People and Platforms Are Key to Higher Ed Digital Transformations

December 19, 2019 Kyla Farroll

Digital transformation was a hot topic at Dreamforce 2019, and an ongoing journey for many higher education institutions. In fact, I presented at Dreamforce this year on the topic of digital transformation preparation for higher education institutions. It’s a necessary step we’re seeing more and more frequently in the industry, and organizations are committing the necessary time, budgets, and resources to make these transformations successful.  

As defined by Salesforce:  

Digital transformation is the process of using digital technologies to create new — or modify existing — business processes, culture, and customer experiences to meet changing business and market requirements. ... digital transformation begins and ends with how you think about, and engage with, customers. 

Let’s take two distinct themes from this definition people and technology and look at how examining both within your institution can provide valuable insights as you prepare for your transformational journey. 

People: Engage faculty, staff, students, and alumni

Your institution’s leadership team has a wealth of experience and keeps tabs on the pulse of your organization. They are visionaries and strategic thinkers and are up to the monumental task of digital transformation. But you also have to consider those who will be affected most by this change: 

  • Faculty who interact with students day in and day out. 
  • Staff on the front lines, helping students navigate through your institution from recruiting through advancement. 
  • Students committing their time and money, making an investment in your institution. 
  • Alumni remaining engaged with your institution, having a vested interest in seeing your institution succeed. 

These groups, among others such as donors or the community at large are your eyes and ears and can provide invaluable feedback on the current and future state of your organization. When embarking on a transformation, they need to be consulted in different ways to have their voices heard. For example, you can release surveys or conduct focus groups to gather information from them: 


  • Include pre-configured fields for data collection and analysis. 
  • Allow for free-text fields for sharing additional information and fresh ideas. 
  • Customize to each constituent group to ensure relevant options are included. 
  • Ask about current advantages and disadvantages to learn what’s working and what isn’t. 

Focus Groups 

  • Designate specific days, times, and locations, and advertise the events to increase participation. 
  • Prepare a presentation (or demo, depending on how far along you are in the initiative) to give attendees insight into the nature of the digital transformation program. 
  • Be prepared to gather their feedback and ask follow-up questions to ensure you are collecting valuable information. 
  • Consider asking them to complete a survey afterwards to add to the data collection and analysis. 

Technology: Evaluate your landscape 

As you plan your digital transformation, you’ve perhaps made some decisions on using Salesforce as a foundational component of your program. But what technology do you have? What technology do you need? Conducting a technology inventory can go a long way toward helping you determine what can be replaced, what should be integrated, what will continue to be used, and what is potentially stand-alone. 

This inventory can also be utilized to further expand on your institution’s needs by identifying integrations, data migration needs, and confirming sources of truth. For example, if systems will be integrated, what data will move one-way and what will flow bidirectionally? If data is being migrated, what is the volume, and how will it be mapped? To help determine sources of truth, understand the data that can be added, is editable, or read-only in certain systems. Collecting all this information in a single inventory provides valuable information to everyone involved in the digital transformation program. 

Embarking on a digital transformation requires a great deal of planning, with many considerations to be made, and focusing on your constituents and solutions is a great first step to understanding your institution’s needs. Keep in mind there are resources and partners available to help guide you on this journey, and Appirio, as a strategic global Salesforce partner, is one of them. Contact us to learn how we can help bring your vision to life and support you on this exciting initiative. 

About the Author

Kyla Farroll

Kyla Farroll is a Senior Consultant with Appirio after spending over two decades in higher education. Kyla has been a leader in Academic Advising, Financial Aid, Recruiting & Admissions, and Student Services, as well as championed student success initiatives and led system implementations. As part of the Digital Experience Strategy team, she helps guide higher education institutions to realize their transformational visions. Kyla is 3x Salesforce certified, is a Trailhead Ranger, and earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism and Master of Arts degree in media communications.

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