Andrew Nixon is Centre of Excellence Leader at Aggreko, a leading supplier of temporary power generation and temperature control equipment, headquartered in Glasgow. Andrew recently caught up with Hamilton Forth’s Hazel Swan to share some insights into his Salesforce journey and what he looks for in a team member.
Tell us about your career and how you moved into the Salesforce eco-system?
After leaving college I took up a summer job working for a local manufacturing and distribution company. Little did I know but I would end up working there for 28 years in various business roles including sales and logistics. Having built up a lot of business process knowledge I moved to the IT department where I focused on rolling out and supporting corporate ERP systems across the organisation. I joke that I was the unwelcome guest when I turned up at business locations because while I knew a lot of the local country managers well when I turned up it meant a lot of disruption for them. I had empathy for them because while the ERP provided benefits at the corporate level, at the local level it usually meant a lot of process changes which didn’t always benefit them directly.
As part of rolling out one such program, I was asked to research and recommend a CRM system for the organisation. I looked at several options including SAP as this was our core ERP system. After interviewing our stakeholders and understanding their needs It was clear to me that Salesforce was the best fit. I thought it would be a hard sell to the corporation because we had a policy that SAP would be the preferred vendor for software solutions. However, I could see that Salesforce was more than a CRM, and that it could be used as a rapid development platform as well which could meet several of our other needs as well. Therefore, I was able to build a strong case to go with Salesforce and it became our corporate CRM tool.
My final role with that organisation was to deliver the first phase of our Field Service Lightning rollout. For once I was no longer the unwelcome guest as this functionality made a huge impact in automating and simplifying our service delivery process for both our users and our customers. This also had a big impact on me and I decided that I wanted to purely focus on the Salesforce platform and projects that make a difference from then on.
You are currently the Salesforce Centre of Excellence Leader at Aggreko. Tell us a little about what that means for you as a Leader but also for Aggreko? How does having a Centre of Excellence impact the business?
Leading the Aggreko CoE is very rewarding. I work with some great people who are engaged and care about what they are delivering. We are constantly growing our knowledge and we have a great mix of skills and experiences which we can call upon. A lot of our success is due to the team’s attitude to reflect on what they are doing and asking themselves is there a better way.
With regards to what impact our work has, some of it is invisible to the business and should be. We spend time making sure that the platform remains up to date, secure, and performant. This includes proactively managing seasonal and other update releases, monitoring and reducing security risks, decommissioning retired features, and technical debt removal. This has a positive impact on the business by ensuring the platform runs smoothly.
The CoE is also responsible for setting our design principles and development standards. We actively review new feature designs / appExchange requests. We ensure what is implemented is in line with the overall Enterprise Architecture strategy and isimplemented to our standards. This benefits the business by ensuring that what is delivered is secure, scalable, and supportable.
Another large part of the CoE responsibilities is managing the Salesforce DevOps process. We manage the flow of all changes through our deployment pipeline into the production. We spent a lot of time last year refining this process and were able to deliver 60% more user stories with less than 0.01% failure rate in 2021. The benefit to the business is that we are delivering more improvements safer with very few escaped defects.
The CoE is also responsible for license management. To ensure we keep the cost down we complete regular dormant account reviews to recycle unused licenses. We also monitor app usage and decommission apps that have not been adopted or superseded with new functionality. This benefits the business by ensuring that we avoid additional unnecessary costs.
Finally, we also have a Continuous Improvement stream which is tightly coupled with the business process owners. This stream builds solutions for the business and other support functions. For example, we recently implemented ’email to case’ functionality for our rental team which is dealing with approximately 1500 cases per day. We are currently working on automating the onboarding and offboarding process for Salesforce users. Our solution will reduce the onboarding processing from a 101 manual step process taking on average 30 minutes to a Screen Flow process that takes two minutes to complete. The benefit to the business is that we are freeing up time for the service desk team to support the business with other needs, and we can get employees set up quicker and with less rework.
What does a typical day in the life of a CofE Leader look like?
Aggreko is a demanding and dynamic business, and we have plenty of projects and initiatives on the go across the whole organisation. My role as the CoE Leader is to ensure that my team understands what they should be focusing on, what the end goals is, and to ensure they have what they need to succeed.
On a daily basis what I enjoy about my role is how broad it is. One morning I could be working on the Lightning migration rollout plan and another hour mentoring a team member on writing a Screen Flow.
What would your advice be for those looking to create a Centre of Excellence within their organisation?
I think the first thing to understand is what benefit your organisation wants to gain from the CoE. Once you know you can start to focus your planning around those areas. At Aggreko the vision was to have a single entity that managed all the governance aspects of the Salesforce platform including environment management, financial management, security, DevOps, Adoption, maintenance, and support.
Once you have decided on the scope of the CoE it’s worth carrying out a SWOT assessment of where you are in each of those areas. Once you know where the weaknesses and threats are, start with some of the basics and get them under control.
For example, when I started we had a lot of issues with Sandboxes owners coming to us late in the day and saying their Sandbox was about to expire. This led to a rush to get renewals purchase orders through the procurement process before we impacted the business. A few weeks later I built a license register and had a handle on all contracts and their expiry dates. This allowed me to proactively start the renewal process discussion early and freed me up to work on the next identified weakness and threat. I would suggest picking one pain point and then radiate out from there. Remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint, therefore work on small incremental changes. All the small changes will soon add up to a much larger overall improvement.
Another consideration is to understand how the CoE will be staffed. Will you have dedicated team members who work purely for the CoE, or part time members, or a hybrid model? At Aggreko we have a hybrid model. We have dedicated team member who have specialist knowledge of Salesforce and work purely on CoE related activities, but we also have team members who have a broader responsibility across the company who play a part time role e.g. Quality Assurance and Cyber Security.
You are a Trailblazer and advocate for Salesforce learning and experience. What advice would you give to Salesforce professionals out there looking to progress their career in the Salesforce eco-system?
I would suggest spending some time to truly think about what you want to achieve, what role are you aspiring to, and equally important what you enjoy doing. Once you know you should be able to map out a path to get there. The path should include how you plan to gain experience and the Certifications you would need for that role.
While it can be hard to gain hands on experience in certain areas, we are fortunate that we can use Trailhead and Developer Orgs to get under the hood and experiment.
What skills and qualities are you looking for within your team?
Number one is having the right attitude. I am very lucky that my team is pragmatic, open to change, ready to learn and share their knowledge and work well alone and as part of a team.
Salesforce is a constantly involving platform and what would have been best practice several years ago may have been superseded in more recent releases. Therefore I’m looking for my team members to be lifelong learners and continue gaining certifications.
Within the CoE we also hold regular ‘Campfire Sessions’ where the team members walk each other through specific areas of Salesforce. We are fortunate to also have a Salesforce Success Manager who also organises sessions for us. This is a great way to keep the team up to date and aide knowledge transfer.
Your most valuable certification?
I think it would be the Salesforce Certified App Builder. It is seen as an entry-level certification but it does cover a lot of ground. Interestingly it appears on one side of the CTA triangle so it’s clear Salesforce also thinks it good foundational certification.
Your favourite Trailhead module?
It’s probably the Process Automation Specialist Super Badge. It is a good way to test your knowledge with a practical hands-on scenario.
Top tip for anyone starting out their Salesforce learning journey?
Compared to other platforms it has an incredibly easy entry point. I would recommend registering an account on Trailhead and start earning badges. It’s free and you can find Trailmixes which provides enough training material to pass your first certification. Trailhead allows you to get hands-on experience in a real Salesforce sandbox.
There are also lots of free and low-cost training materials available. Sites like Focus on Force and SalesforceBen provide good practice exams and I have used these a lot in the past. Udemy also has some good training courses and they are often discounted. If you prefer video resources, then Trailhead Live has wealth of recorded material to view too.
Top tip for experienced Salesforce professionals?
Probably a bit obvious but make time to regularly stay up to date with new features in Salesforce. Every release there are some great new features but equally several older features are being retired. You don’t want to invest time building something that will be obsolete and equally something that might have been complicated or impossible to deliver in the past might a just a few clicks in a recent release.
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