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Exploring Approaches to Technology Transformation: Data-First Versus Customer-First

Cloud for Good 2023 blog Exploring Approaches to Technology Transformation: Data-First Versus Customer-First

When it comes to creating digital experiences through technology, it’s important to consider the different approaches an organization can take before investing time and resources.  Two particular approaches, a data-first approach, and a customer-first approach, have the potential to dramatically transform an organization’s technology in two distinct ways with differentiating outcomes.  There are several factors to consider before determining which approach is best for your organization, including your confidence in the current state of your data, the relationship between your constituents and your technology, and your long-term roadmap.  Let’s dive deeper into each approach.

Taking a data-first approach to technology

Broadly speaking, data-first approaches are a good fit for organizations if they are looking for internal process optimization for their staff.  Clients of Cloud for Good taking a data-first approach typically are looking to move their core CRM activities onto Salesforce from legacy systems and add efficiencies to staff processes made possible by an internal move onto the Salesforce platform.

Data-first approaches are often good for organizations that might not have the strongest confidence in the current state of their data.  Through taking this approach, organizations are able to implement technology that supports data clean-up, which then allows the organization to gain a better sense of what’s happening with the data so that internal processes can be adjusted accordingly.

Many Cloud for Good clients, such as Sutter Health in its migration from Raiser’s Edge to Salesforce, have prioritized a data-first approach.  Prior to implementing Salesforce, Sutter Health struggled with a lack of data transparency, cumbersome file sharing amongst staff members, and analytics that left much to be desired.  As a result of the organization’s data-first Salesforce implementation, all affiliate instances were migrated to one central Salesforce for Nonprofits org, later resulting in the creation of data-driven dashboards that clearly measure goals and the effectiveness of fundraising campaigns.

Taking a customer-first approach to technology

Customer-first approaches to technology transformation are typically taken by organizations that already have a strong infrastructure in place.  These approaches work best for organizations that have already made significant investments into a CRM and have built a solid foundation of technology.  Where taking a data-first approach to technology greatly benefits internal staff, taking a customer-first approach greatly benefits the constituents you are interacting with and serving.

Whether it be through updating digital marketing and communication capabilities, modernizing e-commerce storefronts, or creating new web experiences, approaches such as these create more value for customers and constituents.  In turn, those new value-driven experiences create more data that integrates back into the established data system, providing organizations with clear, actionable data that can be used to inform long-term strategies.

Through several projects completed in partnership with Cloud for Good, Indiana University Advancement has created an innovative, “Amazon-like” experience providing a streamlined giving process, single sign-on for users, and strengthened communication across the institution.  A unique combination of Marketing and Commerce Clouds, utilized through a customer-first approach to the project, has resulted in donors and alumni being able to complete giving transactions in under 30 seconds and the removal of barriers to giving through multiple payment options and rich media sharing the impact of each individual donation.

Stages of technology transformation and timelines

When we refer to clients that take a data-first or customer-first approach, we’re specifically referring to clients that are migrating to Salesforce technologies.  Once a data-first approach is taken and the structure of technology is set, a reliable system of record provides the platform in which a customer-first approach can then be taken that adds additional functionality to the CRM.  This is not a linear progression or an either/or situation, however.

Cloud for Good client Crohn’s & Colitis, for example, is an interesting case in which the organization took a customer-first approach in implementing Marketing Cloud, integrating solutions for a streamlined digital experience, and then continued their transformation by migrating from BBCRM over to Salesforce.  Another Cloud for Good client, a prestigious land-grant research university located in Massachusetts, took both a data- and customer-centric approach simultaneously, so you don’t necessarily have to choose.

Determining which approach is right for your organization is based on determining which areas of focus should be prioritized first.  For example, you can take a customer-first approach before having gathered a lot of data on constituents and then use the digital tools established by taking the customer-first approach to collect more data.  The onus on taking a data-first approach is placed upon cleaning up the data that’s already been collected and focusing on the assets an organization already has.  A data-first approach isn’t going to get you new and enhanced data, that can only be achieved through taking the customer-first approach and creating an experience in which your constituents want to give you more zero- and first-party data

Expected timelines

The timelines needed to complete each respective approach to technology transformation depend on the client and the scope of what they’re trying to accomplish.  Both data-first and customer-first projects can have comparable timelines because of this, so it’s important to determine the areas you want to impact most.

The impact of data-first approaches is first felt in internal processes.  The impact on customer-first approaches will, naturally, make an external impact on customers or constituents first.  While customer-first approaches could be completed quicker, that operates under the assumption that you’re not trying to move a lot of data back and forth between systems.  If an organization wants to include custom integrations in a technology implementation, like Cloud for Good’s work with Indiana University Advancement, the timeline to complete such work will be extended.

Projecting timelines are predicated on discussing an organization’s overall technology roadmap.  Some clients, like Crohn’s and Colitis, take customer-first approaches with the intention that they will then move everything over to Salesforce in their longer-term roadmap.  Other clients, like Indiana University Advancement, take customer-first approaches to improve external technology without intending to upend internal processes.  Something that you are building to be a short-term integration may be a faster implementation than something you expect to be running for years to come.

Where to start?

Whether your organization is considering a data-first or customer-first approach, taking note of long-term goals and road mapping accordingly is of the utmost importance.  If you’re going to take a customer-first approach, understand that the approach can be leveraged as an opportunity to gather valuable information about the people you’re working with.  Make sure you have a strategy for what to do with all the new, incoming data because it could lead you to your next project.  Likewise, if you build a data-first foundation, consider where you want to go next and what will be focused on now that a greater source of truth has been established.

No matter what approach you decide on, Cloud for Good is here to help you achieve your goals and make the most of your technology.

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