• December 1, 2012
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Smarten Up

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Your kids (or perhaps their kids) are thinking about finals for the winter term right about now (it being December for you), and I'm watching all the back-to-school activity (it being September for me). Small surprise, then, that I got to thinking about the education process, and how it prepares us for the future.

At some point or another, when we were bored or frustrated in class, from elementary school on up, every one of us has thought, "When am I ever going to need to know this?" Our teachers weren't to blame, for the most part (though I can think of a few exceptions); they were doing the best they could with the curriculum they had to teach. It wasn't the fault of the students either (again, exceptions exist), because we had no context for what any of it meant in the real world—something we didn't have much experience with yet anyway.

The problem is exacerbated (there's an SAT word for ya, kids) by the knowledge that much of what we do in school ceases to matter once we're on the other side of those walls. The permanent record is not permanent, as any Violent Femmes fan can tell you. And that's a shame, because there's an easy way to make records persistent while teaching valuable skills.

This is going to come dangerously close to sounding like an endorsement, but the idea is exciting enough to me that I'm willing to go for it. Studentforce is an extremely clever system built on the Force platform. It is nothing less than a complete educational management system. Students can register for classes; receive, track, and hand in assignments; network with study groups; and more. There are modules for parents (who can track expenses, among other things), professors, and administration as well. You can also see texts—e-textbooks have been a major hurdle in years past, but Ed Schlesinger, the creator, has worked it out with publishers.

A system like this (and it should be pointed out that other vendors have similar ones in the works for the higher-ed vertical) also addresses the need to stay involved with alumni. The records are persistent, so it becomes that much easier to provide services like job placement and transcripts to alums. Alumni fund schools, so making it easier to interact with them is a big deal.

But here's the really genius part. Schools can get free tech support while training the next generation of Salesforce.com users. All they have to do is make maintenance a for-credit project or internship in the computer science department. Students maintain the system, and leave school trained on one of the major business platforms, just in time to seek employment. Even the students in other departments get the benefit of familiarity with Force apps. I hate to invoke the win-win cliche, but in this case, everybody really does win.

Studentforce really speaks to me, despite my only holding a BA in ambidextrous burger-flipping (otherwise known as English Lit and Composition). Most people have that recurring dream about forgetting to do their homework, or showing up to class naked—not me. Mine is about being unable to find the class, or realizing at the end of the term that I've completely forgotten to attend one (see, even my dreams are boring). If I'd had something like this in school, maybe my nightmares would be more normal. Studentforce is a huge leap forward in customer experience for higher learning.

Most important of all, now when teachers say, "I hope you know this will go down on your permanent record," the threat has some teeth. That'll show those kids!


Marshall Lager is the (managing) principal of social CRM advisory firm Third Idea Consulting. Let him school you at marshall@3rd-idea.com, or www.twitter.com/Lager.

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