Salesforce Certified Architect – Value Proposition

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.

Winter 13 Maintenance Exams

I passed the Salesforce.com Certified Force.com Developer and Administrator Winter ’13 Release Exams this morning. I always try to do this as early as possible and make the exams the culmination of a detailed investigation into the new release. The excellent resources available (pre-release webinars and orgs, release training, release notes and sandbox previews) make this a painless process. The pace at which the platform evolves can really catch you out if you don’t invest the time in keeping your expertise current. New features such as Chatter Answers, Case Feed etc. are extremely powerful but take hands-on experience to really understand, spin-up a pre-release test org and get your hands dirty.. In respect to the maintenance exams my approach is to have Salesforce open in one browser and the exam in another (Safari), I also have the release notes open and the full help documentation pdf open for quick reference. This arrangement works for me, I can quickly switch from the question to reference materials and the app for verification. That said, if you’ve read the release notes thoroughly, and you should, the exams shouldn’t prove too much of a challenge.

Salesforce Certified Technical Architect

I passed the Salesforce Certified Technical Architect programme in January of this year (2012), here I’ll share general thoughts on the process and some key areas to study.

Ok, so the CTA programme has 3 elements;

1. Self-certification
Simple record of who you are, plus a self-assessment on domain relevant skills. Note you are required to provide referees who can testify to your expertise and experience.

2. Multi-choice assessment
Typical salesforce.com certification multiple choice exam – 2 hours, 60+ questions. I found that the questions were longer than the advanced developer, administrator and cloud consultant equivalents. I also took the beta version which was 120+ questions over 4 hours – the duration of which, via online proctoring, was a challenge in itself (I couldn’t leave my desk!).

3. Review board
This is by far the most serious undertaking in the realm of salesforce.com certification and given the expense and preparation involved should only be considered by those practitioners with broad and deep platform knowledge and relevant experience as a TA on multiple, diverse salesforce.com technical projects.

The review board session is in 2 parts; hypothetical scenario and customer case study. Note; the exact composition and timings of the session reflect my session in January, it’s likely this will be refined over time.

Hypothetical scenario
75 minutes prep – this was easily the quickest time of my life; a lot of requirements, context and solution design considerations to tackle. A clear strategy of how you intend to synthesise all the information, define solution options (with trade-offs) and articulate this back to the board will be key. You really will need to know the salesforce.com platform intimately, specific examples being the sharing model and where declarative functionality can be employed to avoid the necessity for custom technical components.
30 minutes presentation – present findings back to the board. Clear and confident delivery is key – practice makes perfect if your job doesn’t involve frequent, formal presentations to customers/clients etc.
30 minutes Q&A – you will be quizzed on the rationale behind your proposed solution options – being able to stand-up your design and discuss the alternatives is imperative.

Customer case study
30 minutes presentation – In my view this isn’t an occasion for 50 slides full of text – instead a clear, interesting story covering the topic areas highlighted in the study guide is required. The time is fixed, so practice to ensure you can deliver your pitch at a comfortable pace within 25-30 minutes. I ran out of time on the last slide – meaning I missed some key content, and I’d practiced to an audience 3 times in advance. I took this part of the review board as a time to shine by presenting a recent project I was comfortable to answer absolutely any question on. I also chose to stick to the facts rather than strive to cover 100% of the stated objectives – not every project includes a Change Management Board for example.
45 minutes Q&A – detailed questioning on your case study.

I really enjoyed taking the CTA programme, for technical/solution/enterprise or even cloud architects working with the salesforce.com platform, this prestigious accreditation requires significant personal commitment but the feeling of reward is considerable. As with any architect level accreditation the CTA programme is extremely challenging, however this is exactly how it should be in my view.

Study areas:
The CTA programme has a very different focus from the salesforce.com Advanced Developer certification (DEV501), which primarily examines proficiency with Apex and Visualforce – it’s unlikely you’ll encounter such questions in the CTA multi-choice exam or review board sessions.

The list below is by no means exhaustive but covers the high-level areas I focused my study upon;
SSO (Delegated and Federated via SAML)
OAuth Flows (User Agent, Web Server, SAML Assertion etc..)
Large Data Volumes (big data impact areas, strategies)
Platform Security
Portals and Record Sharing Strategies
API and Integration Use Cases (inbound and outbound)
Data Migration Considerations
Platform Governance (COE, Change and Risk Management)
Development Methodology (Agile, Waterfall)
Build Automation and Source Code Control
Data Modelling (ERD, Normalisation)
Declarative versus Programmatic Considerations
Org Strategy (multi versus single org)
Force.com Flow

Excellent references:
Dreamforce 2011 sessions on youtube
developer.force.com
wiki.developerforce.com
certification.salesforce.com/architects