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Case Study
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Case Study

Transforming the future of higher education with Microsoft technology

How the EY organisation supported the University of East London to enhance student experience using customer relationship management (CRM)


To transform the future of learning, how should you transform yourself?

The University of East London needed to rapidly transform its interactions with learners to succeed in a competitive market.

The University of East London (UEL) has been supporting students to develop the skills required to thrive in their careers since 1898. Currently, over 15,000 students from 150 nationalities attend courses at its campuses in Stratford and the Royal Albert Dock. As a careers-focussed university, UEL equips their students with the skills, tools and competencies that are increasingly critical for successful graduate-level employment in a rapidly changing world.

Global higher education is becoming increasingly competitive, as the number and diversity of higher-education institutions continue to evolve with differing expectations on services from new generations of students. Recognising the crucial role of personalisation within the educational experience, UEL set out on a programme of radical transformation — using customer relationship management (CRM) — to develop an enhanced experience for all learners. The goal was to enable the University to compete more effectively in the market and help them in their mission of becoming the leading careers-focussed, enterprising university in the UK. 

As a part of this ambitious ‘Vision 2028’ plan, UEL recognised a need to completely update their central ‘student relationship management platform.’ By creating a rich platform to manage the end-to-end student life cycle, the University would be able to better support, guide and inform their community of students, prospective students, staff, and corporate partners. 

To deliver this bold agenda, UEL worked with us to design, build and support a learner-centric platform that would connect departments, and offer a better experience for staff and students alike. 

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Developing a CRM-enhanced learning experience at speed

UEL required a CRM platform to deliver rapid results, during a pandemic and national lockdown.

When considering the challenge, EY team leveraged its insights into the UK higher-education sector along with the latest version of Microsoft Dynamics 365 — which had been configured to address the needs of a UK university. By using their library of pre-built functionalities for the higher education sector, we were able to deliver a rapid start to the project for UEL, as some functionalities around specific processes, including applications, enrolment and clearing, had already been designed and built.  

The goal was to create a platform which could be used across a wide range of teams — from student recruitment to student services and alumni. This would be the single point of truth for all student information — from initial contact through their time whilst studying and into life post-university. This system would allow for a 360-degree view of every enquirer, learner or alumnus, empowering staff to create relevant, tailored messaging and support at every touch point.  

Working closely with UEL stakeholders, including leaders from marketing, alumni relations and student services, our consultants designed a solution that could be delivered in phases to deliver rapid results to multiple teams. Each phase was designed to replace multiple legacy in-house or third-party platforms to consolidate and cleanse relevant data, in addition to delivering new functionalities that would help UEL to deliver a more personalised learning experience. Adopting this strategy has resulted in a reduction in the long-term costs and risks associated with running multiple systems. It has also increased UEL’s governance and security by minimising the number of places in which data is held.  

In March 2020, just as the project team was beginning the first phase of work, the UK was ordered into a lockdown. With people instructed to work from home whenever possible, the decision was made to continue the project and leverage tools, such as Microsoft Teams, to conduct workshops and meetings. Despite these challenges, the team was able to deliver the first phase of the project on time and to scope — completely remotely.  

Like many organisations, the pandemic brought new challenges to the University. However, the rapid delivery of a new, flexible Microsoft Dynamics 365 platform gave UEL a way to innovate and address these challenges quickly. For example, when leisure facilities were authorised to reopen under strict restrictions, the University’s SportsDock facility — which incorporates the University’s gyms, fitness classes and sports teams — suddenly needed a way to monitor and set limits on attendance across their sporting facilities.  

Rather than purchasing an additional third-party tool, UEL worked with us to deliver this functionality within Dynamics 365. This was delivered in just three weeks and enabled SportsDock to reopen with the confidence that they were meeting legal regulations. Since then, EY has worked with SportsDock to integrate with their membership platform. This enables the team to make use of the enhanced email-marketing tools within Dynamics 365 and bring their communications in line with the consistent digital experience that students now experience across the rest of the campus. 

To date, the EY team and UEL have delivered transformational functionalities across the Marketing and Enquiries, On-Course, Alumni, and External Relations departments. In total, 16 legacy solutions and services have been identified as being able to be removed due to the implementation. By consolidating solutions and removing legacy technology, UEL can reduce the cost, risk and administrative overheads involved in managing multiple environments (each with their own sets of data), as well as reducing the number of system integrations that need to be maintained. UEL teams can also enjoy richer data analysis, by bringing together previously disparate sets of data onto one platform. 

UEL is achieving annual information technology (IT) cost savings of approximately £120,000 as a result of decommissioning multiple systems, in addition to savings relating to temporary staff and training due to the introduction of automation. The University is also able to save approximately 10,000 staff hours per annum, allowing staff to focus on value-added activities and service improvement. Teams now have enhanced analytics capabilities and the ability to create insightful reporting, such as return on investment from marketing campaigns.  

UEL staff resourcing


staff hours saved per year (approximately).

Organisational risk has decreased due to the rationalisation of data silos, improvements in data quality and enhancements to audit tracking. The creation of a single data set within Microsoft Dynamics 365 means a reduction in manual rekeying and moving data between systems, resulting in a more secure and accurate environment. The system also has enhanced integration with other business-critical systems, including UEL’s Student Record System.

UEL is delivering proactive, integrated communications with prospective, current and former students, which has seen increased email-open rates and higher satisfaction ratings amongst alumni. Communication ratings across all recruitment audiences are well above industry benchmarks and growing year over year (YoY). In the second year of using the CRM solution for Prospects and Applicant communications, open rates have increased by 16% and offer holder click-through rates have increased by 10%. 

Prospect and Applicant communications


increase in open rates in year two

The University is now able to deliver a more personalised experience for each learner — from pre-arrival, application, enrolment, time on-course and into life post-university — powered by consolidated and enriched data. Messaging is carefully considered and consistent, thanks to the introduction of updated governance, policies and procedures surrounding student communications, such as branding and communication frequency. Communication ratings and Net Promoter Score increased amongst the alumni community following the implementation of the solution.

The University and Project Team carefully considered accessibility requirements, and additional staff needs. They prepared the platform to work alongside screen readers for those with visual impairments. 

The University expects to realise further benefits in 2022, including estimated revenue increases in excess of £1.8mn across Student Enrolment, Residential Accommodation and SportsDock facilities, through improved campaign automation and increased conversion rates. Measurable efficiencies are expected for the Student Hub when addressing student enquiries. For example, telephonic integration is expected to save between 1 and 1.5 minutes on each phone call, by automatically surfacing relevant contact information for each call. The number of email enquiries managed by the Student Hub team is expected to reduce by approximately 10% to 15% through the use of automation. UEL estimates an increase of first-touch resolution rates from 88% to 95%, delivering a better experience for learners and creating efficiencies for staff. 

Lastly, due to enhanced insights and proactive intervention enabled by Dynamics 365, the University anticipates improvements to student retention, resulting in higher numbers of students completing their courses and mitigation against loss of income for UEL. 

This has seen a radical improvement in market attractiveness and we have increased our income by over 19%. It is really a significant achievement
Professor Amanda Broderick
Vice-chancellor and President, University of East London

Delivering an enhanced learner journey for all

Supporting UEL to compete more effectively in the market using personalisation and insight

UEL is proud to be delivering an enhanced and personalised learner journey for all students, thanks to its seamless physical and digital interconnected experience. The ability to nurture strong relationships with their students, and collect insight into their experience at the University and beyond is helping UEL on their journey to compete effectively, and support their ambition to become the leading careers-focussed, enterprising university in the UK.

The benefits of the programme extend far beyond the bottom line. It has put in place mechanisms to truly support students at every stage of their education — from encouraging them to follow their learning ambitions via applications, to ensuring that they have the support they need to thrive on-course and into their careers.  

It has been one of the most successful IT projects I have ever implemented. The EY team really understood the business of a university.’
Amanda Niblett
Information Technology Director, University of East London

Footnote: Data supplied by the University of East London, 2022.

Please note: Services to UEL were rendered by Pythagoras Communications Holdings Ltd which has subsequently been acquired by EY. More information can be found here at EY announces acquisition of UK technology business, Pythagoras Communications Holdings Limited | EY UK

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