Published on 2015/05/06

A CIO’s Advice on Staffing in the Age of the Cloud (Part 1)

The EvoLLLution | A CIO’s Advice on Staffing in the Age of the Cloud (Part 1)
Implementing a new tool or system can be challenging, but the benefits it brings for central IT units and staff institution-wide more than make up for the implementation process.

“What would you like the CRM system to do?” – CIO to admissions staff

“We want it to do everything.” – The reply from admissions

Fifteen years ago, “everything” meant a canned set of features that vendors would periodically update, augmented with in-house customizations that needed extensive requirements docs and time to build and maintain. Today, “everything” is an oyster of possibility, as the restrictions of traditional, proprietary systems are being lifted by cloud technologies.

There’s no better example of this than our adoption of a new CRM (constituent relationship management) system at Lasell College. We initially implemented the Enrollment Rx CRM system in admissions and have since expanded it to other departments, including Development and Professional Advising. Compared to the closed systems of the past with preset functionality that only changed with product upgrades, this highly configurable model offers limitless possibility. As the CIO, this has been a real eye opener.

The good news is that there is no request that we cannot fill. The bad news is that there is no request we cannot fill.

On one hand, no matter what our business units ask us to do, we can find a way to make it happen, either by making the CRM do what we want, or easily finding an add-on. That’s a major win for the admissions staff, where people are managing prospects in entirely new ways. They’re imagining new communication workflows to engage prospective students and exploring ways to implement “vision state” ideas that were previously impossible.

On the other hand, the challenge lies in how to make sure that this innovative thinking results in functionality that provides solid value to the business (rather than simply creating busy work for IT) by helping admissions manage enrollment more efficiently and increase engagement in the social era.

As you transition into a new generation of cloud-based, DIY solutions that empower a new level of ingenuity and connectivity between IT and business partners across the campus, it’s worthwhile to rethink the role of IT. Just because you can do anything in the system doesn’t mean you should.

To strike that balance, here are three initial strategies (more to follow next week in part two) to make your CRM implementation successful:

1. Evaluate your business processes

I can’t emphasize this enough: taking a critical, honest look at your existing business processes can be the most complicated step in the implementation, but it is also the most critical, and the foundation of everything else to follow.

The biggest trap you can fall into is blindly accepting requests from business units. Instead, take a step back and ask them: what are you trying to accomplish?

It may be that they are more or less trying to recreate in the new CRM the exact functionality they had in their legacy system, developed before smartphones, Facebook and Instagram. In some cases, that may not be a problem, but in other cases, it may be that they are inadvertently letting the restrictions of their legacy system drive (and limit!) their business. This is at odds with the main impetus for moving to a new CRM: to have enough customizable functionality in the new system to allow you to engage with students and alumni in a whole new way.

For example, you don’t want business users to try to replicate the exact same overall structure and grouping of communication flows from an outdated or inefficient legacy system in the new CRM. After all, it’s possible that scheduling, workflow and automation were configured, organized and executed based on the legacy system’s limitations.

Identifying what the true business process ought to be in today’s world—versus what it’s come to be based on prior software limitations—is a fine art, but one that must be learned for a successful implementation of a new CRM.

The more that IT can understand the business goal, the better equipped you’ll be to figure out the best way to accomplish the task in the system. It is not always an easy process, as it requires a lot of decisions to be made. Initially, we leaned heavily on our vendor to help us through this step. Their deep knowledge of higher ed business processes and expertise with CRM helped us bridge the needs of both IT and admissions.

Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to rethink business processes. In fact, I encourage you to jump feet first into the fire and work closely with admissions or other departments as they re-evaluate business process needs.

2. Help educate the business side

Having the appropriate resources in place for educating the business users can’t be stressed enough. Initially, we had to rely heavily on our partner’s knowledge here. They provided excellent training for all of our admissions users and IT staff, and pointed us to many external resources and communities that helped us learn our CRM tool and understand how other higher education market leaders are using the same tools to grow their businesses.

It’s also imperative that the IT office is working closely with the business units during (and after) the implementation of the transition to a new CRM. This is a two-way street. The stakeholders on the business office side need to be able to communicate their business needs to the IT staff and/or the vendor who is helping them to make the transition to the new CRM. This is itself a form of education. Once the IT developers and/or vendor understand the business process, they will begin to build the requested features, and in turn, educate the business users on what has been built.

The goal here is to involve the business unit in the solution that has been designed so they understand not only how to effectively use it, but also how it can be changed or improved as business requirements expand/change. This future expansion may involve another iteration of the same process mentioned above, where IT and the business users collaborate once again and the IT office builds the next iteration of the solution. But in time, and with the adequate learning resources in place, many of the solutions that first required the technical expertise of IT may involve little or no involvement on their part as the business office gets more and more proficient with expanding the CRM to meet its needs.

Takeaway: Create a symbiotic relationship with your business units that supports their need to quickly get up to speed on the new system, while having the runway and flexibility to change as requirements evolve.

3. Adopt Agile methodologies to gain speed

Adopting Agile methodologies in IT and educating our business units on how to work within our Agile Scrum framework was critical to moving the project forward at a swift pace with limited time and resources. This includes the following:

  • Help your business units make requests as “user stories,” which shift the focus of the typical request from requirements to talking about the business value. A user story would be formatted in this way: “As a <role>, I want <goal/desire> so that <benefit>“.
  • Use a collaborative tool such as Trello that organizes your “user stories” onto a product backlog, sprint backlog and sprint boards.

It’s essential to work closely with the business unit, so the unit understands that firstly, they’ll be working with a new system, and secondly, that moving to the Agile approach changes how they will communicate with IT.

Takeaway: Introduce business units to Agile methodologies and IT best practices, while engaging in the needs of their area.

This is the first installment of a two-part series discussing staffing in the cloud era. The series conclusion will share three more tips on improving training with cross-departmental resources, as well as hiring for new IT skills. 

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