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Charles Sturt University builds 360-degree student view, streamlines engagement

While Charles Sturt University (CSU) boasts an impressive list of 10 physical campuses it’s also a leader in online learning; more students choose to study online at CSU than at any other Australian university.

The choice of subjects available to them is immense – 350 courses across 19 career areas.

Navigating all the options, both physical and online, as an incoming domestic or international student could be daunting – but a new digital platform developed using Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement is streamlining student engagement and providing richer insights to the university.

An older legacy CRM had been used at CSU – but it was limited in scope, hard to update and wasn’t as secure as the University wanted. CSU instead sought a platform capable of growing with it and able to drive transformational change in terms of the way the University engages with students and alumni.

Phil Roy, CSU Project Director explains that; “One of our short-term objectives is to build more of a 360-degree view of our students, whether they are a student studying by distance or an on-campus student.

“We’re very diverse in terms of our geography as well as our modes of study. We’re naturally a deliverer of online education so we’ve been doing online education for a long time now, and that’s part of our DNA, part of our nature.”

The platform has allowed us to improve the environment with which we engage students and makes it easier for the students to ask things of us, to seek out support. It makes it more efficient for us to provide that support for students and hence improve their experience that they’re getting from the university.

It’s been a particular boon during the COVID-19 pandemic when students have been able to use the system to get instant advice about how courses or timetables might be affected. And while change management and training of staff using the system needed to be tweaked when the university moved to remote working, the ease of use of the Dynamics 365 platform meant there was no delay in its continued deployment.

Microsoft partner KPMG helped CSU develop its technology strategy and priorities roadmap, and then partnered with Microsoft in a successful tender to deploy Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement as the core CRM across the University.

Over 18 months KPMG has supported CSU through multiple releases and phases in the project and has proved itself, says Roy, “a trusted delivery partner.”

Shane Parsons, Director, KPMG said; We have worked together to create a student engagement platform for CSU that meets the University’s current needs – but also has the flexibility and agility that it will rely on in the future.

“CSU has been able to leverage the broader Microsoft Azure ecosystem to deliver the security and data governance that it required, as well as to handle identity and access management. Power BI meanwhile has supported reporting requirements to provide transparency to executives and academics about the student body.”

Roy explains that the vision is to use Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement to support the full student lifecycle from applications to alumni.  “Our next and final phase will be looking at student recruitment, so the whole marketing phase.

“At the moment, the work that we’ve done supports campaigning and communications around admissions, and the engagement of students. Then through to things like orientation when a student comes to the university.”

The system also manages student services such as changes of grade, appeals and special consideration requests through a specially designed student dashboard that has had very positive reviews from undergraduates.

Additional support channels and chat features has improved the efficiency for students and the 450 University personnel with access to Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement. By integrating the CRM into other systems used across the University, Dynamics 365 has become CSU’s service portal.

Complimenting data integrated into Dynamics 365, CSU has worked with KPMG to develop a series of Power Apps to surface more information needed to help a student

“One Power App for example, displays financial information; another displays a students on campus residential status.”

Power Apps are also being used to automate workflows and processes associated with some of the dashboard request processes and to manage access to sensitive personal data

Having that information surfaced in one place considerate of data privacy needs, with workflows streamlined means that “When someone is supporting a student, they’ve got the information that they need in front of them in one system,” says Roy.

The Dynamics 365 dashboard used by staff reveals a wealth of useful information about the student that they are engaging with – what subjects they enrolled in, who their course coordinator is, what textbooks they need for each subject. Staff can see when students have submitted work and what work might be outstanding so there is a clear audit and compliance trail to help a staff member support the student.

“We can look at their history as a student, what mode of study they’re in, of course the program that they’re studying, whether they live up on campus or not. All those things, staff would have to look up different systems to find in the past,” says Roy.

It’s proven more efficient for everyone and the quality of advice is enhanced because there’s a far more comprehensive understanding of the individual student.

Roy doesn’t consider student engagement as a destination – rather it’s an ongoing journey for CSU with Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement providing the platform for continuous enhancement and innovation. Leveraging the Azure ecosystem will, for example, allow AI infused chat bots to be implemented in the future.

It’s yet another fresh option for students and points to additional efficiency for the University.