Higher Ed and SaaS CRM Applications: At the Intersection of Innovation

Educause 2015At this year’s EDUCAUSE Annual Conference, there are a number of sessions that discuss SaaS applications – more than double the sessions from last year. This growth in interest in SaaS for higher education is fueled in part by the need for innovation, and in part by the adoption of SaaS CRM applications like Salesforce.

In this post, we will:

  • explore some innovative use cases for SaaS CRM applications in higher ed organizations;
  • look at how SaaS adoption can bring both enormous benefits and some potential risks; and,
  • discuss solutions that effectively minimize the risks.

Why are higher ed institutions adopting SaaS CRM applications?

Trends in Cloud Computing in Higher EducationAs recently reported in “Trends in Cloud Computing in Higher Education” by eCampus News, almost 80% of higher ed institutions are now using SaaS applications. What’s driving this movement?

It’s primarily about “anytime, anywhere” agility and scale. Over 60% of survey respondents said that enabling “anytime, anywhere” computing (through SaaS applications’ ease of access and being mobile-ready) were key drivers for adoption. More than half of survey respondents noted that automatic updates, patch management and other efficiencies of scale were significant factors in adoption.

The agility story is particularly interesting for a SaaS CRM like Salesforce that enables “clicks not code” customizations, as this allows application administrators to function as developers, freeing IT resources for other innovation.


How can SaaS applications enable administrators, educators and IT management to better “think outside the box”?

The other side of the SaaS application adoption story is that, by freeing IT resources for higher-value projects, administrators and educators can tap IT expertise for innovations that expand an institution’s reach and help it meet its educational mission.


Use case: Tech Agility – The CRM that became an Online Learning LMS

Challenge: Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America (CfA) needed to conserve costs while enabling the tracking of post-secondary students’ progress towards their degree, within an innovative competency-based program in which every learner works on a different project at a different pace.

Approach: Meet multiple needs for both students and administrators, from project assignment and submission to tracking financial aid status, through a SaaS-based student and educator portal that also provides data management and reporting to serve a non-linear, self-directed model of learning. Integrate the CRM solution – a repurposing of the “out of the box” CRM to transform it into a fully integrated, customized Learning Management System – with other SaaS and cloud technology tools, including Google Drive, YouTube, and Google Plus, in order to allow students to network and collaborate.

Results: The cost efficiencies of the SaaS CRM-based model and portal help keep the annual student tuition affordable, while providing 24/7 access to curriculum for students. With it, students can continue work at their convenience, as well as schedule and manage projects, set reminders, access resources, upload files, request support, connect with their professors and peers, and view their degree progress.

Read the full story.


Use case: Mission Success – Turning CRM Data into Student Success

Challenge: Tulane University, as part of its “Connected Campus 2.0” initiative, wanted to connect students with prospective employers more rapidly and effectively.

Approach: Tulane was using Salesforce, and determined it was the best tool to use for this project. After an extensive requirements process, key “student placement success factors” were identified and student profiles were customized. The customized fields were used to inform advisors and career services staff about student status via dashboards, reporting, Chatter alerts, and custom “Indicator” notifications.

Results: Early findings support the need to secure resources to expand the Salesforce footprint on campus, and more students are benefitting from successful career placements.

Watch the on-demand presentation.


Are there risks specific to SaaS applications that must be managed?

Yes. Almost 70% of the eCampus News survey respondents noted that the biggest challenge related to the adoption of SaaS applications was security. And analysts note that data loss is an important SaaS risk – specifically the loss of data from the customer side, whether from human error (such as an admin or user overwriting good data with bad), or from malicious action (a rogue administrator deleting vital data).

SaaS vendors like Salesforce are contractually bound to do what authorized users and admins tell them to do, even if the action is in error or was done maliciously. They have no way of knowing whether the request was made by mistake or in bad faith. In fact, Salesforce itself recommends their customers use third-party backup and restore solutions.

For example, if a disgruntled IT administrator goes rogue – deleting key alumni donor information from Salesforce before quitting, then purging the recycle bin – how quickly could your organization restore the purged data? What might it cost your organization in business continuity and donor relations?


4 ways to mitigate the data loss risks posed while getting the benefit of SaaS CRM applications like Salesforce

Since a majority of the survey respondents (63 percent) reported that their institutions plan to expand to new cloud computing services or applications over the next three years, SaaS application owners need to work closely with their IT teams to ensure that:

  1. Their organization keeps more than one copy of their SaaS data in the cloud. Cloud-to-cloud backup helps organizations meet compliance and governance demands by protecting data with solutions that are just as stringent as backup and retention policies for data managed on premises.
  2. IT time managing restores is minimized by enabling controlled end user backup. When end users or application administrators have an “oops moment,” it wastes time and energy in two ways: the IT team must expend resources to help get data back, and the person who made the mistake can’t get back to work without consulting IT for help. With easy, controlled end user restore, faculty, students and IT stay productive.
  3. Metadata, not just data, is backed up. Without metadata, the data doesn’t have the context needed to provide useful information. You must find a solution that includes metadata and customizations in your backups if you want a fast recovery.
  4. Backups are monitored. A cloud-to-cloud backup solution should enable all backups to be monitored by admins using status reporting, dashboards, and email notifications. Paying attention to error reports can help your teams get a picture of your organization’s data health and address a problem you wouldn’t otherwise have noticed.


VIF International Education aligned with the above best practices and reduced risks associated with SaaS CRM by using Spanning Backup for Salesforce (as well as for Google Workspace). Learn more here.

For additional information on SaaS data backup best practices, see this blog post and download “The Definitive Guide for Backup for Salesforce” eBook. And if you’re going to EDUCAUSE, learn more about Spanning Backup by visiting us at Booth 319.