Survey maps software expectations

Educators and technology vendors agree on the need to define a clear vision, priorities, and goals when implementing software in schools–but they disagree on the duration of on-site tech support that should be provided to make this happen, according to a recent survey.

The survey by the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) found many agreements but also some key differences in what educators and vendors view as the most important elements to a successful software implementation. SIIA says its survey is illuminating for both buyers and sellers of school technology, and the group has created a set of guidelines for how educators can ensure the success of future software projects, based on the survey’s results (see sidebar).

For its survey, SIIA polled some 40 educators and an equal number of software vendors in February and March. Complete results of the survey won’t be available until May, but educators got a preview of the results at the Florida Educational Technology Conference last week.

Karen Billings, vice president of SIIA’s education division, said it was “heartening” to see so many points of agreement between educators and vendors, suggesting that the two sides are largely on the same page when it comes to implementing software.

For instance, both camps agree that successful software planning begins with educators and vendors articulating a clear vision, purpose, and goals for the software’s use, and with schools designating a single point person to oversee the project. Educators and vendors also agree it’s “very important” for the vendor to clearly communicate the requirements needed for a successful software implementation–including any necessary technical specifications–and to provide on-site support for the initial rollout.

But the two sides disagree on the importance of testing the software in the actual setting in which it will be used. They also disagree on how long the vendor should provide ongoing, on-site technical support: Vendors speak in terms of days and months, while educators talk in terms of years.

Nearly 90 percent of educators called testing the product in the environment in which it will be used “very important,” while only half of software vendors agreed–and 14 percent said it was “not very important.”

“Educators want to make sure the product works in their circumstances; they are more skeptical than vendors,” said Billings in explaining the results to conference attendees.

Those in the audience agreed.

“There’s a constant mantra by vendors: ‘Well, it works everywhere else–I don’t know why it doesn’t work for you,'” noted one frustrated educator, who added that each school’s technology needs and environment are different, and vendors should recognize this when selling their products to schools. The message from educators to vendors: Be prepared to test your software on site before it goes “live,” and you’ll cut down on the time it takes to implement the system.

Another disconnect came over ongoing tech support. Both educators and vendors agree that off-site support (by phone or internet) should be provided for the life of the product–but on-site support was a different matter. Forty-five percent of educators, but just 10 percent of vendors, said on-site support should be provided for a period of “years.” The results were essentially reversed when the on-site support period was described in terms of “days,” with 41 percent of vendors, but just 16 percent of educators opting for the briefer period.

“This is a large school district,” one survey respondent reportedly said. “Our educators have varying degrees of knowledge of technology use. Without local support, many technology implementations flounder, even with the best planning.”

There was a similar disconnect over the importance of round-the-clock tech support. Forty-six percent of vendors–but only 3 percent of educators–think 24-7 help-desk support is “not very important” to the maintenance phase of software implementation.

Educators also expect more vendor involvement in software training than vendors expect for themselves. A majority of educators said it is “very important” for vendors to provide in-person training, while fewer than 40 percent of vendors agreed.

“The biggest challenge to implementation is usually a lack of adequate training or time for training,” one respondent said.

For educators, the survey results point to the need to “align expectations where there is disagreement” with vendors, SIIA said in its summary of the results. The group said its “Guidelines for Successful Software Implementation” offer a good starting point for such discussions.

After May 1, educators can get additional information about the survey and guidelines at


Software and Information Industry Association

Dennis Pierce

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