Ahead of the first ever UK Salesforce Higher Education User Group - which is being hosted at Plymouth University on 2nd February - we sat down with our customer, Technical Project Manager Rupert Frankum, for the inside scoop. Not just on the event, but on everything Salesforce at Plymouth!

With almost 10 years experience working in technology in Higher Education, 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 the University 9 and a half years ago as a Junior Web Developer, and 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 these days?
Student-experience related initiatives are always top of the agenda. Before moving on to the CRM project I was focused on implementing a new university-wide Digital Learning Environment. The needs of the Student will continue to be at the core of any development at all HEI’s.

That makes sense - so what holds that back?
I guess the biggest blocker is funding - as everyone is aware. Funding in all sectors is limited and with changes to the HE sector specifically, it’s ever more important to concentrate investment in the right areas - improving student experience and increasing quality with all aspects of the student journey, from first enquiry right through to graduation and beyond.

What kickstarted change at the University of Plymouth?
Plymouth had many individual, bespoke CRM systems. Like any organisation HE or otherwise, we needed to ensure we had one single source of data and could enable cross institutional data sharing and review 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 knew it needed to be proactive in its response and a CRM would form a key part of this strategy.

Why Salesforce?
Salesforce can of course enable most things and as a platform it continues to deliver regular updates, enhancements and great new bits of tooling to further enable HEI needs.

The dream result is an entirely connected campus with Salesforce being on everyone’s computer screen - including the students. Sharing information, managing data collaboratively, supporting students and so much more.

Tell us about University of Plymouth’s journey with Salesforce so far
The initial project ran in 2 phases and the ultimate vision was to improve Student Experience in some key areas - Recruitment, Central Admissions, Academic Partnerships, Research & Innovation, Careers & Employability and Clearing & Confirmation.

Working with a dedicated CRM Project Team internally and BrightGen as our implementation partner - and after a rollercoaster of highs, lows, sweat and tears - we have successfully delivered the Minimum Viable Product to the institution for it to be exploited further in 2017 and beyond.

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 a helping hand to get our internal team up to speed with both the development and also the architectural understanding - we needed to know how things could be done before we could decide how they should be done at Plymouth.

We still have a good relationship with BrightGen and turn to 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 HEI 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?
1. Join the Community
Most definitely come to the User Group on 2nd February and fill the day with questioning 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.
2. 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.
3. Create a supportive environment
Make sure you have buy-in from the area of the Institution you are working with and try to co-locate the project team if you can.
4. 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 be capturing 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, Wave Analytics -what they can do, and and how they have been implemented. Several Salesforce Partners and Product Specialists are sponsoring and will be there to speak to you as well.

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.

Thanks so much for sharing your experience with the community!
We can’t wait to hear more from you and all the speakers at the User Group - see you all on the 2nd February, BrightGen reps will be there all day poised to answer your Salesforce questions!

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