A few months ago I posted about CRMs for education. At that time, my division at NJIT was in a quandary about our future management of customer relationship management software mainly because our educational product, Edgenuiti, had fallen on non-supported times and its anointed replacement, RubyCampus, was full of dependency exploits in its back-end code. I admit that my final recommendation was vTiger because it was the easiest to learn and its functionality, while important, was a feature that landed in second place. I am in the position to support software for our division, and I chose vTiger at that time because I knew that if I selected a more feature rich, but difficult to learn, software package, I'd be the one managing our marketing campaigns because everyone else would claim that the software was just too hard to use. The fact is that none of the other CRMs were too difficult to use, but in an environment where academic credentials trump actual skill sets, it wasn't likely that anyone would develop the skills needed to use the software.
The most pleasant surprise for me (in a month where most surprises aren't pleasant, but regressive) was that vTiger is actually an easy-to-use CRM that is built with a tremendous amount of transparent flexibility. Built primarily for commercial use, vTiger has scads of features that are fully customizable for the education market. I can import all of my old data from Edgenuiti and create or edit fields that are designed to support businesses, and tailor them exactly to the needs of student-search marketing. I can change "products" to "programs of study;" I can create fields that store academic completion levels; I can create marketing campaigns that highlight courses and degrees rather than products and services. Bulk e-mailing via templates is also supported and those templates are, of course, fully customizable and I can blast prospective student e-mails announcing events like Open Houses or Special Lectures, or even, news announcements from NJIT.
The primary way we collect student data is from advertising and web-form based solicitations that prospective students can fill out and submit. Our forms are everywhere and in all kinds of formats (java, asp, .NET, php, html) and its has always been a headache to get these diverse forms to post in a uniform way to our database: field content often didn't match expected data, form-based security played havoc with our database's willingness to accept internet data, old forms out in the wild of the internet and forgotten about or archived and linked from sites from which we didn't control woild return errors to the posters and their data would never arrive. With vTiger's built in SOAPfunction and web-forms add-ons, the errant posts can now find a home, and with its graphical displays of incoming data with each bar clickable to drill down to the stored data, it is a snap to discover where data is coming from, which data is current or obsolete and a simple way to set up a campaign to address any dynamic issue.
Another feature of vTiger is its "Customer Portal" which is a webpage available to stored contacts to directly request more information about a topic, review dynamicaly built FAQs, or report a problem with forms, classes or the interface itself. These customer portals deliver messages directly to targeted staff whose job it is to handle exactly the kinds of requests that have been made. vTiger doesn't even require a login to the web interface. There are plug-ins for Outlook, Thunderbird and even an iPhone app that can track and manipulate information stored in vTiger's database
The requirements to host vTiger are an Apache webserver with the php5 language installed, and a MySQL database. Though the most common operating systems that host vTiger are Unix and Linux; the code is written in such a way that hosting it on a Windows server is certainly possible, too. Coming soon in the v5.1 release is the ability to use more databases than MySQL (PostgresQL is in beta) and the ability to have timed e-mail campaigns, once scheduled, launched on any future data and the ability to send targeted auto-response messages to people who have filled out a form and "opted-in" to the information flow.
Sometimes in software with flexibility comes increased complexity, but this vTiger product was designed from the beginning to stay flexible and simple. It gives me something to smile about, this week, anyway.