Community helps makes smarter software decisions

SoftwarePhD is a new community for higher-ed professionals that seeks to change the lack of objective user reviews

community-user-reviewLooking for reviews of the latest smartphone? CNET has your back. Wondering how well that new stapler for the office will hold up? Look no further than Amazon.

However, if you are considering a new Student Information System (SIS), Customer Relationship Management (CRM) or Learning Management System (LMS) for your campus, you’ll be hard-pressed to find much of anything in the way of objective user experiences or reviews.

SoftwarePhD is a new community for higher education professionals that is seeking to change this deficiency.

The community allows members to share real-life experiences and reviews of the software they are using as well as a forum for entering into dialogue with other institutions on any topic that is software related. Judging by the explosive growth of the community’s membership over the first two months it seems that the idea has struck a nerve and revealed a pent-up desire among higher education professionals for more collaboration.

(Next page: Why more higher education sharing is needed)

Any higher ed IT professional or administrator who has endeavored to select a software solution for their campus is familiar with the frustration that accompanies the process. The task usually begins by reading marketing materials posted on various companies’ websites which tout the features and abilities of their products. If one is not sufficiently skeptical at this point they could walk away feeling thoroughly convinced that the software can do everything imaginable–including choosing the next winning lotto number.

Next comes the webinar.

These could be recorded or live presentations to individuals or groups of schools and serve to show the searcher a high-level overview of the software. These certainly have value as the institution is able to view first-hand what the software is capable of.

However, these webinars are almost always in very controlled environments and the scenarios demonstrated are planned ahead of time and tested. So, the real-life experience a campus might have with the software once they begin to implement it could be far different than what they watched. Often integration isn’t as seamless as promised or the features demonstrated are found to be still in development.

If an institution is still interested after the webinar they often invite a sales rep to campus for a longer presentation. Again, this step is helpful and provides a deeper view into the capabilities of the software. This opportunity allows for more in-depth questions from the institution and investigating in greater specificity how the product will interact with their other systems.

However, what is lacking is an unbiased opinion of the software from those who are actually using it on their campuses.

Because of this many searchers try to find colleagues at peer institutions who are current customers of the software they are considering. Yet, finding references can be like looking for a black cat in a coal cellar.

(Next page: Listservs and communication)

If you are a part of any higher ed listservs you are no doubt familiar with seeing multiple questions a week asking if anyone has used a particular product and would be willing to discuss their experience. These messages usually go out to hundreds or thousands of individuals, the vast majority of which have not used the software in question. Certainly not an efficient process. The software companies are usually happy to furnish lists of references, but most schools still want to do some checking beyond these provided contacts in hopes of getting more candid responses.

Against this backdrop a clear need for greater information sharing among higher education institutions exists. No software is perfect. In an environment where the majority of the information a school has about a product comes from marketing material and sales presentations, there is a great chance for disappointment.

The ultimate end of greater communication between schools will result in more realistic expectations, better matches between schools and products, and improved software solutions. Currently, the communication is primarily one way: vendor-to-customer. Adding two more dimensions to this dialogue, customer-to-customer and customer-to-vendor, will be a great improvement to the process.

Mark Baker is the Associate Registrar at Whitworth University and the founder and site moderator of

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