Why do I Need a Center of Excellence, Anyway?

By Dan Luton | March 15, 2018 | Ask an Architect, Higher Education, K-12 Education & Youth Development, Nonprofit, User Tips and Tricks

By: Dan Luton, Senior Customer Success Architect
Salesforce.org Centers of Excellence for nonprofit, higher ed and K-12This is the second of a monthly blog series we call “Ask an Architect.” In this series, we will be answering common questions from some of our most ambitious customers using Salesforce.

“We’re going to spend a significant amount of time, effort, and investment to make our Salesforce implementation the best it can be. How do I ensure it’s agile, running efficiently, meeting the needs of my staff?”

Have you ever had a project run over budget? Had issues convincing your users to actually adopt new functions? Had challenges working with multiple partners? Fallen behind your schedule due to a lack of decision making?

If any of the above apply to you then you may need to build, or evolve, your Center of Excellence.

Exactly why you need a CoE at your non-profit or university will be driven by many factors including your size, ambition and Salesforce footprint. In some cases you may not even need this to be a formal group; but whether you are a startup organization using 10 free subscriptions or a nationally recognized enterprise, defining the vision for your CRM and planning for its future should always be at the heart of your decision making.

Define Your Vision – What is Salesforce to You?

At its core, Salesforce is and wants to be a constituent relationship management tool. That means it exists to track the people you work with, your relationship to them and the key activities that you can use to further that relationship. The features and functions you layer on top of that (fund development, recruitment, event management) are additions and extensions to that core. Your vision has a direct impact on how your instance will be used and, ultimately, how successful you will be.

Vision Spectrum:

Vision Spectrum

Whilst there is a lot of middle ground the above spectrum represents two divergent models, where you land between these two can deeply impact the long term success of your projects.

    1. Salesforce is a CRM and that is all it should be. It will hold only required CRM data. This will allow you to scale to virtually any volume of records, integrations and interactions. However, Salesforce will likely not be your system of record for any of the data in it and you will not be able to make savings by archiving off legacy platforms.

    Bear2. Salesforce can do ANYTHING (including make your coffee and drive you to work, thanks Codey!) and so our goal is to move our fundraising, program management, recruitment, event management and finance tools onto the platform. This creates a feature-rich central environment across your organization and allows you to realize cost savings as you end-of-life other tools. However, this level of customization is very likely to put stress on the platform, potentially reducing performance and, with so many teams using the tool, it is very unlikely you will be able to meet all of their requirements without compromising the experience of other groups.

Your Salesforce vision directly impacts the design and implementation of your CoE and no two are the same. The goals, processes and mission that make your organization unique should also shape your CoE. This means that, whilst this can be a formal group with a written mandate you can also be very lightweight and agile in meeting your needs. Ultimately, you do not want to create another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy, your CoE should mirror the evolving requirements of your organization and its culture.

Having said that, there are consistencies and standards that a CoE can bring to your programs that will help to ensure success.

Prioritize Across Teams

With your vision in place, alongside a thorough understanding of the implications of your design a CoE can assist greatly in ensuring that the diverging (and potentially converging) views and requirements are balanced against your available timelines and resources. This can be particularly important in our industry due to historical solios between teams and a lack of resources available to run multiple projects simultaneously.

Streamline Processes

While relevant across the social impact space, it is especially true in Higher Education that many teams with the same or similar business goals complete their work in very different ways. With a CoE in place it becomes much easier to streamline these processes, selecting best practices from across multiple groups and removing inefficiencies and methods that have become outdated.

Plan for Growth

Planning for growth is essential in ensuring the success of your implementation, not just from the point of view of your mission and business plan but also the evolution of your Salesforce instance. Each time that you consider adding new functions, features, teams or integrations into Salesforce you must consider the long term impact they will have as you scale. Are these new requests and plans in line with your CRM vision and, if so, what would you need to change in your platform to accommodate them? A range of business and technology experts on your CoE can help you to examine the impact of growth and ensure you are ready to expand your usage.

Reduce Risk

Nothing that you do can ever fully eliminates risk across your ongoing projects and programs. However, a CoE will ensure that decisions are being made across a wide range of opinions and approaches and with an eye to collaborative success as opposed to being driven by a single business function. It also mitigates against the loss of subject matter experts as it diffuses knowledge of the system and the decisions that were made to reach your current status across a group of individuals and departments.

Beyond the above, there are many reasons that a CoE makes sense for your college/university, K-12 district, or nonprofit. The above gives an introduction to some of the high level motivations and factors behind the most successful CoEs we have seen at Salesforce.org. Following on from this article, we will be producing content focusing on governance and how you actually implement a CoE and measure its success.

Actions you can take today:

And…If you are a Premier customer, take our CoE Accelerator.