A welcome data sharing tool or an intrusion into valuable relationships? Attitudes of academic staff to a CRM for engagement

Irene Sheridan
Cork Institute of Technology

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Sharon Lehane
Cork Institute of Technology

Victoria O'Connor
Cork Institute of Technology

Engagement with external organisations and enterprises is increasingly part of the higher education mission and the contribution of universities to local and regional economic and social development remains an important, but difficult to evidence, metric for Higher Education Institutions (HEI). In Ireland, several Department of Education policy publications as well as the agency with responsibility for funding higher education, focus on the benefits of collaboration and interactions - whether in research or learning - with external organisations and individuals. Higher Education organisations, however, are often not structured to well-support or evidence the value of such interactions. Academic and research units can operate as separate and sometimes competing entities from the perspective of the external partner. One exploration of engagement interactions found that a HEI might be involved with an organisation for undergraduate internships or workplacements, customised learning and continuing professional developments, funded research projects, guest lectureships, graduate recruitment, sponsorship and endowments simultaneously through a number of different academic departments and research units. Following a considerable effort over a number of years detailed mapping exercises have taken place to illustrate the extent of such relationships between Cork Institue of Technology and external organisations. These mappings have found that there was no single view of complex relationships extant within the HEI. Without a clear institutional view of the depth and breadth of engagement interactions, it is difficult to achieve any organisation learning or to develop potential strategies that might benefit from a more integrated response.

In recent years more institutions have become interested in the possibility of developing a customer relationship system to support case management and to provide reporting mechanisms for strategic, deliberate interventions. A pilot development of such a CRM began with the aim of developing a single Institute-wide shared database in which every point or event of interaction counts towards the overall company/enterprise experience in partnership with the higher education institution. Such a comprehensive system would have the advantage of providing the institute’s management with an informed overview of the complex relationship between the institute and external organisations. As well as providing an opportunity to understand analyse and nurture existing relationships it provides an informed strategic framework for the targeted development of new relationships.

However, such a change is not without challenges. This paper explores the attitudes of academic staff to the implementation of a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to support external engagement and to build business intelligence in a higher education institution in Ireland. Based on the experiences of the pilot introduction of the system a survey mechanism was developed to capture inputs and the paper provides the insights yielded through the analysis of the survey data. The findings are considered through the lens of relevant literature and the paper provides some signposting for higher education institutions considering such an approach.