A cloud-based Student Information System

With a heritage dating back to 1898 and its first lecturer, Ronald Ross, as the first British recipient of the Nobel Prize in Medicine, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) is a unique organisation.  LSTM is a major research partner for leading philanthropic funders such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wolfson Foundation, and is at the vanguard for the elimination of malaria and other tropical diseases.

Less well known is that LSTM is also a teaching organisation, helping to increase the disease fighting capacity of countries around the world. It was not until 2013 that LSTM was designated as an independent UK higher education institution (HEI), having previously been an [offshoot] of the University of Liverpool.


active users

A Brave New World

To provide maximum flexibility LSTM choose to develop a custom-built SIS, based on Salesforce.com, the market-leading cloud-based CRM platform. The first phase of the project provided for online applications for the School’s MSc programmes, Professional Diplomas and short courses. This greatly reduced the previous administrative burden of paper applications, but the LSTM executive team fully realised this was only a first step into the brave new world of cloud solutions, and so began a search for a Salesforce consultancy partner that could help the School reach its ambitions.

The SIS project team built up a checklist of requirements and prioritised the need for a more coherent application experience, better tailored to the requirements of the programme applied for and with bespoke communications to the applicant. Additionally, potential applicants needed to be directed straight to the course of interest to begin an application or make an enquiry, rather than following a generic route to the application portal.  At the same time the LSTM website was to be replaced!

Having started the programme, the student’s choice of modules was managed by the internal administration team with a manual system of shared spreadsheets and email – a time-consuming and cumbersome process. This then had to filter down to the manual creation of other spreadsheets to allow the administration of assessments and student marks, and the subsequent communication with internal and external assessment markers. Any new system had to improve upon these manual processes whilst maintaining their robustness.  Upon completion of the programme, the system was required to produce correctly formatted and branded certificates and transcript outputs.

Likewise, the School had manual processes for the quality management of its teaching programmes and the team could see the potential for Salesforce providing more efficient approaches for the creation, updating and annual approval of module and programme specifications.

Finally, the School had to produce its first ‘HESA Student Return’, using information direct from the SIS. Every HEI in the UK is legally required to submit an annual return to HESA (the Higher Education Statistics Agency) in a complex and strict XML format. Failure to provide a timely and valid HESA return can directly impact the level of UK Government funding available to the HEI.

“We knew we needed a Salesforce partner who could hit the ground running, master our existing solution and crucially, show us CRM best practice and how to get the most from Salesforce.”
- Eric Healing, Former IT Director

A Platform for Growth

Color Consultancy was chosen to manage the existing LSTM SIS solution and extend its capabilities in several key ways:

    • Simpler application forms for short courses were provided, with email communications tailored to the type of programme;
    • All application forms were improved so that partial form completions were not lost and tighter validation prevented duplicate applications;
    • The internal application approval process was also refined so that staff productivity was improved;
    • Integration with the new LSTM website allowed the applicant’s course choice to persist through to the application portal, improving their experience;
    • Functionality was introduced to allow would-be applicants to enquire regarding a specific course direct from the website, with enquiry, contact and communication records managed and stored in the SIS;
    • A custom app was created to allow administrative staff to talk students through the module choices allowable, and then to create the requisite per student assessment records;
    • An assessment app was also created to allow the capture of marks and to facilitate the School’s processes around resits, mitigating circumstances and extensions;
    • Conga Composer was used to provide Word and PDF output to collate and present Module and Programme Specifications for the LSTM quality process;
    • Conga Composer was also used so that at a click of a button a student’s certificate and transcript were outputted, with the required branding and format;
    • A trending dashboard was built, with an automated weekly update, so that the School could better assess and monitor student recruitment;
    • A custom audit facility to allow on-demand reporting for HESA & similar regulatory submissions. 

In keeping with the Salesforce mantra and Color’s ethos the great majority of the above functionality was provided using ‘clicks, not code’. That is, using the wizard like tools within the Salesforce, such as Visual Workflow and Process Builder, so solutions can be more easily maintained, modified and understood by non-technical staff.

“The project was built on the vision that the SIS would be 'the single source of truth' underpinning the student journey. It was crucial to us that our Salesforce partner understood and shared this vision and would support us in achieving it”.
- Dr Sue Assinder, Former Director of Education

Single Source of Truth

    • Single consistent source of information driving an ecosystem of information and access to various external systems. Website content, student IT provisioning and VLE environment enrolment are all driven directly from the SIS.
    • Transparent audit trail on all student applications and progress readily accessible to all internal staff.
    • Fully branded annual Programme and Module Specification documents generated from the SIS, consolidating information about courses into a single, auditable repository.
    • Inputted student assessment marks automatically rolled up to calculate classifications (including allowing for mitigating circumstances) from which correctly formatted certificate and transcript documents are generated. Inconsistencies between inputted marks and transcripts are eliminated, allowing large volumes of certificates to be generated easily.
    • Real-time reporting on volume of applications received, including pipeline reporting, split by various parameters. Also, trending analysis of applications to show effectiveness of marketing activity and inform marketing strategy.

In October 2016, the School successfully made its first HESA Student Return, solely using the SIS.

Value Metrics (hrs pw)

  • Legacy solution
  • Color SIS