The Anatomy of Accreditation Software

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Indigo Interactive has been building accreditation management systems for over 10 years. Since our first system, our software has evolved from basic functions such as data collection to a more intuitive and sophisticated platform for agencies to use. Our team's ingenuity has grown to expand using existing technologies as well as creating our own. I've found this to be a driving factor of many of our current research and development projects, most recently, Jura.

The Jura accreditation management system is the first-ever SaaS (subscription-as-a-service) model for the higher education accreditation industry. This platform was crafted by our team in effort to streamline our custom software for mass use and began in 2013.

Determining Our Goal

It all starts with goals. What are we looking to accomplish, and how does this align with our company's mission? Agreeing to a set of goals was the very first thing we did with Jura because the goals shaped the pathway we took and helped to drive each decision we made. We determined that these goals were most important:

  1. Above all else, we want to disrupt the market
  2. Obtain two accrediting agencies to partner with prior to launch
  3. Secure monthly revenue

Design Approach

How exactly were we going to execute a product that has never been created before? Our muse for the Jura accreditation system was based on the MVP motto. Minimally Viable Product (MVP) was the driving force behind successfully creating the software. We knew that we had to nail the basics before we could be responsible for adding flashy features. Overbuilding software can not only damage costs, but eat up resources and more often, you end up building features and functionalities that were never needed in the first place.

Image for the Jura Design Approach

Custom software is engrained in our team's blood, so switching from unique systems for each of our clients to one system that can be used for a variety of organizations was an incredible turn. In order to keep our goals in check, we constantly hypothesized and validated our research and vision. This helped to hold ourselves accountable and kept everyone involved. No matter what, we kept our goals clearly defined to remind us if we were on track.

Analysis & Market Segmentation

In order to disrupt an industry, you have to understand the market. We spent weeks analyzing our competitors - drawing positive and negative differentiators from each, including ourselves. From this analysis, we determined where we were succeeding and where we were coming up short. Most importantly, we determined where voids existed.

Our market segmentation was strenuous and opened our eyes to our own assumptions about the industry. We compiled pages of data sets that helped us determine:

  1. The industry numbers as a whole
  2. Who in the market were already served by us and who were served by our competitors

We were then able to determine the unserved market which allowed us to break them into subsequent categories for size. This process included our research to help predict future markets. Taking this approach helped us find who would benefit from our accreditation software and how we can best serve them. Jura's target market became the smaller accrediting agencies that might not be able to design a custom accreditation management system at this time.

Workflows & Wireframes

Using our research, we developed user personas that outlined the needs of potential users of our accreditation software. Each persona represented a user group and their specific behaviors. User personas are common throughout software shops that have a high focus on user experience design, they help you determine interactions and needs before building out the system.

image for Jura User Personnas

After we understood our potential users, we broke down the main functions of the accrediting process, from the initial request for accreditation services to the self-study, site visit, and accreditation decisions. We stripped away overly complex needs to allow us to give as much flexibility as possible for accrediting agencies from different walks of life. We also researched other subscription-based software to see what they did well and what they weren't able to deliver and used those as examples to include or improve in our system.

This lead to our initial wireframes - uncomplicated, basic outlines that helped clarify the workflow and functionalities we'd be building. The revision process was a cycle of editing based on feedback, and once we felt as if we could not improve any further, we created the stylesheet. The Jura system is not only structured to work well from gridviews and transitions, but the style was carefully planned and implemented. We believe good workflows deserve good design and because of that, we've created something no one else has. Every icon in Jura is a custom icon we created and is designed to guide our users skillfully through our accreditation software.

Development & Testing

We developed the Jura software based on a modified agile approach. As iterations of development were completed, our team would test and provided immediate feedback. Our timeline allowed us the luxury to make improvements where needed, and ultimately have the system securely ready for our first client to test.

We originally anticipated having users setup their own system with the aid of dashboard steps, but later determined that the first few steps would be setup by our team to ensure the structure of each account was stable and the foundation was correct. This was one of our biggest realizations as we worked with our clients and team members. We also received valuable insight from our beta testers that enlightened us on immediate needs and features that would be helpful at a later time.

Afterthoughts

We were fortunate that our clients provided such significant insight into the reality of the Jura accreditation software. As we continue to add features and modules into the Jura AMS, we are aware of the need to validate assumptions with our customers and let them help us build the right things. Though Jura has taken a long time to study, build, and execute, our team is confident that without these steps, the system would not be as successful as it is today.

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Posted by Jamie Fiedler

Image of Jamie Fiedler
As VP of Product for Indigo Interactive, Jamie Fiedler defines and drives the product strategy. Co-founding Indigo, Jamie has helped to build a team of strong design technologists. Jamie focuses on User experience Design (UX), User Interface Design (UI), Workflow Automation and Client Services to deliver beautiful and usable software as well as currently leading the initiative on R&D for new products.