Moving on…

After twelve years, I’ve decided to leave CETIS and I finish today. In my final blog post, I just thought I’d share with you with a couple of things that have really stood out for me during my time as an e-learning technologist. I had thought about reviewing the changes in e-learning technologies over the past twelve years – and there have been huge changes: tablets (and phablets), MOOCs, Moodle, and ebooks, to name but a few. But the technology isn’t important, that will always change. What is important is the people who try and make that technology work for the benefit of the student.

I have admired and been inspired by the sheer dedication, passion and hard work of staff, who are trying to make the tertiary education experience better for students, despite a myriad of challenges. This work is often unheralded and yet has a huge impact. It’s been a joy working with so many wonderful people.

I have also loved seeing people collaborate, both in the accessibility and relationship management arenas. It’s not always easy to share issues and experiences with potential competitors and yet when staff at different institutions do come together to do this, the student and the institution are left the richer. It been a pleasure to bring people together via the Accessibility SIG (Special Interest Group) and the JISC Relationship Management Programme and to see relationships grow and blossom.

I don’t have any plans as yet, which is somewhat scary and exciting at the same time and I feel a bit like Mr Benn, with a whole world of adventure before me. Of course, I will miss my CETIS colleagues, we’ve been through a lot together, and so rather than say goodbye, I’d just like to say remember the good times and celebrate!

Relationship Management: Be transparent and sincere

Following on from my previous post (Relationship Management: Communicate, communicate, communicate),  based on the Compendium of Good Practice in Relationship Management in Higher and Further Education, written by myself and Lou McGill, this post will focus on culture change. We’ve already stated the importance of communication, which is the glue that binds the various stakeholders together.  In this post, we’ll be taking a look at the institution’s and management’s role in relationship management with regard to culture change.

“The project, as a change management initiative, has contributed to the University [of Southampton’s] understanding of its institutional context. Opening up our data silos is more political and cultural than technical, and these domains are starting to change. There is little concrete evidence of the fruits of the change yet, but the change process has begun… We have been able to make extensive preparation for change, and there is commitment within the University to continue with it.” (Moore, I. and Paull, A. (2012). JISC Relationship Management Programme – Impact Analysis: Strands 2 and 3. (Not publicly available)

Taking an institution-wide approach to relationship management presents opportunities to identify where existing cultural approaches and practices may be ineffective. Sometimes the introduction of a new software system can highlight areas where cultural change needs to occur. It can show where current procedures inhibit agility, or where collaboration and innovation initiatives are not working. Introducing new software often acts as a catalyst for change in policies, practice and culture, whilst improving access to data can encourage the organisational culture to be more innovative and transparent. Changing an organisation’s culture is not without its problems:

“For context we would note that the staff and student population of an average university is equivalent to that of a small town (and the largest universities to small cities). Planning for change on this scale is not easy.” (Moore, I. and Paull, A. (2012). JISC Relationship Management Programme – Impact Analysis: Strands 2 and 3. (Not publicly available)

Cultural change comes with a myriad of challenges and is probably one of the hardest aspects of relationship management to address. For example:

  • staff may view changes in processes and the introduction of new software systems as threatening to their working practices; eg at Loughborough University, some staff who considered their own processes to be fit for purpose were concerned about proposed changes
  • concerns around budget reductions
  • resulting staff turnover

Champions can help drive change. At the University of Nottingham, for example, senior management is encouraged to champion good practice for placements, with the placement co-ordinator acting as the central conduit for relationships and communication. Senior management buy-in or sponsorship can help to raise the importance of relationship management within the institution, but it must be sincere, otherwise an institution’s organisational structure will remain a barrier no matter what improvements are suggested:

“The process of change needs to be managed with care to ensure that all stakeholder are positively engaged, especially those who have the power to implement the change (primary stakeholders), and those who have influence over opinion within the organization. Hence it is essential to carry out a full stakeholder analysis. As with any change management, when it comes to implementing the change it is important to identify champions in each of the stakeholder groups, coupled with clear and regular communication.” (Davis, H., Howard, Y., and Prince, R. (2012). Ninjas and Dragons. University of Southampton)

Consultation with a wide range of departments and stakeholders can also help to identify new champions. For example, new enthusiasts at the University of Nottingham were instrumental in spreading the word about placements and sources of expertise. As a result, existing good practice (for example from the School of Veterinary Medicine) has now been incorporated into the placements process and at least five academic schools in the University have expressed interest in using ePortfolios to support placements or work-based activity.

The co-creation aspects of the service design approach can help to improve staff buy-in, because it empowers staff to take ownership of any process improvements with a good chance of long-term impact. Taking this approach and talking to people on their own terms may also win over ‘difficult’ institutional characters, thereby enabling ‘change by stealth’. Sometimes, it is necessary to establish new organisational structures to facilitate change and create new staff roles to reflect changing priorities. Communication is vital for promoting an understanding of what people are doing and why.

Change must be managed carefully to ensure that all stakeholders are engaged, especially those who have power or influence in the institution. For example, rather than imposing wholesale change across the whole institution, the University of Nottingham has taken a ‘hub and spoke’ approach in which new developments are conceived centrally and delivered locally. The primary focus is on the spokes, rather than the hub, which start to establish change across the institution. Similarly, encouraging staff to make bite-sized changes that do not take them away from day-to-day operations can reduce resentment to any new methods of working.

Changing the mindset of staff can have a huge impact, even if significant changes to processes are still to be made. For example, instead of just providing advice and guidance to students thinking of leaving, staff at the University of Derby now pro-actively reach out to students who wish to withdraw. This helps the student, who may not be able to articulate their reasons for withdrawal and who may just need additional support. It also provides the institution with useful feedback for making further improvements.

How to approach culture change

  • Establish champions to drive through changes
  • Senior management buy-in or sponsorship must be sincere
  • Talk to people on their own terms
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate
  • Use co-creation to encourage staff to take ownership of process improvements
  • Aim for small-scale rather than large-scale changes

Further information


Student Progression: ESCAPES Project at the University of Nottingham

Photo of a brass compassThe JISC funded ESCAPES (Enhancing Student Centred Administration for Placement ExperienceS) project at the University of Nottingham has focussed on improving the management of its placement process for both staff and students. As employers are more likely to take on graduates with work experience, students may be more likely to choose a course that has a placement element.


The relationships between teaching staff, administrative staff, students and businesses are an essential part of effective placement management. Challenges from the institution’s viewpoint included:

  • a variety of unconnected processes used across the institution
  • finding a way to ensure that common good practice was recorded and shared
  • being able to record baseline placement data for employability statistics without imposing any centralised control across schools.


As well as some technological improvements, the project has resulted in a number of benefits for both staff and students, including:

  • improved adminstrative efficiency from streamlining processes and extra facilities for data reporting; for example, it is now possible to identify students who make a number of unsuccessful placement applications in order to provide them with additional support
  • more effective management of relationships with students whilst they are on placement; such as providing a single point of contact and improved methods of communication
  • a number of enthusastic champions of good practice across the University have been identified as a result of the project.


For placement processes to be handled effectively, it is recommended that:

  • senior management and practitioners are encouraged to be champions in good practice for placements with the role of a placement co-ordinator acting as a central conduit for relationships and communication
  • when implementing such a project, staff need to “talk to people on their terms” to win them over and to promote an understanding of what people are doing and why; communication is key and can help enable “change by stealth”
  • remember that the learning and administrative aspects of the placement process are co-dependent and that technology alone cannot replace the human element.

Further Information

If you would like to find out more about this project, the following resources may help:

Come and chat about CRM on our new list!

Team of people sitting together We’ve just started a new JISCMail Discussion List for anyone who wants to talk about CRM (Customer Relationship Management) in the HE (Higher Education) and FE (Further Education) sectors.

The CRMinHEFE list is a space for all stakeholders to discuss the implementation of CRM as a process and as a technology. It’s focus is on the strategic, cultural change, systems management, etc aspects of CRM, rather than on the detailed installation issues of vendor specific systems.

If you’re using the JISC Good Practice in Customer Relationship Management Online Handbook, then you can talk about that here too. There’s also a short blog post about the Handbook.

If you’re looking for a more generic Relationship Management list or one that focuses more on SLRM (Student Lifecycle Relationship Management), then our sister list RMinHEFE might be more your style.

Other resources include the Just Enough Relationship Management website with a section on BCE (Business and Community Engagement) CRM, the JISC CETIS Relationship Management website as well as the #rminhe Twitter tag.

So come and join us!

Developing a CRM Good Practice Handbook for the Tertiary Education Sector

Photo of a row of red-spined booksThe University of Huddersfield and Teesside University have been working together to produce an online CRM (Customer Relationship Management) Good Practice Handbook. The Handbook aims to guide HE (Higher Education) and FE (Further Education) institutions through the development of strategic BCE (Business and Community Engagement) CRM processes, as well as provide advice and guidance on data management and change management. It contains a number of case studies and examples from the tertiary education sector.


The aim of the project was to deliver an online Handbook in CRM Good Practice, however there were some challenges along the way:

  • although the Handbook was validated by a cross-section of HE institutions, it was harder to engage the FE sector to the same extent due to the rapid changes taking place in that sector
  • a large amount of consultation was undertaken to ensure that the Handbook matched the needs of the sector
  • routes into the content needed a lot of thought and discussion.


The Handbook is now complete and will be launched at the AURIL (Association for University Research and Industry Links) Conference in October 2012. Other benefits resulting from this project are:

  • an increased interest in BCE CRM
  • the addition of sections based on user feedback, such as information on how to use Business Intelligence and how to use the data captured in a CRM system
  • interest in establishing a CRM community of practice from those taking part in the research.


Current Government policy is to bring the HE sector and industry closer together and the building of such external relationships can have an impact on helping institutions pursue distinctiveness in the sector. Some of the recommendations from the Handbook include:

  • CRM should be considered as a culture that encourages people to place the needs of the customer at the heart of everything they undertake
  • senior management buy-in, and a senior management stakeholder or champion, is vital
  • it is important before even considering purchasing a CRM system that time is taken to understand how CRM can support and be integrated into the institution’s overall vision and strategy.

Further Information

If you would like to find out more about this project, the following resources may help:

Come and join us!

Paper cut-outs of people in a circle

Are you interested in improving your BCE CRM (Business and Community Engagement Customer Relationship Management) processes to help increase revenue streams? Do you want to find out about SLRM (Student Lifecycle Relationship Management) and putting the student at the heart of the process?

If so, come and join our RM in HE/FE Community of Practice discussion list, which is open to anyone who wants like to share their experiences of improving their relationship management in the tertiary education sector. We’d love you to ask questions, comment, suggest resources etc, or just follow the conversation.

We’ll be sharing our findings from the current JISC Relationship Management Programme, which is looking at three different areas:

  • Good Practice in CRM – delivering a comprehensive online handbook of good practice in CRM processes for HE and FE.
  • Student progression, retention and non-completion – using service desing to improve the quality of the student experience.
  • Alumni engagement – using web technologies to support mutally beneficial alumni engagement.

We have a range of resources available at both the JISC CETIS RMSAS (Relationship Management Support, Analysis and Synthesis) project website and at the Just Enough RM (Relationship Management (a dynamic resource to try and help anyone starting out on the RM path). We also have documents on using Service Design in HE and FE and an overview to RM in HE and FE to get you started.

So what are you waiting for? Come and join the RM in HE and FE Community – we’d love to see you there!

Relationship Management in UK HE and FE Report Now Available

Photo of a handshake

Relationship management is becoming increasingly important in the tertiary education sector as education institutions try to meet the challenges of funding cuts and increased student and community expectations. Customer relationships, if handled effectively, will bring benefits to both the organisation and the sector as a whole and it is in this area that JISC developed the Relationship Management Programme.

The first phase of the JISC Relationship Management Programme ran from July 2009 to April 2010. The Programme, supported by the JISC CETIS RMSAS (Relationship Management Support, Analysis and Synthesis) project, was divided into two strands and was :

  • BCE CRM (Business and Community Engagement Customer Relationship Management) Strand – aimed to improve business processes and to pilot and extend the BCE CRM SAF (Self-Analysis Framework). Twelve universities and one FE college used the SAF to examine factors affecting the people and processes that could affect the implementation or uptake of CRM (both as an approach and as a technology). BCE CRM includes employers and other external customers, who may have the potential to help the sector navigate through the current choppy waters of tertiary education sector funding. Good customer relationship management is vital in order to maintain and develop such relationships.
  • SLRM (Student Lifecycle Relationship Management) – focussed on improving the student experience by putting the student at the heart of the process. Six universities and one FE college trialled service design techniques at different stages of the student lifecycle in order to identify areas for improvement. As students clearly exhibit certain customer attributes, such as paying for a service and expecting higher levels of choice, quality and experience, it therefore seems appropriate to apply such commercial techniques, in order to improve the student experience, the institution’s efficiency and retention.

Whilst the two strands can be viewed as focusing on two different types of institutional stakeholder – external business contacts in the case of the BCE CRM strand and students in the SLRM strand – many of the issues regarding the way in which the relationship is managed by the institution are similar. For example:

    • Ensure that an effective CRM strategy is in place, and that is disseminated to and understood by staff.
    • Use a framework to help your institution ask fundamental questions about the people, processes and systems currently in place, prior to making any decisions regarding improvements or attempting to purchase or implement a technical CRM system, because this will go a long way to help avoid potential pitfalls and dangerous assumptions.
    • Strong commitment from senior management is vital if CRM is to succeed.
  • SLRM
    • The institution should not assume that it knows what students want, need and expect.
    • Service improvements do not have to cover the whole service, e.g. enrolment, in one go – small adjustments can be made that can actually make a huge difference to the student experience.
    • Improving the effectiveness of a process can also improve efficiencies.

The current funding situation means that institutions need to become more cost-effective. Therefore, making the most of the systems already in place, improving processes, and ensuring that the student or BCE customer has a valuable experience may help achieve this goal.

This findings from this Programme are now available in PDF format: Relationship Management in UK Higher and Further Education – An Overview (Perry, S., Corley, L., and Hollins, P 2011). Phase 2 of the JISC Relationship Management Programme is now in full swing.

New JISC Relationship Management Programme Projects Up and Running

The next phase of the JISC Relationship Management Programme has just got underway and will be supported again by JISC CETIS. It follows on from the previous Programme which ran two strands: BCE CRM (Business Community Engagement Customer Relationship Management) Process Improvement (13 projects) and SLRM (Student Lifecycle Relationship Management) Pilots (7 projects).

This latest round of projects, which will run until July 2012, is split into three different strands:
* Strand 1: Good practice in CRM (Customer Relationship Management) – projects yet to be confirmed. A project to deliver a comprehensive online handbook of good practice in CRM processes for HE (Higher Education) and FE (Further Education).
* Strand 2: Student progression, retention and non-completion (8 projects). Demonstrator projects delivering service innovations that improve the quality of the student experience, specifically to enhance progression and retention to minimise non-completion.
* Strand 3: Alumni engagement (7 projects). Demonstrator projects developing and validating innovative processes and harnessing web technologies to support mutally beneficial alumni engagement.

The projects in Strands 2 and 3 follow on from the SLRM projects in the last Programme, but focus on different stages of the student lifecycle.

If you are interested in the progress of the projects, you can find further information from the JISC CETIS RMSAS (Relationship Management Support, Analysis and Synthesis) website or follow the Twitter tag: #rminhe.

If the last projects from the last Programme are anything to go by, the level of expertise in relationship management in the institutions involved will increase considerably, so we wish all the projects in this latest Programme every success.

Modelling – How Do You Know When to Stop?

I attended JISC CETIS’ Introduction to Modelling workshop in Birmingham last week to try and gain an understanding of issues and what one needs to consider, when attempting it for the first time.

So why bother with modelling? What value does it bring? Models are a way of communicating and sharing experiences. They are very visual and may have some narrative, but with some slight clarification of terminology used, they should be understandable by most stakeholders. This is key. Otherwise, how else can the whole system be shown to stakeholders who may only know a small part?

Whilst the workshop looked at both hard and soft models, it was the softer side that caught my attention. Hard models, such as UML (Unified Modelling Language) or BPM (Business Process Modelling) are ideal for defining technical specifications and describing business intelligence. Soft models, as one would expect, tend to be quite woolly and may include portfolios of evidence (documents, observational notes, video diaries, etc), scenarios and personas, and use SSM (Soft Sytems Methodologies).

There were two practical exercises that we all attempted. One of which was to produce a soft systems diagram showing how to respond to a JISC call for funding. I’d never done any modelling before, but something that had seemed so simple in the introduction, was unbelivably difficult when we sat down to try it for ourselves! We didn’t need any whizz bang technology – just a handful of coloured markers, multi-coloured post-its and a large sheet of paper. Here’s a model that one of the groups came up with.

Attempt at a Soft Systems Model

Attempt at a Soft Systems Model

Using diagrams like this can help tell a story by setting the scene (scenario) and describing the personas (not usually a real person but a ficticious description of a particular role that person might do) and the ways they interact. The main focus of a soft systems model is on the people or actors in the system.

People often have difficulties knowing how far they should go when modelling and when they should stop. However, the presenters were all unanimous in answering this question: the actual purpose for doing the modelling should set the boundaries for how far/deep one goes with it. But, as a newbie, the real key for me was that one should model just enough to achieve one’s aims (otherwise one could end up modelling for years!).

If you’d like to find out a little more about the event, there are notes and presentations from the workshop now available online. You might also be interested in the JISC Innovation Base (a repository of models for the Higher Education domain, which includes both formal and informal models) and the Agile Modeling Website (Agile Modeling is a practice-based methodology for effective modeling and documentation of software-based systems).

Happy modelling!