By Sramana Mitra and guest author Shaloo Shalini
SM: There are applications on Salesforce that are specific to fundraising; have you looked at those in this process?
RS: Well, I wanted a solution that was specific to higher education, non-profit fundraising versus just non-profit fundraising and other areas. I also wanted this solution to be connected to our enterprise resource planning (ERP) system in ways that made the two more valuable for our fundraisers. So the project is really twofold. It was deploying Salesforce and adapting it to our requirements at Westmont College. Salesforce, as you know, has been out there a long time, and it is not a big deal or anything new to use the Salesforce solution. We combined it with products from Cast Iron, which was recently acquired by IBM, and we were able to expose through their cloud-based tool pieces of our connections to our ERP system. With that capability enabled, now when I get my team to work with iPhones and iPads, when they are out there in the field, they can now access the portfolio of donors, prospects they are working with, and the entire giving history and all the information about the individual. They can figure out what their top prospects are, tasks and all such things, things that CRM does really well, but the great thing is now when they enter any notes, information, which is so critical to our college, residing only in a cloud-based application like Salesforce, certain parts of it [are available]. For example, a contact report that I file after I meet with someone, I can now forward a contact report, and we can build a history of engagement with the prospect. That contact report automatically gets put into the ERP system and is available for business objects and our enterprise reporting side to build out different types of reports that drive our work on a day-to-day basis.
SM: Was there integration involved in that? Was it a lot of integration, or was the process relatively simple?
RS: Well, I would say that Salesforce is a very simple but great tool. When we signed up for Cast Iron, we also gave a quick start program, so we had assistance from their team to build this first orchestration; this is what they call these kinds of integrations. That helped us get up and running as quickly as possible.
SM: What is the scope of this project? When you bought Salesforce.com’s service, what was the cost involved, and what was the cost of the Cast Iron orchestration process that got your Salesforce deployment connected with the ERP? What is the ratio of costs involved, and did it meet the expectations you had about costs?
RS: The costs involved just to get started on the more traditional side were going to be a little over a quarter a million dollars. Salesforce has a program for non-profits that greatly reduced our costs to a hundred and something per month per person, and I get a huge discount through their foundation as a result of being a non-profit organization. So, my costs were down dramatically. The only significant cost was the three-year agreement we entered into with Cast Iron. Services was about $20,000 of that; that was what we spent on services to get up and running.
SM: What is your assessment at this point? I’m sure since you have had so much success with the cloud strategy, as you look into the future, what other workloads are you going to move, and how are you thinking about your cloud strategy?
RS: Well, that is a great question. Looking at our current successes with the cloud, we are observing and trying to figure out the decline in the amount of browser-based activity that is happening, at least in our user base at Westmont College. Students still use the browser, but not like they did even just two or three years ago. There has been an explosion of the amount of Internet-based activity that happens on campus through small applications on handheld devices. Now it appears in this emerging market around tablets, we use, I think, a unique connection between these small applications and cloud-based data or information we think holds real potential for the college. So, that is where we are spending our time now – to see what is this type of interplay between the app world and the cloud world that we could bring together that would really be meaningful and useful for our user base. This would also include alumni; we starting to look at them as well because the team has been freed up to work on different things. We are now able to look up a bit, and we are talking about prospective students, alumni, current parents, and areas like that could really matter for our college. We are going to invest heavily in this mobile and tablet app–cloud space for the foreseeable future and see where it takes us.
SM: What are you seeing in your particular domain, non-profit higher education? What kinds of vendors are there, and what kind of applications have they developed that are specific to your business processes? The question I am asking is, What is your assessment of the state of the union in terms of a bare cloud provider that is going after the space in an aggressive way? Are you seeing applications emerge from vendors that could address such functions in the higher education market that you are talking about?
RS: I have never been asked that question! That is a great question! You know, in some ways, it would be interesting to see what you think about this. I had, and maybe this is just me, but I had the idea that it seems like forward-thinking, creative work often happens more in the enterprise space, like companies that are focused in serving that constituent base, than it does in organizations that are focused on higher education. My job has been to watch that and then figure out if can we take any of that thinking and re-apply it to higher education and make it work for us. I have a long-term habit of following that space closely, more so than with vendors that are focused on education. I haven’t seen enough there that would say that this second group of vendors is driving any significant part of the conversation on how technology is evolving to serve enterprises and institutions.