The Importance of Benefits Realisation

Mike Shore-Nye, Registrar and Secretary at the University of Exeter, on how to develop an effective benefits realisation plan.

A benefits realisation plan should always be a fundamental part of any improvement project, tracking whether intended benefits have been realised and sustained after the end of the project. This has never been more important when pressure on University resources is intense and we have to ensure that we are investing in the right things at the right time to deliver our strategy.

Here at Exeter, we are currently deploying a CRM system into our Student Recruitment function. One of the stated benefits of this project is to achieve an increase in both applications, and conversion to offer acceptance. One of the project outcomes we aim to deliver is the identification of pre-applicants for marketing campaigns. The system has now tracked 70,000 instances of enquiry interactions and contains over 50,000 contacts.

A new pre-application undergraduate campaign has been designed and built within the system, and will include an additional 1,400 prospective students who have contacted the University since the CRM system has gone live. This new system will ensure we are able to monitor where we keep or lose prospective students. We will be able to use this data to explore the reasons for this and propose changes as part of continuous improvement in our recruitment activities.

With the core elements of the enquiry handling system now deployed and integrated into ‘business as usual’ activities, the Student Recruitment team is now looking at how to improve the way we deliver our customer service activities and beginning to using additional features of the CRM system to enhance our ways of working.

Our Benefits Realisation Management Framework at Exeter has been developed to specifically address the requirements in strategic investment or change management business cases. However, it is adaptable enough to address the needs for benefits realisation management across the entire institution.

The framework itself ensures that for any initiative or investment the benefits are clear from the outset and linked to our strategic objectives. There is clear transparency and accountability for the realisation of the benefits, not just the delivery of the initiative. But perhaps most importantly, there is a benefits management toolkit provided. This ensures a practical and focussed process for colleagues to follow, supporting the management of benefits and concluding with an evaluation mechanism for the realisation of benefits.

So why is this so important? Why do we need such a rigorous framework? In business cases, benefits are identified from the outset and linked to the strategic objectives, thus providing a clear line of sight. Each benefit also needs an owner who takes accountability, not only for the delivery of the initiative, but also for the realisation of the benefits during and after the conclusion of the project.

By monitoring both cashable and non-cashable tangible benefits that are directly aligned to a strategic investment, benefits management helps provides clear, objective evidence as to how the investment is performing.

This informs decision-makers as to whether it should continue as is, change or stop. It also enables lessons to be learnt both from favourable and adverse performance as it provides a continuous feedback loop informing future similar initiatives. It provides clear accountability for delivery of the benefits and shows how the University’s resources are being used to deliver business benefits. Thus it enabling the achievement of the University’s strategic objectives. It not only enables the demonstration of value for money feeding into the Office for Students Efficiency Return but also assists with our engagement with students and staff.

So what does this mean in practical terms and resources? We have developed the following tools to ensure this now becomes management best practice at Exeter, including:

  • A Benefits Library which provides categories of benefits linked to outcomes and existing measures and that ensure we learn from our successes and mistakes;
  • Costing tool and methodology to ensure consistency, allowing options to be compared within business cases and providing confidence with cashable benefit baselines and targets;
  • A benefit profile template to capture key attributes and show who is accountable for each project;
  • A benefit map to show how outcomes link to intermediate and end benefits;
  • A benefit register to monitor all the benefits in the University’s change portfolio.

Taking into consideration all of the above, we must be mindful that we’re not creating an industry around benefits management. We need it to be a tool that’s simple to us, is focussed and targeted, delivers strategically worthwhile but realistic benefit targets, and ensures we remain the ‘learning’ and continuously improving institutions that we all aspire to be.