Breaking Through the Software Purchasing Logjam

Frictionless purchasing? The AmazonGo store in Seattle
Frictionless purchasing? The AmazonGo store in Seattle

Over the past year I’ve visited a number of Cal State campuses, and had the chance to ask the question “How can we be helping you more at the Chancellor’s Office”? A number of themes emerged, but the one issue that came up nearly everywhere is the high cost of procurement, particularly for software. ITS and Procurement have been working together to try to provide system-wide purchases or MEAs for the most broadly used and expensive software, but what about the dozens or hundreds of titles purchased every year at CSU campuses?

The Problem

Whether a software license is $100, $10,000, or $100,000, due diligence requires that we consider all of the following:

  1. Accessibility – to what extent does the use of the software present challenges for our student and employee populations with a range of abilities that may require the use of a screen reader, prevent the use of a mouse, or many other accessibility issues? And how will we mitigate these issues to assure every student can be educated and every staff member can do their job?
  2. Security – what information is collected? Where does it go? To the extent that the software requires the use of personal information, how is it protected? Where and how is it stored? What risks do we assume by adopting this software title?
  3. Contract Terms and Conditions – are the T&C’s consistent with state and University requirements? What risk do we assume when we adopt this software?
  4. Integration into the IT environment – can this software work in our labs? Will it require SSO? PeopleSoft integration?

And… after all those other considerations, if we have time we might ask “is this software the best choice to solve the problem? do we know if it actually works?”

The result is lots of work for IT staff, accessibility experts, and procurement departments. Either we go through these steps diligently, requiring lots of staff time, or we (or members of the campus community) find a way to sidestep the whole thing – which has the potential to create real risk and negative consequences. And not only does a comprehensive process take staff time, it also frustrates our end users who, from their perspective have a long wait to get software purchased – which from their point of view, understandably, is evidence of incompetence on the part of IT or procurement or both.

A Solution?

As part of the CalState Innovate program, and in partnership with Cal State Fullerton and Procurement at the Chancellor’s Office, we’re exploring the creation of a portal to assist campuses with the workflow required to approve a software purchase, and to provide a central repository to share all the associated documentation. There’s really not a way to eliminate all the work required to properly vet a software title, BUT what if we could just do it once? That’s the goal of our proof of concept, which was built using a product called Learn Platform. Sound interesting? I’ll be presenting our work, along with Karl Rectanus, the founder of Learn, at the CMS Tech Conference last week of July 2018 in Sacramento. Join us there, and watch for more information in the near future. I’m looking forward to sharing our ideas and hearing yours.

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