Modernized Interactions

Lessons from a cloud-based CRM solution provider for higher education.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Marc Satin of Enrollment RxProviding full lifecycle, cloud-based Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) for higher education, Enrollment Rx develops software that facilitates coordination and communication between staff and constituents. Their solutions are built on the cloud computing platform and span the entire student lifecycle – from first inquiry through last donation, and all of the touch-points in between. “I’ve been implementing CRM systems with Enrollment Rx clients for the last six years, since the company was founded in 2008,” says Marc Satin (pictured), Chief Operating Officer at Enrollment Rx. “I oversee our implementation team, which includes all customer configurations, deployments, product innovation, and have intimate knowledge of the challenges that customers face, as well as the systems in play in the marketplace.” Before Marc joined Enrollment, he was with Kaplan Higher Education for five years, with his last position being Executive Director of Admissions. During his time there, “we leveraged technology as often as possible” he says, “to create as efficient a business unit as possible — while maintaining a high level of customer engagement.” Here, Marc discusses lessons he’s learned about deploying technology to free people of needless labor so that they might get more done for their institution of learning and that they might enjoy — well, how about — a nice warm beverage and a pleasant conversation about what’s working?

We are in a period of real excitement when it comes to higher education technology and there are a lot of innovative schools looking at how to leverage the cloud. 

Victor: A little more about your background and how it has informed your current approach?

Marc: Working at Kaplan provided me with the ability to implement as many efficient processes as possible so that staff could do their jobs well without having to use disjointed systems, doing repetitive work, or entering data into multiple systems. That theme still resonates in higher ed, where technology should help alleviate the burden of manual, laborious tasks.

Getting clients to articulate their business requirements is a skill that is challenging to master, but it’s a cornerstone of Enrollment Rx’s services. Too often, schools let technology dictate business processes – e.g. that’s what they had to do with the previous systems that were in place; or that’s what a predecessor did with an older system. We’re able to help clients frame their business processes in a way that creates a stable foundation for the CRM system to deliver maximum benefit.

Victor: Why do schools typically want to implement a CRM solution? How have they previously handled that function?

Marc: As we can all imagine or remember from our days in school, universities and colleges interact daily with a myriad of people, including prospective students, enrolled students, alumni, donors, employers, guidance counselors, etc. However, in those interactions with people it’s common that schools struggle to maintain order, transparency and accountability when managing all these disparate relationships. They rely on manual, legacy systems, which are disconnected and disorganized. This creates fragmented data, departments and processes. Schools are unable to create efficiencies and operational fluidity with zero – or at best, siloed – insight into constituent needs during each stage of the lifecycle.

Victor: What is the size and type of institution that typically chooses a cloud CRM solution?

Marc: The beauty of a cloud CRM is that it serves the needs of all size institutions, from small schools to larger enterprises. I don’t think there is a typical size and type that fits best. It’s more about how efficient, how scalable, and how versatile the CRM needs to be, which will help determine whether a school should choose a cloud vs. an on-premise solution.

Victor: If most schools have a SIS solution and need to integrate it with their CRM solution, what are the steps you’d suggest to make that integration go smoothly?

Marc: Integrating SIS and CRM is a common concern and can be an intimidating task for universities/colleges to take on. To create technology systems that support higher ed organizational needs, I’d recommend the following steps to ease the CRM and SIS integration process and effectively bridge departments – from admissions and enrollment to IT.

  • Define the primary business value driving the integration (e.g. operational cost reduction, improved student experience, etc.)
  • Break down integration strategy into steps (you can’t do everything all at once)
  • Map out a consistent, transparent integration process (including 3-step process of identifying data flow, methodology, frequency requirements, e.g. communication between systems)
  • Determine who “owns” the data, both on the IT side and the departmental (e.g. admissions, alumni services) side
  • Be sure you’re supporting FERPA requirements

Victor: Why is the data difficult to integrate? What are the challenges / mistakes that institutions run into / make?

Marc: The number one challenge higher ed institutions run into is not understanding their data flow requirement. Many clients will say ‘we want bi-directional, real-time integration.’ However, understanding the exact reason as to why that it is needed is often overlooked. We help clients break that down further by getting to the heart of who’s interacting with the data, whether they’re interacting in real-time, etc.; that’s what determines integration needs. For many clients, data updated on a daily basis is sufficient. That said, there are certainly clients who are doing real-time integration, e.g. as soon as a student enrolls, they need immediate access to the student portal.

Another very common mistake institutions make is bringing over data that is never utilized in any capacity or for any specific reason. They initially feel it’s needed but in reality, once you start using the system, the extra data becomes just noise.

For example, a SIS is full of codes – data elements that do not have any business being in a CRM system because you’re not transacting with that data or building business processes around them. On the flip side, data elements that people do engage with, and that enforce business processes include information about financial aid, housing, registration and billing.

Victor: What are the common complaints that colleges have when integrating CRM and SIS? How do you suggest to resolve some of those issues?

Marc: I wouldn’t say complaint; however, the number one concern is resources: Do I have the necessary resources to complete this integration? Although that is an extremely valid concern, there are ways to solve integration with limited resources.

First, third party ETL solutions are a fantastic way of completing integration needs with less development and more out-of-the-box functionality.

Secondly, it’s important to have realistic integration goals and understand your data flow requirements as much as you can ahead of time. Instead of being data-related (e.g. we want to bring over XYZ data), goals should be business process-related (e.g. we want our system to engage in active outreach to get people registered; or we want to create a persistence policy where candidates are effectively persisting through the program.)

Finally, take small steps and create small wins.  Don’t try to bite off a huge, complex integration project in one bite. If possible, take smaller bites with pre-defined milestones. Then, in the end, the integration goal will be accomplished.

Victor: What would a “perfect” integration of CRM and SIS look like?

Marc: A perfect integration is when CRM becomes a system of engagement, meaning that SIS and CRM systems communicate seamlessly and automatically.

As transactions – such as registration, grades, attendance, billing, etc. – occur in the SIS, leveraging the CRM to create alerts / notifications, communication flows / sequencing, and tracking activities related to specific business processes will be a huge boon to the value of both systems.

A great example would be using the CRM for retention purposes. As a student registers for the upcoming term, the CRM would be made aware of that transaction so that an academic advisor/career coach can follow up: ‘Did you register for the correct classes?’ ‘Did you register for the classes you want?’ etc.

Or, let’s say a lower than normal grade is posted into the SIS. In an ideal integration scenario, that data bridges over to the CRM, which automatically generates a task for the student’s advisor to follow up. When integrated properly, CRM becomes an effective system not only for “high risk” activity, but also for high engagement throughout the entire student lifecycle.

Victor: What does a school gain from a successful integration? What new types of activities/processes will they be able to do, and what benefit will they gain?

Marc: When properly integrated, CRM brings SIS to life, creating new opportunities to engage with students, alumni and a host of other constituents. Schools can expect more effective communications and better use of resources; staff will spend less time on manual tasks and more time on high-value constituent engagement. For many schools, the result is increased yield, increased retention, and increased alumni engagement.

Victor: What questions do they need to address to help them with a successful integration, both in the near-term (e.g., go-live) and in the future?

Mark: Having a clear understanding of business process requirements related to data integration is critical. Whether you’re integrating one data element or 100 data elements, the questions and challenges that need to be addressed will be the same and the process shouldn’t alter:

  • understand data flow
  • understand frequency requirements
  • understand methodology

Victor: What is the end result that colleges can expect when they have integrated their CRM and SIS?

Marc: Increased yield, increased retention and increased alumni engagement can be directly attributed to an effective integration of CRM and SIS.

Knowing issues and taking action before the issues can escalate, or before they become issues at all, leads to proactive retention.

Plus, CRM becomes a true system of engagement, empowering end users to take action and make decisions that enforce business processes.

Victor: Any horror stories of “integration gone wrong”?

Marc: The horror story that schools want to avoid is integration spaghetti, with data going back and forth between multiple systems with no clear direction or path. The data flows look like a plate of spaghetti. This leads to confusing data, reduced data quality, and lack of ownership – not to mention that the probability of the system breaking is exponentially increased.

Victor: Your thoughts in general on the state of higher education today in light of technology?

Marc: We are in a period of real excitement when it comes to higher education technology and there are a lot of innovative schools looking at how to leverage the cloud. More and more institutions are trying to do more with less due to budget, staffing, etc. As a result, technology is increasingly heading in the direction of systems that easily scale, grow and empower the user to take action.

In addition, being as responsive to constituents as possible is critical, so retention is key. Technology like Enrollment Rx is enabling this by putting information at the fingertips of staff, career coaches, admissions officers, alumni officers, etc.

One fairly new development is that many schools are looking at CRM as a system of record, a system of engagement. This is revolutionary in the higher ed space, as it’s breaking down silos and ensuring that users across the entire institution have access to similar/consistent data sets.

Victor: Anything else you’d like to add or emphasize concerning the value of such solutions, or on anything else?

Marc: Our vision is to be a system of engagement for higher education. We do this by leveraging the platform and Enrollment Rx’s talent, systems and deep expertise in higher ed. Our team comes out of higher education and we are intimately familiar with the challenges our clients are facing, and what their needs are. We provide professional services and extend solution functionality based on client needs so that clients can be assured they have a solution tailored to their needs and the support to go along with it.

While enrollment management will always be a critical piece of the puzzle, the future is in extending CRM across the whole lifecycle – including career services, alumni/advancement, and retention. Enrollment Rx already delivers solutions that span the entire lifecycle, and we’re continually innovating to extend that opportunity to our clients.

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to:

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