Enterprise CRM: Should I Care?

Principal Analyst

Top of Mind: Enterprise CRM — Should I Care?
Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes


In higher education, CRM technology has traditionally been scattered across multiple functional areas for multiple purposes. For a few institutions, looking at CRM more holistically has become an imperative. Why? Should you take this approach? It is not right for every campus, as it can cause unnecessary complications. But for some institutions, the alignment of all the data and technology components is key to their success.

CRM in Higher Education

There are some very common CRM use cases in higher ed. Admissions, student success, and advancement are at the top of the list. Corporate and community engagement, service operations, and other uses are also becoming more common.

Many institutions have found multiple CRM solutions in use within their walls because college or program admissions offices have implemented a solution on their own. Especially in professional, graduate, and community education settings, recruiting and admissions can be very focused, high touch, and high value to the program. Other offices have adopted CRM technologies that are specifically tailored to their business function. There are several popular advancement and recruiting CRM platforms across higher education.

Some institutions have tried to use an enterprise CRM platform, such as Salesforce, to align all of the CRM functions on a single platform. Others have used separate instances of CRM platforms and integrate core data, such as student or employee information, with a central source.

What Is an Enterprise CRM?

In this context, an enterprise CRM is a CRM that serves multiple functional areas with a single platform. There are some institutions that have created an enterprise CRM platform for student functions but retain separate platforms for advancement and other functions. Others have declared a single platform as the only CRM for the institution, and they manage all identities in one platform. Both of these situations are considered enterprise CRMs.

Do I Need an Enterprise CRM?

Think about the data you are managing in your CRM platforms. Do you have multiple platforms that are importing, exporting, and managing data about the same set of constituents? Are you moving student data between multiple platforms and allowing data gathering and changes to happen on multiple platforms? This situation can cause significant data accuracy issues, constituent confusion, conflicting communication methods, and siloed information. Where should students update their information? Can they call any office they deal with and change their address? If this situation exists on your campus, then you may need to consider an enterprise platform or an enterprise view of the data integration between platforms.

What Will It Take to Do This, and What Are the Benefits?

An enterprise CRM platform manages data and coordinates communication in one place across all offices. Establishing this kind of platform will require significant cooperation between offices that may have previously been able to operate independently. It will also require a centrally managed platform with technical support, data governance, project management, sophisticated integrations, and leadership support. The payoff, though, is a cohesive, complete picture of activities, communications, and data for a student that can be used for complex reporting, knowledge-based interactions, and detection of potential problems.

Building such a platform is a significant effort, not accomplished all in one project, but it is built over time with a single data model and onboarding functions over time. It requires a dedicated team to manage the platform and serve the functional areas that need to use the system.

Institutions that have been successful in building enterprise CRM programs have found great benefit in a few key ways. First, there is a reduction in data conflicts. Second is the ability to use a broader set of data to analyze activities. Last is the ability to be more agile in reacting to situations like the COVID-19 pandemic. Institutions used their enterprise CRMs for many of the pandemic operations and reporting because these platforms gave them the ability to adapt quickly using a broad set of constituent data. Consider these options carefully, knowing there is no simple path to manage this complex data across multiple teams that have varied functions.

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Principal Analyst
Dave Kieffer spearheads research focused on finance, and HCM applications, data management and other critical higher education technologies at Tambellini Group. He brings more than 30 years of creating, implementing, and managing enterprise-class applications in higher education. His experience includes all levels of applications development and management in higher education. Among other things, he has been responsible for ERP implementations, mobile, and web development, application architecture and integration technologies.

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