As its name implies, Salesforce.com has traditionally targeted sales and marketing departments with its cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) platform, but Salesforce.org, the philanthropic arm of the cloud computing giant, has a different mission.
On March 1, Salesforce.org announced the release of a Higher Education Data Architecture (HEDA), open source code and a set of best practices developed in conjunction with experts in the field of education.
Salesforce.org says the goal of HEDA is to help all segments of a university community—students, faculty, alumni and staff—engage in easier communication and collaboration via a Salesforce-based cloud platform designed for education. Interested universities get ten free subscriptions and a discount on additional licenses.
Rob Acker, a Saleforce veteran who took over as CEO of Salesforce.org a few years ago, said the goal isn't to make a profit. "We want to help those who do good in the world and can have an impact. We've been focused on two verticals, non-profits and education," Acker told eWEEK.
While universities have computing infrastructure and IT departments Acker said they typically are well behind the technology curve. He said many education administrators and executives as well as faculty he's talked to have expressed frustration at the existence of information silos within various university departments and schools.
"As someone at a major Pac 12 school told me, if a student wanted to move from the School of Business to Engineering they might as well be transferring to another university," said Acker. "There's no single unified view schools can use as someone moves from prospect, to student to alumni. Frankly it drives the CIOs, the faculty, president and provost crazy because they all want to own that data."
A beta version of HEDA is already being used by some select schools, such as the University of Miami, but March 1 marks the official full release. Essentially, HEDA is a way to tailor the Salesforce cloud platform to enable a more connected campus with features designed specifically for higher education.
"Historically people have used their own data structures and models and it's been a challenge," said Acker. In developing HEDA, he said Salesforce.org worked with a higher education advisory panel and got feedback from hundreds of universities. In fact, Acker said the advisory panel will help govern the future development of HEDA which he noted is a "radically different approach" from the way software and platforms evolve commercially.
While the Salesforce platform is designed to enhance collaboration, Acker readily admits the B2B model it's based on doesn't fit the needs of universities.
"It's kind of like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole," he said. "We do have universities who use Salesforce in more limited ways like the Marketing Cloud and the Service Cloud and some have built some incredible use cases. But there is no common model or architecture that others can tie into."
The hope for HEDA is that it becomes an industry standard within education that others can develop. For example, independent software vendors will be able to more easily develop apps that interoperate with the HEDA-based systems that universities will be using rather than customizing their apps for each higher education customer.
In much the same way as Salesforce was initially purchased by individual department heads before IT departments and CEOs accepted it, Acker says HEDA may start out as a department-level initiative at many universities.
"If we try to convince schools to do this all at once, that's like trying to boil the ocean," he said. "But once we have a high level of adoption and success I think you're going to see this get adopted more broadly very quickly."