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Building organizational resilience with Salesforce to support shifts in education

June 24, 2021By
students sitting in a library collaborating’s 9th annual Education Summit speakers emphasize the need for equitable access to education in times of constant change.

Once again we traded cocktail hour for chair yoga and hallway chats for Chatter feeds at this year’s Education Summit. Salesforce did a valiant job creating a virtual summit experience that brought the community together. By incorporating events of varying formats, they enabled the connectivity that makes the summit so valuable. They did this all while maintaining some impressive production value along with a powerhouse lineup of main stage speakers.

In lieu of a schedule jam-packed with meetings, I found myself leaning into the mainstage and sessions that touched upon how institutions prepare for a changing educational landscape, often with an eye toward greater accessibility. This also made me reflect on how Salesforce can support universities at each phase of transition.

Serving more than the “traditional” student

Bryan Stevenson, Lawyer and Social Justice Activist

“Education begins with showing the power of every human being, to advance, to learn, to grow to know.”

Opening up the day with a hefty dose of inspiration, Stevenson, lawyer and social justice activist, asserted that the future of education is actualizing the potential of all learners from all backgrounds and all circumstances. For too long we in education have focused on the “traditional” student—meaning 18-22, privileged, and well-supported. Those who fell outside this archetype—meaning lower income, first generation, working parent, etc.—generally had fewer learning opportunities.

The shifting tides (demographic cliff, student debt crisis, and a pandemic that sank enrollment) have higher education institutions focusing on a wider range of learners and needs. Chancellor Venkat Reddy of University of Colorado Colorado Springs stated with pride, “I love this university because of the type of students we serve. 30 percent of our students are first generation—the first in their family to go to college. A third of them are low-income students, minority students, or active military and their families. This is a great privilege to be serving such students.”

It’s time to set the foundation for organizational resiliency

It’s wonderful to see a shift to more inclusive models, but let’s acknowledge that serving a wider array of students will require some fundamental shifts in the way we deliver education. Beyond equitable access, there are many other driving factors for transformation—including changes to student support services, budget constraints, new programs, new delivery models, etc. To remain sustainable, educational institutions must plan for inevitable wide-scale change and, as Meghan Hughes, President of Community College of Rhode Island points out, show the same “growth mindset” we cultivate in students.

Professor Yuval Noah Harari

“At this point, we have fewer insights into the future (unpredictable) and in education, it demands that we try to prepare for, not today, but what's happening tomorrow. Reinvent yourselves repeatedly.”

In other words, get ready to pivot. No crystal ball can predict what the future will hold, but education institutions can work to become organizationally resilient by setting themselves up to be nimble and responsive. Both tactically by creating operational efficiencies, and structurally, by creating strategic flexibility. As we saw at the Summit, many institutions leverage Salesforce to allow them to pivot—quickly.

  1. Operational efficiencies

Many institutions are hesitant to dive headfirst into a large-scale enterprise CRM initiative, but at Traction on Demand, we believe that big changes can happen incrementally with a crawl, walk, run, ride approach. Instead of digital transformation right out of the gate, why not start with digitization of current processes across one or some of the business units?

The Summit sessions were filled with stories of institutions who elected to modernize and centralize their operations so they could become more streamlined, consistent, and efficient. Through the use of Salesforce capabilities such as automation, data cleansing rules, and security permissions, many institutions created operational efficiencies that allow for them to work smarter and quickly adjust to the changing needs of their institutions and students.

These projects are the perfect way to initiate a Salesforce strategy, as they provide immediate value and stakeholder exposure to Salesforce. This core infrastructure, familiarity, and trust in the system comes in handy down the road when your institution initiates a larger-scale digital transformation that affords strategic flexibility.

  1. Strategic flexibility

The ability for an institution to adjust to today’s learner needs will ensure the university remains competitive in today’s landscape as well as tomorrow’s. In a particularly great chat between Paul LeBlanc, President of Southern New Hampshire University, Rachel Carlson, CEO and Co-Founder of Guild Education and Meghan Hughes, President of Community College of Rhode Island, they discussed the need for flexibility of offerings such as unbundled degrees, stackable credentials, shorter programs, prior learning assessment, asynchronous learning, and ensuring there is “no wasted learning” by making transfers work for students.

But for many universities hardwired for a common, standardized model, offering flexibility will require an overhaul of their institutional structure. As part of this overhaul, they can expect a true digital transformational initiative, and Salesforce often plays a leading role in accomplishing these transformational goals. By establishing an agile core enterprise platform with a 360-degree view of their constituency that can bend and flex dramatically, Salesforce can help institutions reimagine their existing state.

Examples of these success stories include:

  • Olivet Nazarene called out that they didn't want to make the mistake of just turning VHS to DVD, they wanted to fundamentally change the way they deliver education.
  • In a session with the University of Arizona, they called their anti-waterfall methodology implementing Salesforce solutions as a means to ensure they were never locked into a static vision.
  • Community College of Rhode Island discussed their ability to be flexible with their pivot to online learning allowing their healthcare students on the frontline to quicken their time to degree.

Get ready to pivot into the future

Pressures will persist, education will be compelled to evolve, and CRM will become ubiquitous across colleges and universities. It will become more critical that institutions can shift and adapt when unpredictable events occur. As education evolves, institutions that invest in becoming organizationally resilient by using Salesforce will adapt more easily and have the tools to succeed.

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