Automation: Moving Communication Management Into the 21st-CenturyWalter Rankin | Deputy Dean of the School of Continuing Studies, Georgetown University
We recently moved to a new communication management system that connects to our admissions office, the university student information system, and our individual offices and departments. This integrated system allows us to tag and group students for more focused, targeted communications. For example, instead of pooling information from various spreadsheets, we can now tag first-year students centrally to send them information about new policies, advise students who are on academic warning and notify students about graduation and commencement procedures specific to their degrees and academic programs.
The best feature of this shared system is that it allows offices to track and share communication chains with each other while being customizable enough to create differing levels of access for deans, directors and advisors. Thus, staff have access only to information that is directly related to their roles. If an admissions advisor recommends that a student take a course as a pre-requisite, the student’s academic advisor can see that information and confirm it when they meet. When the academic affairs deans notify students that they are on academic warning or probation, the students’ advisors can also see that information and follow up with them individually. We know that advising errors infrequently happen at all levels, but when they do occur, this system also allows us to document and correct those instances much more quickly and efficiently.
This new system is not infallible or a communications panacea. We devoted a full year to reviewing information in our systems and coordinating the codes and tags that we would use uniformly across the school to input data, and we still depend upon the accuracy of those initial data entry points to make the system run well. If a student spells their name incorrectly on an application (it happens), or if an advisor inverts a student’s GPA, then the student’s record and email address can start off incorrectly as well. This system also depends on our offices and departments using it regularly as their primary (although not single) communications tool. If an advisor emails a student outside of this system, for example, then it is not included in the shared communications trail.
For any institution thinking about moving to an integrated communications system, I would recommend:
- Reviewing the data collection points and working towards a consistent system and nomenclature to allow for uniform tagging and grouping of students;
- Inviting staff into the conversation early to review the kinds of communication systems available and to listen to their recommendations;
- Developing a shared communications calendar tied to cyclical events (admissions deadlines, orientation, registration, academic reviews, graduation) so that students are not overwhelmed with messages;
- Providing training and support to staff throughout the implementation of the system and beyond;
- Understanding that this kind of system is but one communication tool, and its utility still depends upon students opening and reading their email. Incorporating social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn), as appropriate, for general communications can still add value, even if you occasionally use them to ask students to check their accounts.
Author Perspective: Administrator