11 tips for choosing an educational intelligence software partner

January 1, 2024 Watermark Insights

Educational intelligence software provides insights about your students and campus. It can help inform strategic decisions and streamline processes like accreditation, assessment, and annual faculty reviews. Purchasing software for your institution is a high-stakes decision. How do you choose the right partner to ensure you have the necessary solution and support?  

Being a savvy buyer is about asking the right questions and finding credible answers before you sign a contract. Here are some tips for choosing a software as a service (SaaS) vendor who can help you make a smart choice and achieve success with their software on campus.

1. Take a pass on the product pitch.

Any higher ed SaaS vendor can persuasively detail the capabilities of their system, but that’s putting the proverbial cart ahead of the horse. Look for a vendor whose rep cares more about your pain points and desired outcomes than pitching their product. 

Expect a rep to take a consultative approach. They should learn about the current state of your process, the problem you’d like to solve, and what you’ve already tried before making recommendations or demonstrating their product.

2. Favor a proven track record.

A startup software company may have vision and funding. They may even know higher education. However, great ideas are a dime a dozen. Would those ideas resolve your current pain points? Can the vendor translate ideas into successful solutions? Experience comes from years of understanding the needs of institutions like yours — plus the day-to-day work of building software and supporting users.

A startup may have a dazzling, vision-oriented slide deck or offer rock-bottom pricing, but 63% of tech startups fail within the first five years. Look for an established company with solid financials and a proven track record of delivering and supporting solutions.

3. Check on the pace of change.

Nothing stands still — including your institution’s reporting needs and the requirements of your stakeholders. Choose a vendor who commits to timely updates of premade reports, such as those for accreditation. They should also innovate at a pace that helps you get the most out of your campus data. Ask how a potential vendor handled:

  • Changes in regulations by the United States Department of Education to align with modifications to the Federal Definition of a Credit Hour and cross-validation of learning outcomes to assure comparability.
  • Changes in accrediting requirements, such as those for SACSCOC, HLC, AACSB, and other accrediting bodies to measure student learning, document faculty qualifications, academic offerings value, and institutional impact.

4. Get the support and guidance you deserve from a partner.

A dedicated and knowledgeable support team is valuable to your institution on many levels, including:

  •   Implementing best practices. 
  •   Guiding you through report setup for accreditation. 
  •   Helping you envision other ways to leverage your data to make quality improvements. 

A robust support team should guide you and answer questions as needed. Choose a vendor with a team of professionals well versed in higher education. They should understand how their software can meet your institution’s needs. This is at least as important as any other feature or benefit on offer.

5. Look beyond the window dressing.

The vendor you choose should combine a deep knowledge of higher education with technical skills. It’s easy to be reassured by a software vendor with knowledge of academia, but keep in mind that this doesn't necessarily ensure programming excellence, useful workflows, or effective data capture and reporting.

Look for a vendor who understands your pain points and has a technical team that can turn knowledge about your needs into fully realized software solutions.

6. Learn from your peers.

When it comes to the success of a software solution or the quality of support, don’t take a vendor’s word for it. Ask for and contact referrals. Reach out to colleagues in your institution who may have worked with this vendor or used the software. 

7. Give weight to integrity.

Beware of a vendor who spends time talking down competitors rather than exploring your institution’s needs and outlining how their solution can meet them. Refocus the conversation to ensure you learn what the vendor understands about higher education and what problems their solution can solve. A vendor who focuses on your needs and speaks knowledgeably about meeting them is a partner worth having.

The right educational intelligence vendor becomes a valuable partner in your journey to use data on campus. Select one with:

  • A breadth of experience.
  • A proven track record verifiable by strong references.   
  • A focus on delivering solutions that will support your institution’s initiatives.

8. Look to case studies.

Looking at testimonials and case studies is a more foolproof way to gauge their reliability.

A software partner can tell you all about their qualifications. However, looking at testimonials and case studies is a more foolproof way to gauge their reliability. Case studies offer concrete evidence of how a software company has helped its clients grapple with common industry challenges facing higher education institutions, like:

  • Accreditation preparation.
  • Difficulty maintaining student enrollment and engagement.
  • Student feedback collection and management.

Peruse some case studies from a prospective software provider to gain insight into how they can help you address your organization's challenges.

9. Determine your goals and improvement areas.

Before choosing a software provider, it's essential to establish tangible goals for your institution. What aspects of your organization can you improve? Some examples might include:

  • A more streamlined course evaluation process.
  • More thorough preparation for examinations, certifications, internships, and careers.
  • More engaging and thought-provoking course material.
  • A more organized database for faculty to track credentialing, promotion and tenure, annual reviews, syllabuses, accreditation reports, grant information, and other key data points.

10. Consult available resources.

In addition to case studies, testimonials, and referrals, look to other resources on the prospective software provider's website. Do they maintain a hub of documentation and resources for users? Is there a forum for active and engaged users to exchange information? Do they actively seek client contributions to their product evolution and roadmap? Do they have an in-person conference that brings users together?

Various resources can provide valuable insights into a software company and its products, such as:

Even if you've browsed a variety of resources, never hesitate to contact the company's help center if you still have questions about their software offerings. A reliable software provider won't leave you waiting on the phone or send you on a wild goose chase to get the answers you need. A software partner should serve as a resource in itself, offering friendly service and efficient support when you need it.

11. Test out the software.

Many software providers offer trial runs for their products, allowing prospective clients to test out their programs before committing to a purchase. A company can provide a visual walkthrough of its product to demonstrate its value and benefits to a potential client.

By seeing how everything works and exploring the software platform's available features, you can more accurately determine if it's a good fit for your organization. A demo can give you more confidence and peace of mind in your investment. We recommend scheduling a demo to see the software platform in action.

Request a demo from Watermark today

Request a demo from Watermark today

If you're looking to work with a knowledgeable software partner, consider Watermark. We specialize in data collection, measurement, and analysis software for higher education institutions. Our software platforms benefit students and faculty alike, specifically designed for the following objectives:

  • Measuring and improving learning outcomes
  • Assisting with institutional research and planning
  • Preparing for accreditation

From Course Evaluations & Surveys to Planning & Self-Study software, we offer a wealth of solutions tailored to promote academic success. Additionally, our solutions don't require repetitive manual data entry since reports automatically transfer to the dashboard.

With over 20 years of industry expertise, you can trust us to deliver innovative solutions for your higher education institution. Request a demo for more information about our software solutions!

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