Implementing a New CRM System: How iPASS Supported the Transformation of Student Information at NAU

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Although achieving consensus on a major undertaking is never a simple process, at Northern Arizona University (NAU), we developed buy-in for our Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success (iPASS) grant project by beginning with an understanding of "why." Student-focused staff throughout NAU recognized the need to record student information in a single, shared platform. Their perspectives helped drive the implementation of a customer relationship management (CRM) system for institution-wide use.

Through the iPASS grant, our Information Technology Services, Institutional Research and Analysis, Academic Affairs, and Student Affairs departments collaborated to accelerate the implementation timeline. The grant provided funding and infrastructure that enabled NAU to implement a CRM for student advising, mentoring, and service functions at least one year sooner than we had originally anticipated.

Achieving Consensus

A thoughtful and comprehensive requirements-gathering phase was a key step in growing buy-in among academic advisors and student affairs staff. This phase included:

  • Gaining support across campus: Enthusiasm and communication from administrative leaders in multiple divisions also fostered a positive expectation.
  • Establishing a shared timeline: Mutual agreement on a firm date to turn off the legacy systems and debut the new system created a definitive edge rather than a fuzzy transition that would allow for late adopters.
  • Preparing via effective instruction: Training was conducted in advance of the go-live date to ensure staff knew how to use the system from day one.

NAU student-facing offices such as academic advising, registrar, and student affairs began documenting student interactions in the CRM on or before September 12, 2016. A feedback system was available so that users could suggest system enhancements. Some of these desired enhancements were completed quickly, which further supported buy-in on the project.

The transition to a common recording site for advising and mentoring notes greatly increased information sharing among multiple units. Indeed, silos have been converted into adjoining suites. Where information sharing challenges remain, it is primarily in areas that by requirement must retain some level of confidentiality (e.g., financial and personal health information) or the few specialized areas that have not yet developed a culture of entering notes into the CRM.

Mitigating Unanticipated Barriers

While the rollout with NAU staff went smoothly, the rollout of the CRM to faculty members encountered more snags. One issue was that the licensing structure for the CRM software made providing full access to all faculty infeasible. Our team had to develop a workaround that would provide sufficient access to faculty members for specific CRM-functions such as our new early-alert system while also identifying those faculty members whose responsibilities would require full CRM access.

The other major challenge was timing. We rolled out the CRM to advising and student affairs staff at the start of the fall 2016 semester. Consequently, onsite training sessions were held in the summer — a time when many faculty members were not available. As a result, adoption and acclimation to the new system was more challenging among this group.

Recognizing the Positive Changes

One of our mantras for use of the CRM is "route the problem, not the student." This means that by creating cases within the CRM, we can electronically route a student's issue or question to the appropriate office, rather than obligating a student to trek from one office to another.

In addition, the united information platform obviates the need for a student to explain his or her situation repeatedly because personnel in one office (e.g., advising) can see the documentation and notes from other offices (e.g., student affairs). This has eliminated an unnecessary level of personal hassle for our students while ensuring that all of our offices are on the same page with regard to each student's unique situation.

Advice and Lessons Learned: Communication and Iteration

One of the most common items of advice is also among the most sage: Communicate broadly and often. Most faculty and staff are willing to make changes as long as they understand the goals and feel included in the process. Our CRM implementation with staff was smoother than with faculty members in part because the project leadership communicated more frequently and clearly with staff.

Another piece of advice is to be poised and willing to make some rapid adjustments in response to feedback. People appreciate being heard, and modifications that noticeably improve the user experience are sound investments in the long-term project goals.

Pauline Entin is Vice Provost for Academic Affairs at Northern Arizona University.

© 2018 Pauline Entin. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC 4.0 International License.