bring together information about both the customer and the business (Seeman E.D. et al, 2006).
However, implementation of CRM systems in higher education needs an approach as it does in other service based business. An institutions needs to understand its goals and know what all information is of prime importance. The further approach for an institution/university can be proposed as follows:
- Create "customer centric culture" across the organisation to identify what are the customers' needs, what affects them, what does 'value' mean to them
- Map business processes and identify customer touch points to identify touch points for customers, map and evolve processes to streamline interactions with customers, identify information through customer interaction and processes.
- Optimise customer touch points and re-design processes to optimise customer experience and relationships through various communications, human, physical touchpoints. (Perera, T., 2009)
Creating a "customer centric culture" is the main challenge, without it CRM implementations will fail. Business Process Models provide customer "touchpoint" information. Optimisation of these touchpoints is necessary before implementation of any CRM package.CRM Package
CRM software has three parts to it: Operational, Analytical and Collaborative. In short, the operational part consolidates all the data from various touch points, the operational part makes analyses and makes sense of the data and the collaborative part makes use of this data to effective collaboration between departments, and other offices in the supply chain.
The key functions that CRM performs by provision of valuable information in some areas are:
- Sales Force Automation - Customer/Prospect Information, Product/Service Information, Commercial/Marketing actions, etc.
- Marketing Automation - Campaign Management, Automated email response systems, email marketing systems, etc.
- Analytics - Customer segmentation groupings, Profitability analysis, Personalization, Event monitoring, What-if scenarios, Predictive modelling.
- Customer & Technical Support (Perera, T.,2009)
It is important to evaluate the available CRM packages and select eh one that best suits the concerning institutions. According to a study by Hobsons (2009) the important factors to consider while selecting the CRM package are:
- Interoperability with other systems on campus - Making sure CRM software can work well with all the systems in the campus
- Finding the ROI in enrolment CRM software - Return on investment is more important than ever to today's institutions & CRM packages can result in relatively quick returns
- Considering feature integration - What elements should a CRM package contain, and how are they going to be used
- Weighing "best of breed" vs. a suite product - A key decision for many institutions is weighing the pluses of vast "suite" solutions versus more focused best-of-breed software that targets a particular area.
Based on the scenarios for Higher Education discussed above, the possible options that can be suggested as for CRM packages available in the market are:
- Oracle's PeopleSoft CRM 9.1 (Source Oracle.com, 2009)
- Dramatically upgrade the user experience with Web 2.0 capabilities including collaboration and greater application interactivity
- Address today's CRM business needs with functionally deep applications for marketing, sales, and service that benefit all industries, as well as comprehensive industry-tailored solutions for higher education, human resources, and communications
- Provide unmatched depth of integration - both data and business processes - to the student information system to manage the entire constituent lifecycle from prospect to student to alumni across recruiting, retention and faculty/student service delivery processes--the extent of integration is expected to be unmatched by previous releases
- Enable deep, extensive integration to Oracle E-Business Suite HR Release 12.1 for human resources service delivery and workforce communications business processes
- Introduce over 100 new features and three new products--Workforce Communications, Event Management, and Service Centre for Higher Education Microsoft Dynamics CRM (Source: Microsoft, 2008)
- Correspondence, Outreach & Communications - Enhance university communications with society, alumni, distant learning.
- Recruiting and Retention - Ease in recruiting of staff by MS Dynamics as performance-evaluation tool
- Student Management - Streamlined management of all student information and records.
- Student Recruitments - Targeting & tracking marketing effectiveness towards prospective students
- Administration Workflow, Faculty Collaboration & Development - Streamline business and internal activities for effective administration and faculty. Also achieve management of other services like assets, transport, food, etc.
Conclusion: The growing competition and demand have made Higher Education institutions to venture into different aspects of marketing their businesses and improving operational processes. CRM has proved to be an effective tool in businesses drastically. But its implementation can be successful in the Higher Education industry if the institutions clearly understand the needs of its customers, its internal processes and the needs of the situation to provide best service to its customer. A careful approach would ensure that CRM brings success and improved customer relationships and retention.
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