James Werner: Jeff, everyone in the advancement industry seems to know you. For any new-comers who may not…what’s the reason for your prominence?
Jeff Shy: (Laughs) Well, I’m not sure if I’d call it “Prominence,” or if it’s just that I’ve outlasted everyone else! I actually got my start in the development office at College of William and Mary. I’m not an engineer per-se, but I’ve always been a “data guy.” From my earliest work in advancement, I’ve thought that there had to be technical solutions to many of our unanswered (and sometimes unasked!) questions.
JW: So you jumped into programming and database management early on?
JS: Oh, yeah. I actually built what many consider to be the first advancement system on a Wang mini-computer! Over the years, my team and I produced some really enduring successes. At one point, over 200 schools were using JSI’s Millenium, a product that was really ground-breaking in its day.
JW: What made you decide to take another crack at it with Affinaquest?
JS: In a word, “CRM.” In the old days, our products were (necessarily) designed primarily as on-site data repositories. The ability to pro-actively drive prospecting, moves management, campaigns, appeals, etc. is a relatively new phenomenon. Even more exciting, the pace of technology continues to accelerate. With artificial intelligence and machine learning, the Cloud, and open systems generally, the trick will be to effectively aggregate, integrate, and manage these technologies. At Affinaquest, we’ve assembled a team of people who are uniquely positioned to do just that.
JW: So why did you choose Salesforce as your initial platform?
JS: I liked Salesforce for a number of reasons. It’s got great development tools, it’s very easy to distribute and service, and it provides a huge selection of Apps that can extend functionality in lots of important ways. It’s also easy to find people who are well-versed in the platform!
JW: You seem like a guy who enjoys the “start-up” atmosphere of a manageably-sized company. True?
JS: Definitely. The giant players in any industry tend to become unwieldly over time. They can become dependent on older technologies, and older ways of thinking. The thing I love about Affinaquest is that we can adapt on the fly. We can quickly incorporate new ideas and craft relationships with the partners we prefer. These things just aren’t possible at the largest companies.
JW: So where do you think advancement is heading in, say, the next five years?
JS: Well, as they say, it’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future (laughs)! But I can say with confidence that our industry is “catching up” within the larger technical landscape. The flexible new tools to which we have access today mean that our college and university customers can benefit from modern features, functions, and “look and feel” in ways that they previously could not. And, of course younger alumni – and development officers – demand a customer experience that rivals that of every other product with which they regularly interact.
JW: So what is your primary focus at Affinaquest today?
JS: We’ve said it before, and will say it again – Affinaquest will continue to offer the best advancement software in the world. In addition, we will be an aggregator and a facilitator. Our customers don’t necessarily have the staffing and financial resources to do all these things themselves. At Affinaquest, we can provide them with the economies of scale, the backing, the experience and the expertise to pull all these things together. Combine these things with likeminded customers who share our vision – and you have something really extraordinary.
JW: One last question: Cats? Or dogs?
JS: Dogs. Definitely dogs. I love them because they’re binary and easy to understand. Cats on the other hand are like a general ledger with no reporting standards. It’s just impossible to get a handle on them!