A real challenge for all Salesforce Architects is keeping up-to-date on the constantly evolving native platform capabilities and customisation/extension points. It’s a truism that nothing stands still, this is especially true in the Salesforce world, with 3 releases a year, frequent off-cycle incremental feature enhancements, acquisitions etc. etc.. This constant evolution is of course great for Salesforce customers, the potential return on investment in respect to business value derivable from the license spend grows in parallel. The business challenges in this respect are those of understanding the potential, making appropriate tactical design and implementation decisions and rationalising a sensible and adaptable strategic roadmap.
In order to address these challenges, and mitigate the consequential risk of not doing so, the business must have access to experienced Salesforce architects with a deep understanding of the current Salesforce release and future product roadmap. This is a difficult proposition where competent Salesforce architects are currently a small community (which is expanding year-on-year) and those that exist are typically occupied in solution delivery not strategic advisory roles.
My advice to any business using Salesforce for anything beyond an out-of-the-box CRM implementation is to engage, or employ, a Salesforce Certified Technical Architect (CTA). This stringent accreditation provides the highest degree of assurance that the individual really understands the Salesforce platform and can provide the right guidance around platform potential (vision), tactical design decisions, strategic roadmap, platform governance and development process. Given that the number of CTA is a small subset of the Salesforce architect community this would seem an impossible task, however there is a growing number of CTAs to be found in the Salesforce partner community and via Salesforce Strategic Services (i.e. salesforce.com). An alternative approach would be to invest in an internal resource and provide the opportunity to advance through the Salesforce certifications step-by-step advancing up to the CTA level. This approach will take time, measured in years not months, and is not without risk, internal resources may lack the breadth of exposure to the Salesforce platform gained through (perhaps) more diverse consultancy projects. Additionally, as an internal CTA is a highly valuable asset to any business, it may be difficult to retain their services.
The CTA should be considered a strategic advisor not an implementation resource, and given the following type of accountabilities:
1. Upfront. Data Architecture (data model, quality management processes etc.).
2. Upfront. Integration Architecture (logical and physical architecture, integration patterns, protocols, tools and technologies).
3. Upfront. Standards. Technical standards, conventions and construction patterns.
4. Upfront. Development process. Methodology guidance. Platform governance. Release management and source code control. Environment strategy. Change management. Risk management.
5. Upfront and ongoing. Solution Design. Exploitation and augmentation of standard features, solution options for gaps.
6. Ongoing. Quality Assurance. Build reviews. Tactical advice on solution build.
7. Ongoing. Quality Assurance. Testing strategy guidance.
8. Ongoing. Strategic advisory. Communication of platform potential and new capabilities to project stakeholders.
9. Ongoing. Guidance on fit between new business requirements and Salesforce. High level estimation and project scoping. Vendor cost assessment.
10. Ongoing. Strategic advisory. Strategic roadmap definition and communication.
Taking the 10 preceding points as indicative, the overarching principles are that the CTA sets the scene for a successful implementation, underwrites the delivery through periodic review and quality assurance processes and finally defines the strategic roadmap. Taking each point in turn; setting the scene is perhaps the most critical aspect as a flawed data model, inaccurate mapping of business requirement to native feature, inexpert selection of solution options to plug the gaps etc. can be incredibly cost expensive to rectify at a later date or impossible to remediate. Underwriting the delivery is perhaps the least well defined area, but at a minimum the CTA should be engaged to review progress and take design decisions required while the implementation is in flight. Additional to this should be a retrospective consideration of the development process, project standards etc. which a view to adaptation in light of findings established via practical application. Finally the strategic roadmap aspect to the CTA value proposition is imperative in ensuring that the Salesforce implementation is sustainable, integral to the organisation’s enterprise architecture and evolving to drive the maximum business value from the investment over time in response to defined or emerging business goals.
In summary, a high degree of expertise applied at the start of a project and on a periodic basis can increase greatly the chances of a successful and cost effective Salesforce implementation. Most projects won’t have access to a full time CTA, for cost or availability reasons, however, most projects should consider a part-time CTA in an advisory role, like a good tax accountant they should pay for themselves.