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Building a Stable and Flexible Salesforce Governance Foundation

By July 8, 2016

By: Salesforce Higher Education Advisory Council Governance Subcommittee: Laura Campbell, Algonquin College, Renee Fawcett, University of Minnesota, John Henry, Oregon State University, Joanna Iturbe, University of Colorado, Florence Parodi, University of Miami and Ryan Clemens, Arizona State University

Governance can be compared to the foundation of a home. It is without a doubt less interesting and less flashy than all the other elements of the home. But if it isn’t carefully built and maintained, everything that sits on top of it is at risk. This blog post will contrast two institutions at different points in their governance journey and give you tips along the way to help you move forward.

Algonquin College

acAlgonquin College has been using the Salesforce platform to revolutionize recruitment, service and collaboration. From 2009 to 2013, the scope of the Salesforce environment and the small size of the support team made lightweight governance a good approach. The key to success was constant and open communication between the three departments using the platform. The scope of most enhancements affected recruitment and marketing and the two system administrators and two executive sponsors worked closely together to manage system changes. Hiccups occurred along the way but overall this approach worked well to support the needs of ~40 Salesforce users.

Fast forward three years: The scope and scale of the Salesforce environment at Algonquin College has changed dramatically.

  • Sales Cloud was expanded into three student service departments
  • An IT Help Desk solution was implemented using Service Cloud
  • An employee community was implemented
  • A student information management system was developed on the platform to support a new overseas campus

The user base exploded to more than 240 standard Salesforce users and 4000-plus employee Community users.

What did not significantly increase during this time was the size of the team that supports the strategy and operations of the system, which essentially stayed the same size of four individuals – a software architect, Salesforce Administrator, Marketo Administrator, and CRM Department Manager. Things have gotten too big, too fast and lightweight governance is no longer sustainable.

“Let’s talk about governance” has become a familiar refrain around the watercooler in the office over the past year. They know they need it, they know they want it, but their aggressive roadmap of projects and limited resources have made it challenging to move forward. Fortunately, internal priorities have aligned recently and central IT has stepped forward to partner with them to support the users. Together, they are going to establish and implement a governance model in the coming months, as part of a larger initiative. And as they work to achieve this goal, they will look to other institutions, such as Arizona State University (ASU) for best practices and lessons learned to help Algonquin College on its journey.

Arizona State University (ASU)

ASUArizona State University (ASU) has been using Salesforce since approximately 2007 when the W.P. Carey Business School launched an instance. Since then, multiple instances, or “orgs”, have been implemented on campus. In June 2013, ASU started moving towards an Enterprise rollout in a big way, and in December 2013 an Enterprise License Agreement (ELA) was signed with Salesforce. This was the beginning of ASU’s Connected Campus and also marked the beginning of their Salesforce governance structure.

Salesforce is being used as the main student interface service – following the full student lifecycle. That said, they are still onboarding units on campus. They currently have 2,500 users, 150 help desk agents tied into a central 1-800 phone number, telephony and an auto link to pull up data about the caller. They are using Salesforce for recruitment and outreach campaigns as well as for all prospective student touch points.

Initially the concept of internal pillars was used to convey the idea of central groups supporting Salesforce functions between governance bodies and communication activities. The pillars, or groups, included: Recruiting, Service and Relationship Management.

ASU Salesforce Pillars

Each pillar acts as a product owner (verifying new project requirements), managing communications and expectations and as a central resource of knowledge and skillset. That said, there was not an organizational divide between these pillars but rather they would share from a pool of programmers / developers and would reach across ‘Pillar’ boundaries to collaborate. Though the pillars still exist they are no longer publicized in an effort to be more inclusive and welcoming to other units on campus. In fact, according to the ASU Salesforce website ( At ASU, there are no predefined lines between our recruitment, retention, relationship and service strategies; they are all interconnected.

Taking a top-down view, ASU governance consists of the Core Team, the Governance Committee, the Executive Steering Committee and a Functional Advisory Board.

The ASU governance and support structure has organically grown and now includes:

  • Corporate relationships
  • Marketing Cloud is now the sole source for all mass communications, educational outreach and student services
  • Student success suite, which includes Civitas as a partner to implement an advisor portal and coach portal (life coach meets academic advising)

This organic growth is, in part, fed by processes in which core teams are regularly evaluated and modified when necessary.
Work at ASU is supported by a central development team which currently consists of 15 administrators, developers and integration developers with cross-pillar reporting lines to support the university priorities. This team is also supported by two Project Managers and three business analysts to help create functional specs and work with the Governance to prioritize the work which is delivered in two week sprints. Aside from using Chatter for push notifications for regular communication, the development group also hosts a quarterly user group meeting to communicate system-wide developments and modifications.

Final Thoughts

As you can see from Algonquin and ASU’s journeys that continue, the foundation and pillars of the governance and support structures have been critical to success. Just as in building a home, everything built on top of the foundation and integrated with the framework is dependent on the sturdiness of the base with the ability to be flexible as the construction on the house continues. Additionally, it needs the ability to scale to retain even more weight in the case that an addition is made to the home at a later date. In the case of governance, there is no finish line when it comes to building a maintaining a home. There’s always yard work to be done, maintenance issues to address and decorations to be updated. Your governance structure should also continue to be proactively updated and evolve along with the size, scope and maturity of your implementation.