Do-it-yourself (DIY) software projects on campuses where brilliant research and development talent is abundant makes sense – at first glance. At Higher Education campuses of all sizes, build-or-buy considerations are not that different from ones discussed in the private sector. Things like customization and costs are typical starting points. And in Higher Ed, the learning opportunities for students and faculty to gain hands-on experience in software development provide an added potential benefit.
But, as many DIY project team leaders on higher education campuses will tell you, the inclination to DIY at the collegiate level requires a close second look. The best opportunity for learning and leadership often comes from a strategic partnership with a team of professional software engineers who are prepared to dedicate research, knowledge, skills, and customer service to any software investment.
Why Higher Education Leans Into DIY
There are several reasons why institutions of higher education often prefer to undertake DIY software projects instead of buying software off the shelf. Some of these reasons, including:
- Control: DIY software projects mean that institutions have complete control over the development process, allowing them to prioritize features, functionality, and specifications that are unique to their organization.
- Innovation: New software projects can foster innovation in higher education. It means institutions can experiment with new ideas and maybe earn bragging rights too when it comes to the possible development of new products.
- Initial Cost: The global, higher ed technology market continues to grow, and it can seem reasonable to involve students and faculty in campus software projects rather than deal with the rigamarole of budget approvals.
When Higher Education Should Partner with a Third-Party Software
If there is an established need for a software project, one tied to deliverables or data that is factored into funding and budgets, institutions typically want to partner with an experienced software vendor. Among other things, the vendor provides an authoritative third-party validation of data. Here are several possible pitfalls to look for when universities consider a DIY approach.
- Specialized Expertise: Developing software and data science projects requires a significant investment of resources. The development process will almost always take longer than expected, and project management and deadlines will likely pose a challenge. Third-party companies are structured to collaborate across departments and expertise to provide a full-service experience unreplicable by a single cohort of students and staff.
- Security and Privacy Concerns: When it comes to cybersecurity, dedicated resources are critical. There are significant legal and reputational consequences for institutions and individuals, and this is a good area to have agreed upon industry language about standards, expectations and policies.
- Integrations: Siloed software projects aren’t winning many popularity contests on campus; if your DIY project is very good, others will want to participate, and questions about how existing investments and infrastructure are leveraged will come into play. Technology companies compete to offer highly integrated products and are designing purpose-built systems that are pitched as ways to maximize value from existing systems.
- Budget and ROI: When best-of-class vendors provide experienced customer support, many higher education customers realize their free or no-cost software development projects come at the price of severe pain points without external support. What’s more, annual software costs are easier to budget for than trying to account for sprawling DIY costs on an as-needed basis. What Higher Education institutions might see as up front cost savings becomes individual line items requiring additional budget requests for each need.
Expertise, Partnerships are Critical to Success
Finally, there is the prospect of staring at reams and reams of data in Excel sheets and databases – or dealing with graphics and visuals that UX and UI designers who have traveled that road before designed for you. Building and validating reports takes time and resources and more often than not, reports are required to prove compliance and successfully gain surge budgets for repair and replace spend. Lambent Spaces supports Higher Education customers in smart software investments that continue to scale and show value.
At many of our Higher Ed customers, we are partnered with Strategic Space Planners, like at William and Mary, where we are partnered with the Director of Infrastructure and the Director of Space Planning. Many of our Higher Education customers share the same priorities we do, reliable, actionable data that is anonymous – meant to understand utilization rather than track individuals.
“W&M IT takes data privacy very seriously,” said William and Mary’s Norman Elton, director of infrastructure, quoted on the W&M website. “While working on this exciting project, we ensure that data is properly anonymized. This enables us to meet the university and protect the privacy of users.”