Examining the ongoing challenges of delivering high-quality, value-added ERP services in Higher Education.

Friday, September 13, 2013

SFDC for Program Management

A mere four months after launching the student information system program at Harvard, we are live!

No, not with PeopleSoft Campus Solutions (that will be another year or so) or OBIEE (a pilot may go-live early next year) but with Salesforce.com. I am incredibly excited about the potential of SFDC to transform the way we manage constituent relationships, outreach, communications, and more.
My SFDC Home Page
On a project of this magnitude, effective stakeholder management is a crucial success factor. PMBOK and PRINCE2 cover this ground, of course, but in many ways the project management processes of identifying and classifying stakeholders is the easy part -- the challenge on a large-scale project is how to manage so much information efficiently and effectively. And if you think about how many communications pathways there are... Using the standard formula for calculating the discrete potential channels - n(n-1)/2 - things get rather "hairy" when you have a 40-person project team and hundreds of stakeholders (with many of them falling into a "VIP" category).

Which brings us to Salesforce. I realized quickly that I needed a real CRM system to do my job. My primary objectives were to increase transparency, enable reporting to VIP stakeholders, and ensure a higher degree of professionalism -- basic things like timely follow-up, not calling the same person three times on the same day with the same question, etc.

Salesforce Foundation to the rescue... I have tracked SFDC for many years and knew that a time might come when CRM would come to #highered. Fortunately, Salesforce offers a compelling solution for the non-profit sector, including built-in significant discounts and other resources. There's a lot of other good stuff surrounding the foundation and their support for non-profits, but they say it more eloquently than I ever could, so go there and check them out.

The long and short of it is that for short money (and $0 for a ten-user trial) you can gain access to an intuitive, hassle-free solution perfectly designed for a variety of purposes. The economics are not hard to justify -- until we went live this week, one of my business analysts was maintaining an Access Database for many of these activities -- the cost of that solution in one month probably covers our team access to SFDC for six months!
SFDC Outlook Connector is a "Game Changer"
In our case, we did employ some help from CedarCrestone to get our instance set-up. That effort? About a month, with a focus on helping us brand the interface, develop load processes for contacts, accounts, and past activities. We built a few initial dashboards and had them train our administrator. 

Fundamentally, we are using the system in the following ways:
  • Accounts - the major business units within the institution; in our case this mostly refers to the various Harvard Schools, but also includes other entities such as central admin, peers, and other IT groups with whom we'll interact.
  • Contacts -- the hundreds of individuals with whom we'll interact. Not only can we track the basic stuff already in our directories such as email, phone, and location, but we can track reporting relationships (often a helpful piece of information!), executive assistants, etc.
  • Events -- capturing the many kinds of meetings we have, from steering committees to solution design meetings, one-on-one discovery sessions, and other events that contacts might attend. 
  • Activities -- includes calls, emails,  tasks, etc. Basically, every kind of interaction you can think of that doesn't go in a calendar.
As if I needed any more convincing, the Outlook Connector did the trick. This plug-in makes all that work tracking interactions pay off right away. When you click on an email in your inbox, the connector queries Salesforce in real-time to see if there is a matching contact -- if so, the right-hand pane populates with high-level information, including the activity history. This is invaluable context for a program manager fielding a complaint or processing a request. 

Overall, we are just thrilled with the promise this system provides for our management of stakeholders, and I'm thrilled by the time-to-market -- this SaaS thing really works! :) There are a few wrinkles that we haven't quite sorted out yet -- most notably the fact that many people actually have multiple email addresses at the University, which is not a supported feature in SFDC. We have to define processes and business rules for internal operations and figure out how to balance tasks in the "project plan" vs. those tracked in Salesforce. But those are small things, good questions prompted only by the existence of good tools. I am eager to see how this tool plays out in the coming months; I'll keep you posted!


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