A Beginner’s Guide to Communities for Higher Ed: The Future of Service

By Rebecca Joffrey | August 26, 2015 | Communities, Higher Education

In my experience, few people disagree with the goals of CRM. Having a 360 degree view of students and alumni makes sense. The problem is how to make a circle out of higher ed silos. A recent webinar hosted by Ovum and Salesforce.org offers guidance on how to do this. For me, the aha moment came when I began to understand the difference between point solutions and a ”platform.” The illustration below shows how (and why) the technology in higher ed is evolving.

Lesson 3. The Future of Service

Exceptional service should be effortless for students. It’s not. That’s because, at most universities, the technology infrastructure mimics our physical way of doing things. Need a job? ‘Go to the Career Services website.’ Wondering when flu shots are available? ‘Our office sent you an email about that last week… it must be somewhere your inbox.’ Application vendors have also taken a silo’d approach, creating a wide array of vertical point solutions that don’t talk to each other, require separate profiles, and have duplicate functionality. As universities invest in the design of better service experiences, it helps to understand the evolution of our technology landscape – what’s changing and what’s ahead.

Higher Ed Evolution

The Good Old Days: Paper and in Person
Students walked from building to building to find what they needed, stood in line, and signed up in person for events. It was an era when students actually came to our workshops. But times were simple then. What else were they going to do?

The Age of Automation: Point Solutions and Portals
Who can blame us? We were keeping track of everything on paper so when vendors came to our departments with automated tools that replaced our file cabinets, we jumped. Over time, the point solutions became stand-alone portals and we have ended up with what I once heard referred to as “a funky garden of websites.” We have put everything that WE care about in one place but for students it’s not that different than walking from building to building.

The Age of Collaboration: A Platform for Problem Solving
Students need a front door for service, not information on a web page. A service platform puts people at the center, not content, and gives students the on-demand support, metrics, and tools needed to collaborate, answer questions, and solve problems. Point solutions like the career management or financial aid system are still needed but only for a specific activity. They are plug-ins to the platform and provide important data about student activity that can be combined with other data to track and measure student success.

Image provided by 7Summits. As a Silver Salesforce Partner, 7Summits helps businesses leverage communities to drive measurable results across customer support, sales enablement, social marketing, social intranets and enterprise-wide communication, collaboration and innovation. Learn more.

Rebecca Joffrey
About the author
Rebecca Joffrey is Director of Interactive Services at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University and is responsible for re-defining the way that students engage with alumni, faculty, staff, and peers in both physical and online spaces. Prior to this role, she was Director of the Career Development Office at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth where she led one of the first university implementations of Chatter for students. You can follow Rebecca on Twitter, “Living in the Feed” @RebeccaJoffrey.


This post is the third in a three part series on Communities for Higher Ed. In the first two parts of the series, learn the difference between a portal and a community and explore 10 examples of engagement in higher ed.