AccessEd #9 – Reportage

In which I reflect on having used Salesforce to produce our first set of ‘real’ reports…

As this is published a few hours before our next Board meeting, during which they will consider our proposed capacity building strategy in detail, there’s little new I can add at this stage – but watch this space for developments and announcements. For the moment, what I can talk about is the process we’ve just been through over the past week or so (and the reason I missed my self-imposed blogging deadline last Friday).

Keen Access-watchers will know that we run regular Joint Investment Committee meetings, at which representatives from Big Society Capital, Big Lottery Fund and our own Board assess the latest applications for our Growth Fund. Up to this point, we’ve been manually putting together the information required (with the help of BSC colleagues), combining some good ol’fashioned “ctrl+v and ctrl+c”-ing with typing into word documents. This time round, thanks largely to the focus and stamina of our administrator Tom, we’ve got all of the information required entered into our Salesforce system, and are thus able to arrange, combine, calculate and graph it, pull it into documents and share it all (almost) at the press of the button.

Being a system designed for commercial applications, there’s an element of translation required to make it ‘sound’ right – hence ‘Accounts’ becomes ‘Organisations’, and ‘Contacts’, ‘People’. We’ve stuck with their ‘Opportunities’ as the catch-all for our various activities – Growth Fund, Capacity Building, Endowment Management, Research. It’s rather more cheery than ‘Projects’ or ‘Activities’, to my mind.

Beyond that surface though, the basic interactions – connecting organisations, people, meetings, events, opportunities – are exactly what we needed to get started. We’ve also got it connected to Outlook, pulling contacts, emails and calendars into the system – and connecting emails to existing opportunities via a sidebar. It’s the beginnings of making life easier and better for our team as the number of people and organisations we’re interacting with steadily increases.

For now, delivering to a first specific brief and deadline galvanised our efforts to build and accelerated our progress. There’s nothing like a ‘real world use case’ to focus the mind, and flush out what we *actually* need our database to do. Still very much in a prototyping phase, we pulled reports out of Salesforce into Excel, then noodled around to get some tables, charts and maps. That have given us plenty to work back through, to see where we can automate, tidy up, and visualise this data using the system’s inbuilt Dashboard functionality. 

We have the burden and the luxury of still having a number of ‘known unknowns’ in our processes, so we need to build as we go, and involve the people who’ll be feeding the machine in deciding how it works. Going through this process first for our own team is a gentle warm-up: it will be harder by degrees as we bring in our intermediaries, and their investees and grantees. The focus must remain the same though – to design a system that people will actually use, and if you’re lucky, enjoy doing so.