Hosted customer relationship management (CRM) hype has failed to convert Open Universities Australia (OUA); with the distance education provider's inhouse PeopleSoft rollout sure to be closely watched by the tertiary sector.
Owned by seven universities, OUA provides university education over the Internet. Increasing numbers of students have studied via OUA since the government launched its FEE-HELP loan scheme last year, lowering costs.
Currently OUA serves almost 10,000 students, with the rise expected to continue.
The rapid growth has proved too much for the organisation's home-grown student administration system, according to OUA IT manager, Anthony Russo. This has been used for five years and could not scale to meet increased demand, he said.
A review of OUA's IT systems last year found the system, as well as others, would not cope with future requirements.
OUA decided a new ERP solution would replace the student administration system. It would also move from a paper-based customer relationship management system, whereby OUA staff relied on files to answer student phone queries, to a computer-based one.
Russo said he was attracted to hosted CRM by their price tags, and ran a pilot to test several hosted products.
Products like salesforce.com have garnered plenty of industry attention in recent years, with heavyweights like SAP adopting the hosted model for their own CRM products.
While he would not name vendors tested, Russo said many of the products, in OUA's case, could not provide the same level of integration as in-house solutions.
"With in-house [CRM], you've got 100 percent integration. You do it on your terms, not theirs," he said.
"With offsite ones, you're at the mercy of the Internet."
After a closed tender for the ERP and CRM, OUA chose in-house PeopleSoft solutions, and services provider Acumen Alliance to help with the rollout.
Russo declined to reveal the value of the contract. OUA's 2005 annual report, however, said the upgrade of its e-business platform could cost AU$1 million.
He said many of the vendors that tendered were unable to offer both products sufficiently.
"Few could offer both," he said. "For some we'd have to do integration work, or we'd have to develop our own CRM."
"We found PeopleSoft could do both."
OUA is rolling out PeopleSoft Campus Solutions 8.9 and PeopleSoft CRM with Acumen, and expects this to be done by March, just prior to the start of the university calendar.
This would require integration between the new software and OUA's portal (run on WebSphere) and backend systems, as well as entering student data. OUA runs about 30 Dell servers, with Oracle's 10G database storing student details.
PeopleSoft Campus Solutions is popular among universities, with three of OUA's shareholder institutions using the software. The ease in integrating data with these shareholders on the same system was another factor in OUA's choice, according to Russo.
OUA, however, would be the first university on PeopleSoft Campus Solutions' latest version, 8.9, said Russo.
"Most universities will be watching our upgrade progress to see if we have any difficulties," he said.
"So obviously it's in Oracle's interest for the upgrade to go well."
Campus Solutions will replace OUA's student registration system. This had made it easy for students to register for course units online, but harder for degrees, Russo said.
Integrated ERP and CRM systems would also make the jobs of OUA's 15 student administration staff easier, instead of using a number of applications run previously.
This would help staff respond to student queries faster, he said, which was a key driver for OUA.
"One of our big areas is service," said Russo.
"If we don't do the administration side well, we're not going to be around much longer."
Another advantage of Campus Solutions was that in the case of government changes to university administration, PeopleSoft would provide a patch to update the system, he said. Previously Russo's team would develop the system themselves.