It’s likely that right now your college is shopping for — or thinking about shopping for — several pieces of software to make managing the organization easier and more efficient. You need a CRM for outreach and a CMS to manage the website. An SMS to manage student data, an RMS to manage room scheduling, and countless other programs that all go by three-letter acronyms.
Choosing what software to use for each of these functions gets even more daunting when you start thinking about how much you want a given piece of software to do. Would it make sense for your early-alert system to also have CRM functionality? What if your website’s CMS also managed your intranet and HR functions? What if you found one piece of software that did everything your college could ever need it to do?
That software probably doesn’t exist, which means that deciding what individual pieces to get can be difficult. Here are a few tips to make the shopping process a little easier.
Make sure it has an API
An API — which stands for application programming interface — is basically how a piece of software communicates with other pieces of software. For example, YouTube has an API that gives outside developers a way to use YouTube videos in their programs or automatically add videos to a YouTube account — in short, a way for them to build programs that connect to YouTube’s (massive) program.
If you get software that has a solid API, you can ensure that it can communicate with other software at the college. This frees you to select software that does exactly what you need it to do, and with some IT development time you can connect the programs you want connected, and you can easily get data in and out. As an added bonus, if software has an API it’s often a sign that it’s built according to software-development best practices.
Don’t be wowed by features you don’t need
You’re buying software to solve a problem — and having features you won’t use often complicates the software and creates problems. If you don’t currently need software to manage alumni relations — but it’s something you’re thinking about doing down the road, once the internal re-org is done and enrollment is up and state funding increases — don’t make that a deciding factor in choosing a CRM. If you end up needing something for alumni relations in a few years, you can get something specifically for that, and if you need it to connect to your CRM, you’ve got an API.
Consider free and inexpensive software
Some of the most powerful tools out there are free or quite inexpensive. Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools, for example, do everything you need to manage your website’s data and connect with digital advertising. Drupal and WordPress, both free, are two of the industry leaders in website content management systems. And many companies — like MailChimp — offer powerful, targeted software that will meet your needs without a five- or six-figure software price tag.