“Salesforce is just for selling stuff”

It was about 10 months ago that I first contemplated the idea of adapting Salesforce as our application development platform.  At the time, my decision was based on what I knew about Salesforce from a few encounters I had with the platform in years past.  The idea of having a maintenance-light platform which allows for maximum flexibility and expedited solution delivery seemed like a no-brainer for the challenges I observed during my one year stint as an embedded IT consultant within the MBA program office.

Since that time, I spent countless hours expounding on the benefits of the platform to all willing, or not so willing, listeners.  I encountered a number of different objections, ranging from “you don’t know what they do with our data” to “Salesforce is just for selling stuff”.  Now that I feel I reached a kind of a milestone in my evangelism (I can come up to virtually any executive within the school, start talking Salesforce, and receive a favorable response without launching into half an hour explanation of what and why), I have to start working on the business unit leaders and middle managers and I can use the lessons I learned to try and make this stage smoother.

Lesson 1 – The main attraction is Force.com, using the name Salesforce can be counter-productive

Whenever I start my Salesforce conversations, I inevitably run into what the above-mentioned business unit leader summarized in the quote I used to title my post: “Salesforce is just for selling stuff.”  Yes, it is true that Salesforce as a company is known by the name of the first product built upon its powerful platform and the name recognition is tremendous.  But as tremendous as it is, it is also superficial as not many people know what it is beyond what it sounds like. Or to phrase it a little more fairly, there are people who know what can be done on the platform, there are people who know what they did on it, there are people who heard of it, and then there are those who never heard of it.  Three out of four groups will automatically establish defensive stance against “corporatizing institution of higher learning.”

So the next stage of my journey begins with retraining those who already know that we’re in the process of implementing Force.com platform (made by Salesforce, btw), and “selling” Force.com as the direction to the new audience, not Salesforce.  Where before I Salesforcifying our school, I am not Forcedotcoming it.  While within IT, I still refer to it as Salesforce, I began using Force.com in all my official presentations and hallway conversations.

This approach also has the added benefit of actually being far closer to what we’re actually doing: we’re adapting Force.com platform to build applications.  Plain and simple, and oh by the way, Force.com is made by Salesforce.

Lesson 2- Use the power of community as Salesforce is not very good (yet) at marketing to higher ed institutions.

Every presentation I ever saw from Salesforce about what it can do for higher ed always listed the full student lifecycle in its diagrams but always focused on application process and donor management.  To me, that always represented misunderstanding of what is important to our sector and tacitly played towards the perception of it being just a tool to sell stuff.

Yes, a school needs to be able to recruit students, and yes, we’d like for our alumni to donate to the school.  But a prospect spends maybe 9 months in the application process without much interaction with the school.  They then spend the next two to five years (or more) as students where services delivered to that student make the application process a child’s play.

And yes, collecting donations and keeping track of who donated what and when is important, but that is such a miniscule part of what alumni relations teams do.  The services they typically offer, again, make the process of donations management child’s play.

Now, I don’t mean to trivialize the application process and donor management, but our school’s needs far exceed those two areas and if the strength of the platform is to be fully realized, we need to look at all those other areas that Salesforce used to just briefly mention in their literature and presentations.

So very early on, I decided to not show much of what Salesforce puts out and rely strictly on peer school feedback and lessons learned.  While I just began reaching out to the wider Salesforce in Higher Ed community with the help of wonderful Kathy Leuckeman, I have been in contact with various members of our peer schools IT departments since I began this process.  And so when I encountered the inevitable question of: “what can this do for us”, saying “well, Tuck does this and that with it” has been tremendously helpful.

As I move to spread the word to different units within the school, I now attempt to get as much information as possible about who is doing what within our industry before I go in for that all important first talk.

Lesson 3 – talk really is cheap and early win is everything

As I went about the school with my message of hope, I found myself constantly defending against roughly same objections and answering same questions, and at one point, it occurred to me that if I already had a working implementation within the school that I could point to, I wouldn’t have to sell as hard and be as ineffective at it (or it wouldn’t have been as long and hard road as it was).  So I changed my strategy and decided to find allies within the business units whom I can wholly migrate to Salesforce and then use as a tool to show the viability of the platform.

I only had three requirements:

  • I had to have an ally within the business unit who was supportive of the migration and would apply the necessary pressure while providing the necessary support from within while I worked on the outside
  • The unit either had to be important enough to where it was a high visibility while still not being complex to implement, OR it had to be a micro representation of a larger unit where it was easy to extrapolate the successes
  • The integration with other systems (college and university) was minimal and I could conceivably incorporate all of the business processes of the unit into Salesforce

I was lucky enough to find two units within the college that satisfied all three of the requirements – Executive Education for its visibility and our summer high school student program for its micro-representation.  Going forward, I intend to show, not tell, or more accurately, show more and tell less.

Anyone had any other lessons in selling the sales tool as being great at other things than just selling?

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Preparing for different types of innovation

Yesterday, while attending a webinar, I heard something mentioned that struck a note with me. The speaker said that it is our job, as IT professionals, to support innovation. The statement of course makes sense and is inline with what I view our jobs to be, but hearing someone else say it made me ponder what exactly does it mean – to support innovation, in practical terms.

And while I can’t yet organize everything I thought of relating to this, what I did start to organize is the directions from which innovation can come. What I observed is that even if we do prepare for innovation, it is usually from only one or two of these directions, and ultimately end up blindsided.

So without any further ado, here is the list. Would love to know what my small band of forced followers think about it.

  • IT department innovation – innovation within our own department, new way of looking or doing things, that are largely confined to just us, the IT department within the organization.
  • IT industry innovation – innovation within our profession, although we haven’t seen true innovation in a long time.
  • Business innovation – innovative ideas and concepts initiated by the organization we support.
  • Industry innovation – innovation started by someone else within the same industry we’re in.
  • Customer innovation – innovation on the part of the customers our organization serves.
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The Agile Triangle

I have recently been thinking about this whole concept of Agile, and how to best transition from the “old and tired” to the “new and exciting”.   In other words, how to take the best of what agile has to offer and implement it into our professional, and even personal, lives.

For one, there are clear advantages to embracing the agile mindset, even if all of its tools and approaches may not be applicable.  To be more nimble, personally and organizationally, and facing the inevitable change with an open and ready mind is a survival skill, again personally and professionally.

So I began to think about what’s needed for a person or an organization to become “agile”.  As my thoughts began to take shape, I also came upon the need to convey the concept to my project management students.  In preparation for the class, I finally came up with a model that I think works well.  And so, an Agile Triangle was born.

The Agile Triangle

Agile triangle

The way I see it, you need three things to be agile – Agile Team, Agile Customers, and Agile Situation.  The reason why the triangle works for me is that it’s reminiscent of the PM’s triple constraint triangle – I see it working in roughly the same way.

The Agile Team

What I am essentially saying here is that for an agile environment, the project team must have an agile mindset.  In broad strokes, it means they should be open to change.  Getting down to the team level, that may mean different things and different tools may be used to achieve that agility, but at its core, the team must display the qualities, and reflect the values, of agile manifesto.

This also works for personal agility – whatever qualities an agile team possesses, they can also be applicable to an individual.  In fact, if the individuals within the team are not agile, the team will likely suffer from low agility.

The Agile Customers

This one is easy to understand, but for most teams, I find, is the one considered most difficult to achieve.  It essentially means that the customer must also have an agile mindset, and most importantly be willing to work with the team in an agile way.

The Agile Situation

I have been going back and forth with this, not knowing if I wanted to call this situation, or solution base, but what I am essentially saying here is that the thing you are engaged in must be agile-friendly.  That means the project must be agile-friendly (how do you organize an event in an agile way?), the tools you have must be agile friendly (sculpting a statue from 100 ft piece of granite is probably not going to give you much agility), and so on.

Triple Constraint

Much like the PM’s triple constraint triangle, I believe this triangle works in exactly the same way – if one of the areas of the triangle is less agile, then at least one other area, and possibly two, will have to be more agile to make up for it.

While I continue to refine this model, what do you think about it?  Like, no like, hmm, meh, etc?

Creative Commons License
Agile Triangle by Vadim Gorelik is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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Evolutionary path of enterprise IT

I’ve been giving much thought lately to the question of what enterprise IT departments should look like. Not in terms of technologies they support, but in terms of their organizational posturing. That is the question most interesting to ponder, and most crucial to answer.

What I began to develop is that there are about three different stages in evolution of corporate IT. My thoughts on these stages are not yet complete and I will probably continue to refine and develop my views on this topic, but as plainly as I can see it right now, these are the stages.

Stage 1 – the infrastructure provider. I wrote before about how IT tends to focus on providing basic services which can now be procured cheaper elsewhere. But it seems this is the first stage of a modern enterprise IT department – when most of the time and resources are spent on providing basic services. In my observation, this is where the customer satisfaction levels are lowest as IT has little time to “raise their heads and look around”, busy dealing with the basic while the organization is clamoring for something else.

Stage 2- the force multiplier. Having the infrastructure side of things well in under control, the majority of time and resources of this department is spent working with other departments to understand and enhance their operations. This is the stage to which most of the current IT departments gravitate and virtually every organization I worked at, or speak with, are in some sort of a transition between stage 1 and stage 2.

Then there is stage 3 – the business unit. To me, this is the panacea. This is the stage where both the infrastructure and the force multiplier efforts are well under control, and the IT department can now become “one of the guys” – a revenue generating business unit. The resources dedicated to the first two stages have slack, which is then used by the organization to generate revenue for the company. Outside of providing consulting and stage 1 and 2 services to other companies, I presently find it difficult to justify engaging in any other activity, but I think this should be the ultimate goal enterprise IT.

I will continue to think through this, but what do you think about the concept, the stage definition, etc?

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Teaching is like cooking; or why publisher supplied slides could be bad for the former and good for the latter

Few years back, I discovered that I enjoy cooking. It was completely unexpected, and entirely welcomed. I found that standing in front of a stove for a few hours preparing food for my family is a tremendously rewarding experience. As a result, I embarked on a journey to turn myself from a person that didn’t go much further then scrambling some eggs, to someone who can whip up a four course dinner for friends and family (not there yet.)

Along the way, I discovered that there are three stages of cooking proficiency. In stage 1, the cook is following the recipe to the letter, constantly checking measurements and steps, afraid of deviation. In stage 2, the cook will rely on the recipe, but will already have the confidence to make changes or substitutions. In stage 3, the chef generates his own recipes, experimenting with ingredients and flavors to get his own signature down.

As I make a foray into teaching, and transition from those who do to those who teach, I observe that teaching is a lot like cooking in the sense that I see the same three stages present in teaching as I do in cooking. In stage 1, the instructor presents the information as is, nervously checking his sources and slides. At this stage, the instructor attempts to curtail the discussion as his comfort level with the topic, and with his ability to channel the discussion in the right direction, is not there. In stage 2, the instructor tends to consult the materials, but can generally deviate in any direction, stir up a conversation, and then bring the class back on topic. In stage 3, the professor generates his own knowledge and instructs his students on the same.

I observe this rough separation both at McCombs and at St. Edwards where I pursue my Masters in MIS.

But now what of the slides you ask?

What I also notice is that lately, there is a tremendous reliance on the slides provided by textbook publishers. Even in the case where professor seems to be very competent in his topic, he may still choose to use these slide decks. As a student, and an observer, I feel it makes instructors lazy and reduces the effectiveness of the class.

For one, I observe the tendency of the instructors to not prepare for the class. “I know I have a slide deck which I can use as prompts so I’ll just wing it,” is what they seem to say. Sometimes that may work out, sometimes it may not and higher the level the instructor is teaching, the less likely this attitude may work out. At graduate levels, the chances that there is a student in class with deep knowledge of this topic are far greater than in high school, and so winging it in grad school may simply make one look incompetent.
Another observation is that using publisher’s slides forces the class into the flow created by the publisher, which is likely to be uncomfortable, or downright incompatible with the instructor. It forces the instructor to go through the subject in a textbook format, and if this particular chapter was assigned as reading, the class ends up being not a value add time, but a rehash of last night’s reading.

Ultimately, unlike cooking where provided recipes serve to help a stumbling cook get to an acceptable result, publisher provided slide decks serve to hinder instructor’s progress as teachers and unwittingly reduce the effectiveness of the classroom experience.

I understand the desire on the part of publishers to provide these slide decks, but perhaps we need for school administrators to look at these materials and prohibit instructors from using them. What do you think?

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Stopping the cycle of exclusivity

This morning, I received an email letting me know there is one active discussion on the Center for Higher Education Chief Information Office Studies group on LinkedIn.  The discussion was started by Wayne Brown who is the owner of the group, and also the starter of most of its’ discussions.  This particular discussion is titled “How to help with mentoring higher ed technology leaders who want to be CIOs?”  Expectantly, the responses follow a familiar path – identify potential, create activity, teams, groups, networks, etc.  While all of that is fine and good, what it started for me is a train of thought based on the fact that the whole discussion is off mark.

It is hard to reject the fact that within IT, there are those who would be considered technology leaders (and so potentially CIO material) and those who are not.  It is also hard to reject the fact that non-technology leaders, as in those who show up to work, perform some business as usual tasks and go home, these IT workers far outnumber those considered to be technology leaders (especially since the definition of who a technology leader is, is not set and varies depending on who’s talking).

But reading the discussion, I can’t help but think that what we need to do is not cultivate this minority for the sake of granting them entry into an even smaller minority and then waiting for that brilliance to trickle down to the masses.  If the complaint about these sorts of mentoring opportunities is that CIOs have so little time, and some environments are not friendly/setup/conducive to this sort of activity, then the cycle will continue to perpetuate – the technology leaders will become overburdened CIOs with little time for mentoring, leaving the next wave of technology leaders to emerge on their own, float into CIOs peripheral vision, and be granted a few mentor-ship opportunities per month.  And on, and on, and on.  As it were, so it’ll be.  What problem does that solve?

What we need to focus on is cultivation of technology leaders from rank and file of the IT.  If the CIO only has 4 hours a month to mentor someone, it needs to be a group of average performers to turn them into technology leaders.  And technology leaders need to be in a position to do the same, so that more people are involved not only in trying to patch another server farm with another round of patches, or beat back the users from BYODing, but in raising the collective consciousness of the IT profession.

The CIOs also need to go back to their local universities and in those 4 hours a month work with them to shape technology education.

Maybe only then can we stop being startled by each new technology twist or turn, because when you get down to it, what we’re really startled by is not the technology itself, but the thought of having to deal with it side-by-side with IT majority.  And that is a far more important problem to solve.

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The Path To Staying Irrelevant

If IT department wants to be viewed as a cost center and stay irrelevant, it should continue to provide commodity services like email, storage, and network connectivity.  It should also complain about how difficult it is to provide these services.

If IT department wants to be viewed as a business partner, it should ensure that these commodity services are provided by vendors who can now provide them better and cheaper, and focus on understanding the business, and addressing its higher order needs.

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On The Need To Reform

“Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.” — Mark Twain

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Beginning of a Journey

Student Journey Map - Day 1

After spending some time becoming acclimated with the new world of MBA program office, I launched a project which I am very excited about.  This project comes straight out of the relatively new discipline of service design (if you don’t know what service design is, check out http://thisisservicedesignthinking.com/ or a list of resources which I’ll put together at some later date.)

Student Journey Map - Day 5

I chose to begin the project by creating a student journey map.  Although traditional journey maps tend to focus on customer touch points – that is points where customers interact with the service provider, I wanted to document various decision points, pain points, or just points in time, along the journey.  Granted, the overall purpose of the exercise is to create a tighter, deeper relationship with the customer by identifying various points, and then making them into touchpoints, but the distinction I would like to make here is that not all of these points will become touchpoints: we may choose not to engage the students during a particular point, even though we’re aware of it.  To me, touchpoint map is something we can develop from this stage one map.

Student Journey Map - Day 10

Because of the number of people involved in the process, the overall goal of the project, and the crazy schedules everyone follows these days, I also chose to not make it a hosted, guided affair.  Instead, we posted some brown paper on one of the walls and invited all staff  to contribute their points at their leisure.   Expectantly  the progress is somewhat slow, but it is moving along nonetheless.


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Role Change Update/Blog Restart (again)

I have not posted here for a while and the reason for that is that I assumed a new role at work.  Between that and grad school, there has not been much of a chance to blog, nor was there anything particularly exciting to blog about.  Until now.

For those who haven’t heard yet, I am now the Chief Technology Strategist for Graduate Programs – essentially, I am tasked with creating a strategic technology plan for our MBA program office, and assist with its implementation.

To me, this is exciting for a number of different reasons.

First, the role is much closer to what I typically do anyway and something that I’d prefer to do.  Even when my duties are clearly tactical, I prefer to spend my time worrying less about the operations, and more about the strategic direction – what are we doing, why we’re doing it, and how we can do it better?

Second, there are many articles and blog posts that point to the fact that this is what IT may look like in the very near future: a technology professional embedded in a business unit, managing implementation of available resources, be they internal or external.  If the predication is to become a reality – what might that look like?  I have a chance to find out for myself.

Then there is the sheer size of the opportunity which is exciting in it of itself.  For one, McCombs Business School is one of the top business schools in the world, and Texas MBA is a Top 20 program.  It is also a very much its own entity within the business school, with its own admissions, career management, student services, (to a certain extent) alumni relations, and academics.  That gives me an opportunity to study and improve upon technology use across administrative, student, and academic departments.

To tie all of that together in a coherent plan that will impact the success of a group for a long time to come – what more can a long-suffering IT professional ask for?




The Future of IT will be reduced to three kinds of jobs http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/hiner/the-future-of-it-will-be-reduced-to-three-kinds-of-jobs/8717

The Future of the IT Department http://www-935.ibm.com/services/be/en/attachments/pdf/Cloud_-_The_Future_of_the_IT_Department.pdf

Fast Forward: The Future of IT Departments http://www.modis.com/clients/salary-guide/article/

Blog Posts:

IT Department: The Future Outlook http://www.getcloudservices.com/blog/it-department-the-future-outlook

The IT Department of 20/20 http://www.enterprisecioforum.com/en/blogs/jdodge/it-department-2020

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