Extreme CRM Makeover: Tips for Implementing Slate

Have you ever flipped through the channels over the weekend and ended up on HGTV watching home renovation shows? After a few hours you’re full of ideas, inspired to tackle new projects, question the resources you might need, start to feel slightly overwhelmed, and then wonder how you spent THAT much time on a show. Well, you just got a taste for implementing a new CRM. Whether or not you wear multiple hats in your office, it’s time to grab the hard hat and build. Easier said than done right? I’ve been there. It can feel overwhelming, but it should be a time to reimagine your processes. You can do this!

During my six and half years at Technolutions and over the course of the hundreds of Slate implementations that RHB has led, we’ve generally seen institutions fall into one of two camps: Excited and energized or skeptical and anxious. If you’ve been tasked with implementing Slate on campus, you’re probably thinking about the time investment. Let’s not sugar coat this—it takes time; however, the ROI comes in seeing Slate as an opportunity rather than an obstacle. If this is the first CRM your campus has implemented, see this as an opportunity to build a new house. If you’re untangling a homegrown system or migrating data from a different system, see this as an opportunity to flip the house. In both scenarios, a more coherent implementation will be achieved if prefaced by internal conversations around strategy and goals. Think beyond the technology before you get started. After all, Slate is the medium through which you can achieve your goals and reach your audiences. It doesn’t define them.

Now let’s get back to this house, along with five points to consider (and hopefully lower blood pressure) along the implementation journey. 

1. Organize

Know your builders. Whether you’re in undergraduate admissions, graduate admissions, advancement, or implementing Slate for student success, you should define and organize your core team before including other constituents on campus. Furthermore, Slate is not an IT project. This doesn’t mean that IT folks should be excluded from the conversation, especially since they may play an integral role in data migration and integration efforts. It means they shouldn’t encompass the entire team. Your implementation team should be knowledgeable of your goals, audiences and processes. If you’re implementing Slate for admissions, then you should have representatives from admissions involved. Like building a house, you want some architects and designers who understand the vision and needs before working on the blueprint.

Start by asking three simple questions that define the user, their role and their boundaries:

  • Who should be involved? 
  • Why should they be involved? 
  • When should they be involved?

Those three questions can later be applied to user permissions. 

With that said, don’t immediately jump into worrying about what people can see or access when you don’t have data yet. Bob from Biology doesn’t need to immediately be in Slate. It’s OK—we’ll invite him later. Start with a team who will be tasked with the foundation.

Up to three people should serve as the point people or “Captains” for Slate. They are leading the project and overseeing the “construction” site. If you are implementing Slate for a single department, that site is a bit smaller. If you’re implementing Slate across multiple graduate divisions, that site is larger. In this case, you’ll want to ensure that your team consists of effective communicators who can coordinate and delegate. Implementations that consist of multiple departments can benefit from centralized check-in meetings, but the core implementation team should remain smaller. Remember question number three:

When should they be involved?

Overall, it’s important to approach the project across divisions or departments from a place of empathy rather than a promulgation to immediately change everything. Keep in mind that a new system on campus means change, and with change comes the need for change management.

2. Prioritize

Focus on the foundation. Slate is an incredibly robust and comprehensive platform that can be implemented in phases. The beauty of Slate is that you don’t have to go live with everything at once, and you’re never stuck with what you built in year one. It’s tempting to be distracted by all of the features and shiny objects. You’ll want to do ALL THE THINGS-–but like a house, focus on the foundation before thinking about the custom countertops. What are your immediate needs? What are your ideal “go-live” dates? Do you need to get an application up? Do you have a looming deadline for getting your data out of a system that you’re breaking up with? No matter the answers, it will pay to prioritize foundational concepts and understand the interconnectivity of tools in Slate. 

My former colleagues at Technolutions would chuckle every time I said, “In the beginning there were fields.” Fields, forms, and queries will take you through the majority of Slate. Worried about building that email recipient list? It’s just a query that filters data from fields. Worried about setting up that advising appointment form? It’s just another form with fields! Watch, you’ll see. 

3. Reimagine

Don’t fixate on where to shove the old furniture—build your dream home. When it comes to planning, it’s beneficial to have members of your team who aren’t afraid to ask questions. Why? As you lay the foundation and start digging into Slate, it’s time to reimagine how you work. This is the fun part! Rather than spinning over how you’re going to build Slate around your existing processes, think about how Slate opens new doors. Have you been doing what you’re doing because of the limitations of a previous system? Do you really have to list your English major as ENG001 because that’s how your student information system has it? No! Can thirty decision letters be condensed into one due to the power of conditional logic and Liquid markup in Slate? What manual activities can be automated? Once you start to reminagine processes due to Slate’s capabilities, you’ll find ways to simplify, gain efficiencies, and get back time. 

4. Build

If you pull the thread through points 1-3, building will come easier. You’ve defined your core team, aligned the foundation with your priorities, and reimagined processes (it’s OK if some come later). This is when you may start to consider building out specific portions of Slate, which may require bringing others into the conversation.

Let’s start with the example of reading and workflows. Your core team has a solid foundation in Slate. You’ve reimagined your file review process and maybe even threw some sticky notes on the wall to represent the workflow. If you have multiple departments or divisions in Slate, it might be time to schedule those check-in meetings and discuss individual process needs. Leave time for discovery before jumping into the build. If Bob from Biology is in charge of the application and reading process for the science division—it may be time to bring him into Slate. Bob won’t be building the workflows, but he will be reading in Slate.

Lastly, always keep the user experience in mind. Just like a house, it’s easy to get caught up in the build; however, you’ll want to walk through the experience as someone coming in for the first time. How does it feel for a faculty member to read a file in Slate? How does it feel for a student to fill out that inquiry form or application?

5. Document

What does the day-to-day or future of Slate on your campus look like? Did you have a Slate apprentice? As you’re building and customizing Slate, don’t forget to document. The Technolutions Knowledge Base will provide resources and use cases for using Slate tools, but it won’t provide the playbook for your office operations. Your core implementation team shouldn’t be the only ones building and retaining the knowledge. Empower others to own portions of Slate. If you have an event coordinator—train them and document how your campus leverages Slate for events. Building out your Slate can be an iterative process and the teams will inevitably change over time.

Overall, a new implementation can feel exciting and a little overwhelming. Put the hard hat on and put the worries and hesitations on the shelf. Why? Because, you’ve got this. Plus, you’ll always have the support of the Slate Community. If you need help along the way, let us know. I have been known to give out Slate hard hats…literally.

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Erin Gore

Erin is the Vice President for Client Technology at RHB.