This summer, Kivuto hosted a panel discussion on digital resource management in education (Behind the Scenes: Digital Resource Management in Higher Ed). Representatives from Yale, Tufts, and Eastern Michigan University (EMU) discussed the state of software licensing in higher education, the challenges their schools face on that front, and current trends in academic IT.
If you missed the webinar, you can watch a full recording through the link below. However, if you just want the key takeaways, we’ve got you covered right here.
In this post, we’ll focus on the challenges faced by IT and licensing staff in higher ed. Read on for a summary of the top three challenges identified by the panel, how these challenges are being addressed, and what lessons can be learned from them.
Lack of Visibility
One of the most widely shared challenges faced by the panelists was a lack of visibility into the adoption and usage of software licensed by their institutions.
“One of the things we struggled with is really understanding who’s using software and what they’re using,” said Randy Rode, Director of IT Partner Relationship and Development at Yale University. This was echoed by several others on the panel.
Without insights into how many students are using which software titles, those in charge of licensing software for an institution are flying blind. It’s hard to justify a budget for software when it’s unknown how many copies of that software are actually being used. It is known that schools commonly waste millions of dollars a year on shelfware – excess software licenses that go unused. Without the right data, schools can’t even assess how big a shelfware problem they have, much less take action to address it.
Decentralization and Inconsistency
Another challenge identified by the panel is decentralization and a lack of consistency in processes.
“One of our biggest challenges is the way we deliver software – it’s all over the place,” said Dianne Silva from Tufts University, referencing the many different websites students need to visit to get all the software they need. Aric Kirkland from EMU agreed and pointed out that this lack of consistency exists on the vendor side as well as within academic institutions. “It seems like every vendor or every software publisher has a different methodology for licensing their software and different ways to distribute it.”
The lack of centralization within academic institutions is a direct contributor to the lack of visibility described earlier. With various departments procuring licenses independently, it’s difficult to get a clear sense of campus-wide demand. This is especially true at large, sprawling, decentralized institutions like Yale but is an issue at schools of all sizes.
A third challenge shared by all panelists – and a classic in the education industry – is cost and resource management. “We’re all businesses,” said Rode while explaining that cost concerns aren’t unique to small, public universities. “Our leaders want more for less the same as everyone else’s leaders do.”
This challenge is, in part, a biproduct of the other two challenges discussed so far. Without data on product adoption, institutions can’t make informed procurement decisions, which can result in overspending. “We want to make sure our community is getting the value out of what we’re spending,” said Katherine Simonetti, another panelist from Yale. “If we’re buying 500 licenses, we want to make sure that they’re being used and that we’re getting the value out of that.”
Decentralization can also create costs for institutions when it comes to software licensing. As an example, Silva cited GraphPad Prism, a software title that can only be licensed in packs of 500 seats. The only way to get these seats at a discounted price is to buy them in bulk. And the only way to do that is to consolidate disparate orders for departments and “manage it all under one umbrella.”
Lessons and Solutions
It’s interesting to see how all of the challenges described above relate and feed into each other. Decentralized processes limit institutions’ visibility into campus-wide demand for software. Limited visibility can lead to overspending on software. Decentralization makes it hard for schools to secure the best pricing from vendors. Both make it hard for institutions to manage costs.
The good news is that schools are finding ways to overcome these challenges. The institutions represented on the panel have centralized the management of many software licenses through a single portal. This has enabled them to consolidate procurement and given them access to meaningful data on product adoption. In addition to leveraging this data to obtain better pricing, some institutions have reduced costs by implementing cost recovery through chargebacks and/or interdepartmental billing.
These are just three of the major challenges identified by the panel and a few of the methods being employed to overcome them. For a deeper dive into the problems and solutions involved in academic digital resource management, check out the full webinar or read our follow-up post on emerging trends identified by the panel.