Salesforce: There's an App for That!

Do you remember your first mobile phone?

Most of us anxiously purchased our first cell phones with anticipation of receiving that first call. As time went on we lived with our phones, we began to experience their limitations ...

The phones were bulky. The batteries constantly needed charging. We were restricted to short, expensive “minute plans.” Who knew there was so much to talk about when you were out and about? But despite the limitations, we loved our phones and used them to the fullest until a new and improved version was available. Flip phones made it possible for us to carry our devices anywhere. Before long, we were given the ability to “text” short messages – as long as you didn’t mind pressing a key multiple times to get the letter you wanted! If you were lucky enough to get your hands on the new Blackberry, you could access the internet and connect to your work email account. Good times!

Still, in the end, even with all of the bells and whistles, these early mobile phones really only did one thing well - make and receive phone calls!

Eventually, technology moved forward and we were introduced to our first “smartphone.” What a difference! With these new devices, we could still make phone calls, send text messages, and browse the Web. But now we also had these things called “apps” that gave us the ability to customize our phones into whatever we wanted them to be. That stand-alone GPS that you spent over a hundred bucks on? – toss it. Your phone has an app for that. Want to listen to your favorite music? Install iHeart Radio, Milk Music or Pandora. Need to check your bank balance? – or even pay a bill? There’s a bank app for that! Instead of having to purchase the latest and greatest new phone so you can book a flight or check your Gmail, all you need to do is install the app. Today, our phones remind us when our credit card bill is due, tell us how long it will take to get to work (be it on foot, or by car, train, bus or plane), and remember where we parked our cars -- before we even ask! We still refer to these devices as “phones,” but the ever-growing number of apps from developers all over the world has given us the ability to turn our phones into personal assistants.

What does this have to do with our new CRM? Traditional systems like SCT Banner are similar to those early mobile phones. The system met our needs initially, but it could be cumbersome and costly to customize, which limited our ability to explore new ways of working and engaging our constituents. We were at the mercy of vendor timelines for application enhancements that were critical to our business processes. Such limitations often required us to devote our own resources to developing and maintaining the functionality that we needed to operate, or to purchase and integrate entirely separate systems.

Our new CRM, Salesforce, is like our smartphones. Salesforce is a platform that comes with basic functionality that can be enhanced and extended through the use of apps that we choose to add. Just as our Android smartphones have the “Play Store” and iPhones have the “App Store,” Salesforce has an “App Exchange” where clients like us can search for add-ons that provide us with the functionality that suits our needs. We have already chosen to add apps like TargetX, Marketing Cloud and Advancement Connect to recruit and engage our students, alumni, donors and friends. Our goal? - To build a 360-degree view of their experiences and relationships with Kent State and with each other. So we are considering other Salesforce apps to support functions like social media, event management, memberships, online communities and geolocation mapping.

Salesforce offers the advantage of being easily configurable. Just as your smartphone allows you to add new fields and labels to your contacts (like birthdays or anniversaries), Salesforce allows us to add fields and objects that support our business processes -- and makes it possible to easily report on them. And while your smartphone can automatically alert you to things of interest, Salesforce provides a similar experience through a feature called “Chatter,” which also doubles as a tool for campus-wide collaboration.

The most exciting part of employing Salesforce here at Kent State is that we are now part of a vast and growing community. Users and developers are contributing content to the App Exchange from a sweeping array of industries, allowing us to take advantage of their insight and creativity. Among higher-education institutions, Kent State is an early adopter and certainly a thought-leader in utilizing the tool campus-wide.

It’s just one more reason that we are #undeniablyKentState.

– Contributed by Laura Brown, Executive Director, Advancement Services