Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Sustainability - (revisited) and how we are attempting to achieve it

Firstly, I should mention that I started this blog post a few months back but never published it. I think now is a good time to add to it and send it live. Anything that was previously written is in italics.

As the official end date of the project draws near, it's valuable to look back and reflect on what has been achieved, how priorities have changed, evaluate any difficulties that have arisen but probably most importantly, is to look back at our project statement/title, and see whether we have been successful (or not) in achieving it.

One of the challenges of this project is to ensure its sustainability but also to try and do that within the remit of using the CRM and web technologies that we already have available to us. One of the reasons why we chose to plan and implement our project this way is that we believed that we had the technical infrastructure already in place, to be able to offer what we were trying to achieve. Going out to external companies to build a bespoke system wasn't ever an option to us as we did not have the financial resources available to us. Additionally, one of the major drawbacks to finding a solution in this way, is that normally, if modifications need making, then there is a cost associated with it. Furthermore, we would need any externally designed package to 'talk' to our existing systems and that can always be problematic and again, require additional resource.

The most obvious way to make a system or programme sustainable, in terms of resource allocation, is to make it as automated as possible. Again, this poses a problem; can you have an automated system when you are trying to engage with alumni and students? This is an instance where service design techniques have assisted us.

By mapping each stage of, for example, the recruitment process for Alumni Profiles or recruiting an International Alumni Ambassador (IAA), we were quickly able to see that automation can assist us in certain areas by reducing the workload however, there would always be a need for human intervention or interaction.

Example 1: automated email template responses incorporating merge fields are perfectly adequate to thank profile providers but if certain information was not submitted, it would always need a project team member to follow that up with a personalised response.

Example 2: thanking a person registering interest in becoming an IAA by automated response satisfies our service standards, but doesn't legislate for enquiries by non-alums or those in geographical areas where alumni activity is minimal.

The 'customer' isn't really ever aware or actually very interested in the behind the scenes operation, provided the service that they are being offered works for them.

We're almost at a point where we can test this, particularly with our Alumni Profile resource. Alumni have been using the facility and in the coming weeks, a pilot group of students will be doing the same. Functionality of the form appears to be working well and feedback has been positive. As the form isn't integrated with Raiser's Edge, we have to extract the information out and then re-input it. It's not an ideal solution at present, but it works.

We're currently developing an alternative form in a test environment which we hope can provide greater integration with GU World and Raiser's Edge/NetCommunity. It's looking positive at the moment and will allow alumni to revisit the form, make amendments and hopefully provide greater flexibility for them. There is still a small drawback that extracting the information is, at best, fiddly, but if it makes their experience better, then we are happy to do the additional work. It could also help us in collating job, industry and profession information in a smarter manner.

Should we decide not to go ahead with the alternative, the pilot stage has indicated that we need to ask for additional information on the existing form relating to career information. Effectively, we're asking for two different types of information; job related and personal experiences. The most important of the two at present are the experiences of our alumni, but the career information drives the student search - we really need to have it, but we have been reluctant to ask for both at the same time in case it deters responses (alumni would have to go to two different areas to provide it). Should the form be developed in its current format or we go for the alternative, we will be able to harvest all the information that we need to make for a good customer experience (student and alumni), without the customer having to be inconvenienced by a lack of integration in the background.

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