Academic Catalog Management System — Build Your Own or Buy?

Sept 17, 2020

When colleges and universities are looking for an academic catalog management system, they often consider building their own custom software, especially if they have large and well-resourced in-house software development teams. We (obviously) think that going with Clean Catalog is a big win all-around compared to building your own. Here are a few reasons why.

Academic Catalog Management System Cost

On the surface, it can seem as though building your own academic catalog management system is more affordable. If you already have an in-house technical staff and capabilities to host software, it won't be an additional line-item on your department's budget.

However, if you price out the actual cost of the staff time to build and maintain your own academic catalog system, Clean Catalog is much less expensive. The annual cost for Clean Catalog's academic catalog management system varies based on institution size, but we're certain it'll be way less than the cost of paying your in-house development team. Along with that, building in-house can introduce some surprise and variable costs. Hosting, PDF generation, data entry, offsite backups — adding in those components can add up quickly. With Clean Catalog, though, all the batteries are included in the cost. We charge a flat annual fee, and that's all you ever pay. All of the above, plus any customizations and feature development, are all covered in the cost, so you can know exactly what you're paying every year.

We understand, though, that sometimes sunk costs are sunk; if you already have software development and design staffing, it can seem like it doesn't hurt to give them an additional project. In our experience, though, most in-house development teams already have an extensive list of projects. If you work for a marketing or communications department, you likely have a long list of web- and software-development projects you'd like for IT to work on. So if you have them work on in-house catalog software, you're missing out on the opportunity cost of having them work on something else.

Turnaround Time

This is an area where academic catalog management systems like Clean Catalog are a clear winner: for most colleges and universities, we can have your digital catalog launched in less than six weeks from the day you give us the go-ahead and send us you catalog content. That includes time for inputting all content, design customizations, user workflow buildout, and everything else that goes into developing and launching a modern course catalog.

Custom software development of this scale obviously takes much longer than six weeks, and that's before you even get around to inputting all the content and user workflows. It's likely that you could have your Clean Catalog site up and running while you're still mapping out requirements for your custom academic catalog management system.

Feature Development and Customization

If you build your own academic catalog management system, it might seem like you could get a system fully customized and tailored to your needs — that's a large point in building something custom, after all.

What we've found, though, is that most institutions catalogs are 90% the same, and 10% custom. With Clean Catalog, that first 90% is already built. Working with us, you get to focus on the remaining 10%. Because we've worked with so many different clients on customizations, odds are that if you're looking for a feature, we already have it built and can quickly enable it on your site.

Along with that, we often have features that you wouldn't have thought to ask for but that turn out to be a huge help. For example, we sometimes have clients who don't start off needing a PDF generation feature, but end up relying on it heavily. It's a feature that took hundreds of hours of development time to build, and we can enable it with a few clicks on your site.

Academic Catalog Software Refinement and Feature Completeness

Ultimately, one of the biggest reasons to go with Clean Catalog over building your own academic catalog management system from scratch is that with Clean Catalog you're getting a mature, refined piece of software with a proven track record. Passing off this task means freeing up bandwidth for your team to focus on customizing your catalog, rather than resolving software kinks and bugs. When you build custom software, you're getting the first draft of software with no guarantee that it will hold up during your institution's next enrollment period. Compare, for example, the custom-built University of Washington course catalog with Villanova University's course catalog built with Clean Catalog. Granted, UW's catalog is larger, but the experience is buggier and generally less refined. With Clean Catalog, that's not the case.