If there is anyone who understands the pain accrediting agencies feel,
it’s me. Naturally, the people who work for those agencies feel the pain more
acutely, but for the past 15 years, I’ve watched many accrediting agencies
agonize over manual, inefficient processes. I’ve seen organizations use up to eight
different types of software to house and share data—or different divisions within the
same company use discrete, unintegrated platforms. Much like you’re wondering right now,
I often thought, “Why in the world would any organization want to house data in unconnected
systems, instead of one that covers the entire workflow of an organization?”
Of course, the answer wasn’t that they wanted to. They just didn’t have a better way.
In working with clients to streamline and automate these workflows, we’ve come across a few
key misconceptions to question the next time you look for ways to increase efficiency and
reduce costs around your processes. Some may surprise you. Interestingly, these tend to apply
as much outside the accreditation world as within.
Misconception 1: Custom is Costly
It’s happened more times than I can count—a prospective client has told me that a canned
product is less expensive and a much more mature platform. Even if that were true, what is
the cost? Canned products are, well, canned. They force you to change your processes to fit
in that can, when it should be the other way around.
Your business needs and processes likely evolved for a reason. Don’t change them, and expect
everyone in the organization to adapt, to fit a software product designed for someone else.
For an organization with a unique structure and distinct challenges, custom software delivers
the precise functionality tailored to fit you. It’s built to conform to your business requirements
and workflow. That’s not just a nice-to-have. Purpose-built software increases productivity for
everyone using it, as there’s no need to reengineer for processes that don’t quite fit or navigate
around features you don’t need.
Don’t let yourself be scared off by the word “custom.” Custom solution providers generally aren’t
starting from scratch. They take a modular, flexible and mature product, then tailor it to fit
your organization like a glove. As a result, they can often create the ideal solution quickly and
I’ve worked with dozens of accreditation agencies in my career—and spoken in-depth with many more.
Even though it’s one category, I can assure you—every agency is different. No off-the-shelf product
will suit everyone’s needs. Bottom line: Canned just can’t cut it.
Misconception 2: A Big Name Means More Choice or Better Service
In reality, custom software gives you a tremendous degree of control. You and your team can be
involved from day one, contributing ideas, defining requirements, and identifying the data and
relationships that reveal relevant KPIs. You may decide to build in features that only matter to
your organization—and you can do that. What’s more, you can forecast how your technology and your
organization will change over time, and design the software to grow with you.
There’s another immeasurable benefit that comes with building a custom software solution—a deep,
trusting partnership. As my team and I create custom workflow systems, we gain a deep understanding
of the client’s challenges, processes and people. We become invested. As a result, we’re not just
focused on improving internal processes, we want to continue to find ways to make the software work
harder as the relationship goes on. In addition to clients becoming dear, trusted friends, this
leads to incredibly powerful technology solutions.
Misconception 3: Canned Means Ready to Run
While some industries can take advantage of off-the-shelf software, many niche categories—such as
higher education accreditors—either have to adapt to existing solutions or create their own. That’s
why so many have the cobbled-together systems I described earlier.
It may be true that, when choosing a stock solution, the initial cash outlay for software or seat
licenses might be lower. That tends to change when the software is deployed. Consultants often charge
an arm and a leg to customize products like Microsoft® Dynamics, Great Plains (now Microsoft® Dynamics GP)
or Sage software. Some software disrupts the ability of other platforms to perform, and that will take time
and effort to repair. Then there’s the learning curve, as employees adjust the current workflow and create
workarounds in processes to make the software suit your needs.Off-the-shelf software is rigid and
tends to resist change, making it unable to expand to accommodate changes in your business. Upgrades
and fixes come at the vendor’s timetable, not yours. And if the vendor phases out a release or the
whole package, you’re at their mercy—forced to choose upgrading or dealing with an obsolete,
Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet—no one size-fits-all solution for accreditation agencies. In an
effort to make your organization more efficient, be careful that you don’t choose a software solution that
makes things even more complicated.