'Customer Management,' From Classroom to Boardroom

July 9, 2007

The competition to provide colleges and universities with institutionwide software to manage relationships with all of its constituents is heating up, and one player in the field is bringing in a big name in the higher education software industry to help it launch its new product and expand its reach.

Todd Gibby, a former senior executive at Blackboard, is moving to Intelliworks to become its new CEO as the company readies the next version of its customer relationship package aimed at the higher ed market.

The development comes at a time when many colleges and universities have grasped the need to stay in touch with potential students, alumni, parents and others to keep donations flowing and interest high. It's called "customer relationship management" in industry parlance, but behind the jargon is a set of capabilities that is crucial to the continuing health of a college or university.

The ability to control vast e-mail and phone lists and to zero in on potential customers fitting a particular profile isn't limited to higher education, of course, but that slice of the customer relationship industry is growing as more institutions realize that success is linked to an effective grasp of the "constituent life cycle," another buzz word that in higher ed circles would encompass one's entire experience with a college, from the application process to considering a major donation to the alma mater decades later.

"More than half of [higher education] institutions have CRM in place somewhere in the institution, but a very small number of that … have an institution-wide CRM," said Craig Stanford, vice president at Talisma Higher Education. So while plenty of colleges and universities might use software to reach out to people for specific uses in particular departments -- such as development or recruitment -- relatively few have a fully integrated system throughout the entire institution. That's where Talisma, Intelliworks and others see a potential for growth.

The higher ed customer relationship sector already has its share of competitors, including Talisma and the information technology software giant Oracle (which did not respond to multiple phone calls and e-mails for comment). But Intelliworks is seeking to win over a good share of the market with a next-generation product and some new blood.

"I hope it's a big deal in terms of what it means for clients," Gibby said of his decision to move from Blackboard to Intelliworks.

At first glance, the choice of Gibby might not be intuitive: Blackboard, a leader in "classroom management" software, which allows professors and students to interact online, assign and submit homework and post announcements, hasn't stepped into the customer management arena. Gibby, who was the executive vice president of operations, oversaw day-to-day activity at the company and managed product lines.

"I think it's more complementary than it is duplicative," Gibby said of his adopted field.

But one thing Gibby would have is experience managing large higher ed-focused projects and expanding market share -- not to mention a client list the company hopes is ready to be tapped, to "leverage the existing relationships that I have with all manner of prospective partners throughout the world," he said.

Gibby has also been a member of the Intelliworks board of directors and said he will be focused on increasing the scale of its business.

"Todd is going to do the same magic that he did at Blackboard," said Dev Ganesan, Intelliworks' outgoing president and CEO who will now become its chairman. Ganesan said its officials were looking toward expanding to a "$100 million business and beyond."

The next version of the company's customer relationship package, dubbed Orion, is set for a July 20 release. What Gibby and Ganesan have touted as its advantages are a quick set-up time and ease of use. Intelliworks is relatively unique in the CRM world for having a main focus on higher education -- a desire to be what Ganesan called "vertically focused."

Orion, unlike other similar solutions, is entirely Web-based and is being offered as a "SaaS" package -- "software as a service." The idea, which has rapidly caught on in the business support realm, is that rather than purchasing software to accomplish a specific task, companies can more easily "rent" the capabilities by hiring an outside firm that hosts the software off-site and can offer continuous support.

At least one competitor offers a product with similar goals and features. Talisma, which offers highly customizable CRM solutions that could be seen as requiring more lead-up time than would normally be considered "user friendly" for colleges seeking a relatively easy solution, has also recently introduced a "Basics" version of its software.

And like Intelliworks, the company is touting the hosted, SaaS design of the product as well as its ease of use.

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