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I recently joined Spaulding Ridge to lead their Higher Education vertical and am genuinely excited about the opportunity to help Higher Ed Institutions further leverage cloud technologies in support of their mission. When I first entered the Salesforce ecosystem in 2008, I was working for Northwestern University and seeking a better way to manage key stakeholder relationships and engagement activity. Salesforce was the right solution, but the product and ecosystem were still in its infancy. Fast-forward 11 years and the Salesforce product offering has evolved across multiple clouds, a Higher Ed specific architecture, and a myriad of 3rd party products, solutions, and services.

In the early days when Salesforce was just starting to serve the Higher Ed market, most Colleges and Universities had a very “point-solution” view of Salesforce and how to use it. You would find individual academic departments or schools using Salesforce in some discrete capacities such as enrollment or program management, alumni relations, or even essential fundraising. At that time, it was rare to find an institution taking an “enterprise” view of Salesforce. As Salesforce usage increased throughout the industry, Universities would discover they had numerous isolated Salesforce instances throughout campus, with none of them sharing information or leveraging a broader view of their constituents.

Fast-forward to today, and the legacy of isolated Salesforce instances on-campus is starting to impact the potential of Salesforce in Higher Ed. Universities are realizing that the evolution (and hence the value) of Salesforce in Higher Ed requires them to have a more Enterprise Application (i.e. centralized) viewpoint of the platform. A more mature Salesforce product requires a more mature Business and IT perspective. As Universities shift toward more centralized management of their Salesforce footprint through consolidation, standardization, and consistency, I often get asked what areas I would focus on if I were developing a plan to centralize Salesforce as a campus-wide enterprise platform.

Here are my top three focus areas and why they are so crucial to the success of your Salesforce footprint:

1. IT Governance

There is probably nothing more critical to the long-term success (and value creation) of Salesforce as an enterprise platform than having a robust IT Governance strategy. A healthy Salesforce Governance plan guides both Business and IT stakeholders and enacts guardrails to ensure organizational alignment across all levels of management. Governance is more than just a Center of Excellence (COE). I’ve seen Universities make the mistake of assuming a COE is synonymous with Governance. While the two are symbiotic, a COE is more of the mechanism by which a University can centralize Salesforce activity. But without a strong governance plan, a COE can get mired in conflicting political factions, get over inundated with too many requests or worse, have a difficult time prioritizing those requests. I often tell Universities that when their Salesforce management team says “No” more than “Yes” to their business users, it’s a clear sign that they need stronger Salesforce Governance to support that COE.

2. Data Governance

A Salesforce instance would not be that valuable if it weren’t for all the data that are housed in it. When Salesforce is used as a point-solution, the data are not too difficult to manage since it is oftentimes sourced locally and doesn’t typically need to be exported or used by external parties. Further simplifying the situation is that the user group tends to be homogenous, with similar requirements and business processes. When using Salesforce as an enterprise platform across campus, data can get much more complicated due to multiple sources, different use cases and requirements, and mastering issues. Having a strong Data Governance policy is hugely critical for a University looking to use Salesforce as an enterprise platform. A robust Data Governance policy ensures that data are available when needed, are being used consistent with the policies of the University, meet compliance standards (especially around HIPPA, FERPA, and GDPR), and promotes and supports critical data mastering in a multi-source environment. I’ve seen schools try to use Salesforce as an enterprise application without strong Data Governance, and the lack of data governance can show up in very interesting ways. I’ve worked with a few schools in the past where a contact record in Salesforce had duplicate email address fields, each specific to a different user group. It didn’t matter that half of those fields contained the same email address. Their data governance policies did not enable and support a culture of data sharing.

3. Salesforce Solution Architect

The value of a very skilled and experienced Salesforce Solution Architect gets overlooked often by Higher Education institutions. In the early days of Salesforce, when Universities were using Salesforce as a point-solution with minimal complexity, a highly skilled and experienced Salesforce Architect was unnecessary. Today, when managing an enterprise-level Salesforce footprint, the right Salesforce Architect is critical to long term success. They understand what is built in Salesforce and why it was built that way. They work well with Business user groups and can help translate and validate business requirements. They are an expert enough to understand the limitations of the platform and determine the best solution approach. They can also have a business conversation with user groups and not get mired in technical jargon. The right Salesforce Solution Architect is the quarterback of your Salesforce team. I’ve worked with schools that had a knowledgeable Salesforce Solution Architect on staff, and they helped the school make the right design and build decisions. While an excellent consulting firm can provide the same level of expertise, it is invaluable to have someone who represents the interests of the broader University and is intimate with the Salesforce infrastructure.

Salesforce is a powerful platform for Higher Education institutions. It is intuitively designed and highly extensible, allowing Colleges and Universities to engage with constituents and stakeholders like never before. Yet, this adaptability and flexibility also requires Higher Ed institutions to maintain ever-evolving policies and procedures to manage Salesforce’s growth across campus. So, if you have started to or are planning to use Salesforce as an enterprise platform, my advice above will help you find your path to success.

Stay tuned for the next entry in my Higher Education blog post series. Next month I will share with you the biggest mistakes that both customers and consultants make on Implementation projects and how to avoid them.

Founded in 2018, Spaulding Ridge is a top management consulting firm, dedicated to client success and helping organizations implement and adopt best-in-cloud technology to solve their most pressing challenges. We provide the office of the CFO financial clarity to Sales and Operational complexity by integrating financial and sales SaaS Platforms.

We help:
• Finance gain control ” Increasing financial effectiveness, insight and impact
• Sales increase Productivity ” Hitting quota more quickly, consistently and efficiently
• Operations increase Competitiveness ” Through productivity rates, customer service outcomes, and efficiency

Shane Sugino leads the Higher Education consulting practice for Spaulding Ridge that helps educational institutions leverage cloud technologies to efficiently and effectively manage their business operations and engage with the entire constituent lifecycle. For more information, visit or contact Shane Sugino at [email protected].