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University of Canberra transforms data foundations and brings in the bots

Universities can be challenging to navigate for young undergraduates – and tricky even for more seasoned students and employees.

The faculty structure, the array of courses, multiple campuses, and occasionally bewildering processes may initially raise more questions than answers. The University of Canberra (UC) is on a mission to strip out the complexity and streamline interactions across the institution, by rolling out Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 and intelligent chatbots as part of the UC Student360 project.

It’s part of its “Distinctive by Design” strategy that is intended to catapult the university into the top quartile of Australian tertiary institutions for student experience and employment “by enhancing our student support levels and systems across the entire student journey into and through the university to improve participation, retention and success for all of our students”.

For a university with 17,000 students drawn from over 100 countries it’s a tall order. But essential to meet UC’s strategic plan through to 2022.

To better support students and staff, UC recognised that it needed a single source of accurate information that could inform all university interactions. The problem was, like many others, that the data had previously been spread across the university in largely siloed information systems.

Back in 2016 when the university first embarked on its overhaul, it had nine separate customer relationship management (CRM) ‘type’ platforms operating. It is now well down to the path to consolidating onto Dynamics 365, with Raiser’s Edge retained for alumni interactions – and in 2019 that will also be closely linked to Dynamics 365.

The comprehensive content available in Dynamics 365 also supports Lucy, UC’s student chatbot, which is successfully fielding more than 100 simple student questions each month, freeing up contact centre personnel to handle more difficult inquiries.

Rebecca Armstrong is deputy director of projects and innovation for the University of Canberra and says that the rollout of Dynamics 365 has been very successful – almost too successful at one stage as the IT team had to draw Faculty names out of a hat to decide in which order to deploy the popular solution.

She says it’s one of the only times that the IT department has had Faculty actually clamouring to be first cab off the rank to deploy a new technology solution. Today though, the rollout has resulted in UC having the largest Dynamics 365 deployment in the education sector in the southern hemisphere – and it’s shifting the dial on the experience that the university can deliver for staff and students.

As a result of the transformation 180 manual work processes have been automated, and 270,000 cases created – significant for a university with 17,000 students. One in five of the university’s personnel use the CRM daily. Power BI is also deployed to support reporting for the university and faculties, providing them with much valued clarity delivered through a learning analytics dashboard that provides a lifecycle view of individual students.

At the same time Dynamics 365 has provided the foundations for a series of self-service smart forms that students can fill out themselves, again simplifying their interactions with the university. It means students can now take action on their PC or phone/tablet when and where they want – not have to go to specific offices on campus to pick up a form to fill out.

Armstrong explains that at the outset of the project; “Throughout our initial investigations we were really impressed with Microsoft Dynamics,” recognising that a targeted implementation of the CRM could deliver the values and benefits that the university was seeking. The solution went live in October 2016 and has been progressively rolled out to different business units and faculties, with other functions progressively migrated to the new cloud-based CRM.

Having a single source of truth for the student journey, from a single system, allows UC to deliver actionable systems and processes easily.

So for example the automated case creation that it allows means that workflows are triggered, if say, a student is offered a place but has not yet accepted. It allows the university to craft a more proactive relationship with the student even before they join the university and that then lasts throughout their university journey and can also support alumni’s lifelong learning.

The support is amplified by the introduction of UC’s student chatbot – Lucy.

Developed using the Microsoft Bot Framework and Cognitive Services the bots streamline interactions with the university – for example Lucy is able, at last count, to deal with 800-plus student queries about everything from enrolment through course transfers to parking and library hours, taking the load off call centre staff and enhancing the student experience.

“If Lucy can’t answer the question – students can log cases to the student centre for more complex cases,” says Armstrong. But as she notes; “In four months there have been only 14 cases raised – she’s getting most things right.”

Armstrong and the team are also working on the integration between Dynamics 365 and Adobe Audience Manager to engineer a more personal online experience for students, so that returning students will see information relevant to them, with geolocation used to ensure that international students are shown details customised to them.

“The big goal is to give every student a personalised My UC – a personal portal with checklist, to do list, calendar and study skills information,” says Armstrong.

As a result of the digital transformation and CRM streamlining UC has reduced ongoing costs while improving student and staff facing services through the implementation of contemporary, integrated information services. It also provides the university a better picture of information across the entire student lifecycle. By January 2019, 22 teams across the university will be using Dynamics 365.

It’s this combination of Dynamics 365, Power BI, along with Bruce and Lucy, and the Adobe suite that UC believes will ensure both its, and its students’, ongoing success.

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University of Canberra transforms data foundations and brings in the bots


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