We participated in the first ever UK Salesforce Higher Education User Group at Plymouth University in 2017. We spoke to our customer, Technical Project Manager, Rupert Frankum, about the event, and about Salesforce at Plymouth.
With years of experience working in technology in higher education (HE), a successful CRM implementation and complete process overhaul project under his belt, we were keen to share Rupert’s words of wisdom with the community…
Tell us about yourself Rupert…
I started working at Plymouth University in 2008 as a Junior Web Developer. Now I’m a Technical Project Manager and Certified Scrum Master. Before that, I actually studied here!
What drives technological change in higher education institutions?
Student-experience related initiatives are always top of the agenda. Before moving on to the CRM project I implemented a new university-wide Digital Learning Environment. The needs of the Student will continue to be at the core of any development at all HE institutions.
That makes sense – so what holds that back?
I guess the biggest blocker is funding – as everyone is aware. With changes to the HE sector specifically, it’s ever more important to concentrate investment in the right areas. We need to improve the student experience, from first enquiry right through to graduation and beyond.
What kickstarted change at Plymouth University?
Plymouth University had many individual, bespoke CRM systems. Like any organisation, we needed one single source of data. We needed to enable cross-institutional data sharing and improve processes institution wide along the way. We knew we could improve quality of information and reduce management overhead, plus make day-to-day processes so much easier for our hardworking staff.
There was (and still is) a lot of change in the sector, and it’s only becoming more competitive. Plymouth University knew it needed to be proactive in its response and a CRM would form a key part of this strategy.
Salesforce continues to deliver regular updates, enhancements and great new bits of tooling to further enable HE institutional needs.
The dream result: an entirely connected campus with Salesforce on everyone’s computer screen, including the students. Sharing information, managing data collaboratively, supporting students and so much more.
Tell us about Plymouth University‘s journey with Salesforce so far
The initial project ran in two phase. The ultimate vision was to improve Student Experience in some key areas:
- Central Admissions
- Academic Partnerships
- Research & Innovation
- Careers & Employability
- Clearing & Confirmation
With a dedicated CRM Project Team internally and BrightGen, we successfully delivered the Minimum Viable Product to the institution.
We now have a platform that is ready to be further embedded and enhanced by undertaking smaller initiatives, concentrating on areas across the institution in need. It has only been achieved by the buy-in to the vision, support from high level management, dedication of key individuals across the business areas and real hard work from the project team.
What an achievement! Why did you partner with BrightGen for your implementation?
We were very immature on the Salesforce platform at the start of the journey. We needed to get our internal team up to speed with both the development and also the architectural understanding.
BrightGen gives us their expertise for a number of areas, such as architectural advice, technical support, top-level solution design and sanity checking, which is invaluable.
Now that you are live on the platform, tell us about the results you have seen.
The first thing to mention is that the results are not just down to implementing the Salesforce CRM platform. It’s also the fantastic business changes that have been implemented alongside to enable a real step change. We have reduced turnaround times on Application Processing, and spend on printing and physical storage costs to name just a few benefits. We are now able to collect more and better data than ever before – and share it without delays. This allows more informed decision-making, more autonomy and much improved internal communications and working relationships.
We are well on the way to more personalised engagements with every student now as well. With the improved data being recorded, each interaction informs the next. And with so many manual processes removed or reduced we have the bandwidth to do more, or do it differently.
What has been the best thing about the experience?
Undoubtedly, seeing the outcomes and benefits in the business areas we have worked with. A real transformation has taken place.
And the hardest thing?
The biggest challenge at Plymouth has really been process and business level change. The technology is the enabler, but changing processes based on a varying number of factors is hard.
This is where I believe the agile delivery methodology helps. It engages the process experts, empowers the owners of the particular area of the business you are working with to deliver something that will work for them and breaks things down to manageable-sized chunks!
In addition, the agile framework is – contrary to belief – very structured if used correctly, which benefits any change implementation.
If you could go back in time and you had to do it all again, what would you do differently?
I would have joined the project from the start! Unfortunately, I took the project on in Phase 2 and played catch up.
Other than that, I think I would have just done more of the same – small chunks of work, working with the business areas directly and closely. I would possibly allow a little more time to understand current process vs to be processes. But overall we were in a good position – a project like a CRM implementation within any HE institution needs to be driven by the organisation and process owners if it is to succeed, and we had that.
What advice would you have for another university at the start of their journey?
- Join the Community
Most definitely come to the User Group and question everyone! Plymouth will have members of the Project Team there, both those with technical expertise, and Product Owners from the business who were involved in and are affected by the changes.
- Start slowly
My general advice would be to start small and slowly build up areas of most importance – and don’t try to take on too much at any one time.
- Create a supportive environment
Make sure you have buy-in from the area of the institution you are working with. Try to co-locate the project team if you can.
- Start…with the End!
Start each sub-project with the reporting requirements. If you understand what operational and management reporting is required and work backwards, you know what you need to capture and how best to do that.
What can we expect from the first Salesforce Higher Education User Forum?
We wanted to provide dedicated time to discuss all things CRM and for everyone to share knowledge and lessons. It’s also a great opportunity for the delegates to gain insight into core Salesforce offerings such as Marketing Cloud, or Wave Analytics: what they can do, and and how they have been implemented. Several Salesforce Partners and Product Specialists are sponsoring as well as BrightGen.
What are you most looking forward to at the User Group?
I think it has to be meeting individuals that are early on in their CRM journey and wanting to know what is achievable – of which I hope I can provide some insight! In some ways we have done so much, but the opportunities are endless. That’s what the User Group is really about.
Related: Read about our success story with Plymouth