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Point Solution to Platform: Top Considerations for Your Human Services Agency

By November 28, 2018

Ask the experts your human services technology platform questions on December 4!
By: Susan Tobes, Vice President, Business Development, Exponent Partners

A growing number of human services agencies are shifting from a point solution (a tool that only does one thing very well) to a platform because they recognize the inherent advantages of making this important change.

So, what is a “platform?” A platform can be defined is a group of technologies that are used as a base upon which other applications, processes or technologies are developed. The Salesforce platform – one of the most well-known and broadly used ones – is leveraged not only by businesses, but nonprofits as well. Nonprofit Cloud has tens of thousands of happy nonprofit customers because Nonprofit Cloud is a flexible solution for their fundraising and engagement needs. The Nonprofit Cloud platform’s applications and processes are comprehensive, and there are abundant add-on solutions available to users through the AppExchange.

Nonprofits on AppExchange

However, as human services organizations look beyond fundraising and engagement, they recognize the benefits of implementing an agency-wide solution that also enables them to manage their programs. Enter Exponent Case Management (ECM). From Case Management to Fundraising, and from Human Resources to Marketing, all parts of your agency can get on board with Salesforce and ECM.

Admittedly, taking the leap from a point solution to Salesforce and ECM is a strategic decision that will require you to carefully evaluate the impact on your agency. Budget and schedule are certainly top concerns, as they should be, but you should also consider three other areas: people, process, and technology.

People: Foster a culture of sharing and transparency

When you are shifting from a point solution to a platform, you will encounter cultural change and will need to prepare your team accordingly. Your organization will be moving from the idea of “my data” to “our data,” from “their system” to “our system.” (Of course, with the appropriate security permissions in place at the individual user level. Get more on data management, especially data retention strategy.)

Going from “mine” to “ours” can result in pushback, especially when you’re moving from point systems that weren’t integrated with each other. In an effort to pre-empt this obstacle, you should proactively take steps to foster a culture of sharing and transparency through governance. This can be done by engaging people from different departments in the evaluation, selection, and implementation of a platform. With cross-functional representation, you increase buy-in early in the transition, and gradually introduce the concept (and related benefits) of sharing common data. As people have the opportunity to provide their input, they will better understand the value of the platform in the context of their role and responsibilities. Later, post-implementation, this will translate into higher adoption rates.

Such a shift towards collaboration takes work: agreements about privacy, reports, ownership of data, and more. However, a full shift to agency-wide thinking (and the teamwork required to get there) increases your return on investment. You will be able to see program participation across the entire organization. You will be able to use a single dashboard to see program performance and support workloads across teams. You will be able to answer many important questions, including: “How many programs is this person actively enrolled in and what is their progress?” The benefits outweigh the level of effort required to change.

Process: Model how you work!

When you move from a point solution to a platform – like Salesforce and ECM – you have to make a shift from “how the system works” to “how do we work.” Your processes will change, but the end result will be better. It means that you’ll capture data more efficiently, but in a different way than you have in the past. Getting those processes nailed down correctly means involving different members of your team – from top to bottom, from data entry to data analytics – in the process-related discussions.

Bringing platform thinking and scale together with the associated changes to your organization’s culture and processes will set you up for success. You can cement that success with one additional shift: assigning a platform owner, instead of point solution experts. Hiring or assigning a Salesforce System Administrator will allow your other experts to get back to managing their programs/teams. As part of the new processes that you establish, your system administrator can collaborate with experts from different functional areas for regular maintenance and improvements to the platform.

Exponent Case Management, which integrates with Salesforce
Exponent Case Management, which integrates with Salesforce

Technology: Understand what you get with a platform

The combination of the Salesforce platform and ECM is a game changer for human services agencies. However, in order to fully appreciate the related value of the technology, you have to understand what you get with a platform. Here’s a snapshot:

  • Scalability and flexibility: The platform can scale as your organization grows and changes. Similarly, you will have the flexibility to customize parts of the platform to meet your needs.
  • Continuous improvements: Salesforce invests heavily and constantly in R&D. Similarly, with ECM, you get three updates per year, that include new features and functionality based on best practices in human services agencies, as well as evolving needs in the market. These updates are available to you automatically as a Salesforce and ECM client; no additional investment is required.
  • Future-proofing: With a modern interface, mobile-responsiveness, and SMS, Salesforce and ECM leave you ready for how your employees want to work in today’s world. You are also prepared for the workforce of tomorrow, thanks to the aforementioned continuous improvements. Innovations in machine learning and AI (meet Einstein!) mean that you will always have access to cutting-edge tools in the platform.
  • Transparency: By having a centralized place to house your data, you gain unparalleled transparency that can be used to measure outcomes and impact.

Together, Nonprofit Cloud and ECM provide superior user experiences, unparalleled efficiencies, the ability to make data-informed decisions across your whole agency, and better tracking of program performance. If you are prepared to take the leap from a point solution to a true platform, the sky’s the limit! To continue your journey, read about how California Human Development and the Institute for Family Development are implementing Salesforce and ECM.

Want to ask the experts some questions about human services case management? On December 4, join Exponent Partners and to learn about the benefits of using Salesforce with Exponent Case Management. Hear how this next generation case management solution will enable you to:

  • Make data informed decisions
  • Better track program performance
  • Enhance your users’ experience

Whether you are migrating from a legacy solution or in search for your first case management solution, this modern technology platform will grow with your organization.


About the Author
Susan TobesSusan Tobes, Vice President, Business Development, leads revenue growth for Exponent Partners. She is responsible for all sales, marketing, partner relationships and customer success. She has been working in the ecosystem for over 10 years and over 30 in technology. Susan considers herself a change agent and passionate customer advocate. She has a professional interest in the changing landscape of technology for nonprofits and making a social impact. A 2nd generation native of California, she currently lives in the San Francisco East Bay with her husband. In her spare time, she enjoys a never-ending list of home improvement projects and is a frequent host to her friends and family. She enjoys cooking, gardening, camping, entertaining and traveling.