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facultyforce: Connecting Brilliant Minds to Solve Global Problems

By September 28, 2015

By: Geoffrey Corb, Deputy Chief Information Officer, Associate Vice Provost for Information Technology at Johns Hopkins University

It is entirely possible that the missing puzzle pieces to identify a cure for cancer are in the heads of two brilliant researchers who work a block away from one another and have never met. Blissfully unaware, they may even pass each other in the halls and the cafeteria each day.

By nature of the academy itself, research universities like Johns Hopkins are tremendously challenged in keeping track of their faculty and research activities. Academic researchers work semi-autonomously to frame and answer questions that push the boundaries of human knowledge. It takes years, or even decades, for a faculty member to build the base of knowledge, experience, and resources required to make advances in their field and this pursuit does not leave time for them to stay current on the work of their peers across the university, even if that work could help their own research.

Universities need to better support their faculty and researchers by helping make them aware of peers, discoveries, and opportunities that could advance their own research, allow them to deliver knowledge to the world, and make the market for idea sharing and evolution more efficient. Research universities like ours, with tens of thousands of faculty, research staff, postdocs, and students, need a means to automatically and scalably, follow the research activities and academic relationships of researchers across the institution. The aggregation and tracking of this data will allow universities to help individual faculty members connect with one another and, ultimately, be more effective in discovering and disseminating knowledge.

While all universities face this challenge, few, if any, are satisfied with their current solutions. As we explored the state of the art, we felt that none of the solutions available would sufficiently meet our needs. In a moment of serendipity, we realized that the solution may be right under our noses—we had been exploring the use of Salesforce for other, more traditional CRM scenarios at the university. This idea lead to our proposal for a Force for Change Grant last year. As a grant recipient and with the support of, we are now well on our way to making our vision a reality.

Our solution is called facultyforce and our goal is to connect brilliant people and enable them to connect their brilliant ideas so that they together can solve some of the most complicated global problems. By adding existing institutional information about researchers and the research enterprise to new information that we capture in facultyforce, we plan to identify connections and opportunities for collaboration that may otherwise not be obvious and then provide a means by which to facilitate that collaboration, all within a Salesforce Community.

Standard Salesforce Account and Contact objects are at the core of our solution; wrapped around them are objects to maintain relationship and faculty activity information—the sorts of things you commonly see in a curriculum vitae (CV). The Salesforce Community that we have developed provides easy access to Chatter as the enabling collaboration engine. We have developed intuitive and easy-to-use interfaces for our faculty to maintain their own profile and activity data, as well as contribute additional data that only they know. We have developed a Data Quality Index (DQI) that assesses the quality of the data we have accumulated and encourages the faculty member to improve the data through review and additional contribution.


With some encouragement from our own faculty, we have developed an interactive CV builder that not only aids the faculty member in preparing his or her CV in a standard format but doubles as a covert data entry tool—by adding lines to the CV, we capture and store more data about the faculty member in facultyforce leading to a more comprehensive profile to search against. We are developing intuitive search interfaces to help faculty find just what, or who, they are looking for in our vast database, as well as producing interfaces to make similar search capability available to the general public.

Our vision does not stop at our own university. We plan to make facultyforce available to other universities, research labs, and similar research intensive organizations. We hope to ultimately connect different instances of facultyforce together so that searches for collaborators need not be constrained to a single university.

While facultyforce remains a work in progress, with its initial launch planned for late 2015, I am very pleased to announce that I am a finalist for a Constellation Research SuperNova Award. I encourage you to visit Constellation Research to vote to support facultyforce.

Vote for facultyforce

About the Author
Geoffrey CorbGeoffrey Corb is Deputy Chief Information Officer, Associate Vice Provost for Information Technology at Johns Hopkins University. You can follow up on Twitter at @geofdotedu.