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What Can Slack Do For Higher Education?

Cloud for Good 2023 blog: What Can Slack Do For Education?

Slack entered the ecosystem’s collective consciousness in 2021 when Salesforce announced an acquisition of the instant messaging program.  Originally developed as an internal tool developed for professional and organizational communications, Slack has continuously evolved and introduced broader functionality at regular intervals.  Ten million people utilize Slack each day (including 3M who are on a paid Slack plan) and there are over 4,000 apps developed by a rapidly growing user base.

As the years have gone by and new functionality has been added to Slack, some still view the platform as merely an internal communication tool.  The reality is that Slack is much more than that, and I believe the higher education space should be looking at Slack as a potential difference-maker for institutions.

Bring Your Team Together

Slack is built on a foundation of collaboration and engagement.  Being able to quickly connect with a teammate, colleague, or entire team, Slack provides a meaningful space to accomplish meaningful collaboration.  Slack is actually an acronym standing for Searchable Log of All Communication and Knowledge.  This helps highlight the value of the tool and its ability to nourish an institution with a reliable knowledge base which, from experience, sometimes happens through an exchange of communication.

Microsoft Teams and Google Chat are both competitors of Slack and are more broadly utilized as a part of a higher education institution’s existing technology stack.  Slack is often perceived as just another tool used to accomplish what Teams and Google Chat do well, which can make Slack seem redundant when considering which technology applications to engage with.  However, if you see Slack as only a chat tool, it will seem redundant, but that is because the actual value of the tool is being missed.

At a high level, the value of Slack is generated from its ability to not only connect people but also connect tools and operations, creating a repository of accessible knowledge and centralizing processes.  Slack has the ability to bring all your tools and workflows into one place.  Those in higher education know the flood of email never stops, and they work with a plethora of tools.  I have yet to hear an institution’s staff member say they get just the right amount of email and want more places to log in.

Elevate Internal Proccesses

Consider all the emails that involve some sort of process, whether that be an alert, a status report, or a weekly reminder of a recurring event or task.  These are things that may impact just you as an individual but consider those reports including several people asking questions and sending responses.  How many times do you write a question or a response only to then receive someone else’s question or response, breaking the flow of the email chain in the process?  While the conversational examples can be handled by other tools, like MS Teams, Slack takes it a step further with the ability to “summon” information from within the tool, thus reducing the need to navigate from tool to tool and room for error.

My mind immediately goes to needing something like this for more intense situations, like a system failure or event planning. If we put this in the context of an alumni relations event happening at an off-site location, there is significant planning and team coordination required. Not just from the alumni relations staff, but also from gift officers and campus support from the data team.

Imagine it’s the morning of an event and a new report has shown up in the Slack channel of a group involved in planning the event. The gift officer reacts to an issue with a top donor name misspelling while an event planner comments on the dramatic increase of registrants while voicing concerns about catering. With Slack, the gift officer can “summon” the donor’s record from Salesforce (or CRM in use) and the data team can take immediate action to make the update and confirm the correction while at the same time summoning the caterer’s contact information from Salesforce to ensure they can follow up to increase the order.

When the order gets increased, an expense can be created, in Slack, and fed to the event management system for tracking purposes. In this scenario, no one had to leave Slack to resolve the issues that required multiple people to interact with one another. While this seems like a simple example, it only scratches the surface, especially when it comes to event planning with the opportunities that Slack Connect provides.

Leverage Established APIs

Slack also features accessible, well-built APIs.  As institutions try to break down silos and develop meaningful integration strategies, it becomes imperative to have systems that are open and able to communicate with one another.  Similar to how we talk about Salesforce being an API-first technology, Slack also has the ability to ingest a large amount of information and spit that information back out at a moment’s notice.  Slack has poured significant time and resources into the design of its APIs and ensuring they are well-built.

For those non-developers, the reason you should care is because of what I mentioned earlier about summoning data/information. I often think about Student Success and how many systems student affairs teams work with.  There may be separate tools for Residence Life, Behavioral Management, and Campus Involvement. There is then a learning management system capturing their course engagement and, if the faculty is on top of it, class attendance may be captured as well.

Now, imagine being the Dean of Student Affairs and getting a call from a parent expressing concern for their student.  Consider what Slack could help do to resolve any situation that might arise from this scenario.  You can quickly summon the information from those disparate systems utilizing simple commands or clicks and, at the same time, create a private conversation or channel to loop in the necessary team members needed to discuss the information being viewed and appropriately address the parent’s concerns.

This would be considered “Case Swarming,” and could easily be handled through Slack’s infrastructure.  From a single phone call, where you might typically need to gather information from multiple people using multiple systems, I can access the information I need from a unified location and bring those people and systems together on a single platform breaking down silos. This allows teams to service students faster, which they’ve come to expect in our digital world, and can positively impact retention numbers.

Build A Better Digital Headquarters

Because Slack has the ability to ingest and send information with ease, users have access to a robust app exchange used to enhance and empower users to connect other tools they already use, like Google and Microsoft tools, project management tools, etc.  Furthermore, users have the ability to create their own apps and centralize operations.  Slack isn’t necessarily trying to replace the systems working for you, it’s trying to bring them together in a single digital workplace and create a digital HQ that provides a more flexible way to work with all your people, apps, and partners in one space.

Salesforce coupled with Slack has the potential to dramatically affect institutions for the better.  Examples of the effectiveness of this shared solution are outlined well in the Open Source Commons program, where in-person and virtual sprints build community-based solutions on the Salesforce platform to solve shared challenges and needs.  During these sprints, Slack is leveraged to share outcomes.  Workflows can simply be clicked, then shared and captured on a spreadsheet.

While this example may seem small, being able to engage with 100+ people in a shared workspace and making sure you can leverage those completed forms for potential marketing initiatives keeps a flow of information going to the right people.

If your institution is considering utilizing Slack, consider your current methods for sharing knowledge and engaging with teams.  Slack should be treated like any other enterprise technology on campus to ensure a proper return on investment.  The free version of Slack is quite simple but its use cases are likely already filled by a tool already used on campus.  The value of a paid Slack plan comes in with workflow and automation development as well as the API structure, which may require a developer or consulting partner.

To learn more about Slack, Salesforce, and if the solutions are right for your institution, contact Cloud for Good today.

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