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Software for higher education: in-house development vs SaaS

To provide students with the best higher education experience possible, universities across the world are turning to software to manage and optimise their marketing and recruitment processes. In our new ebook, we outline three key questions universities need to answer when deciding whether to build software in-house or opt for an off-the-shelf, software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution. In this blog post, I’ll explore one of these questions:


What is the scope of the business problem you are trying to address with this software, and how complex does your solution need to be to suit your business size and needs?

The Solution

Universities who decide to build their own applications often choose to do so because it allows them to customise features and functionalities according to their unique requirements. But further down the line, the scope of the application and the complexity of the tasks it’s designed to manage can begin to present an array of difficulties.


It’s increasingly difficult for a university’s IT department to craft software as sophisticated as a SaaS application. In a lot of cases home-grown solutions comprise open-source software wired together by non-specialists. This can be a cost-effective approach, but lacks the depth and adaptability of a professional software solution. Those opting to build a solution in-house have to start from scratch for each implementation. SaaS providers don’t suffer from this problem, since solutions are offered ‘out of the box’: the product has already been developed, is tested and can often be implemented in a relatively short amount of time.

Team and structure

SaaS providers already have the staff and project management expertise required to prepare a solution fit for purpose. Universities will struggle to assemble a workforce as prepared and with as much subject knowledge. Even producing a project roadmap and managing complex databases can prove difficult for small, inexperienced teams, and they will face countless other challenges during the course of development.

Business growth

Businesses are not static and with time their requirements inevitably evolve. Their software needs change accordingly. For in-house solutions, this presents more complexity in the development process. A common problem occurs when the staff members who initially developed the solution move on and existing staff have to reverse-engineer the application.

Conversely, SaaS providers are used to change. As part of a license agreement, SaaS providers implement product updates with new features on a monthly or even weekly basis. Many are also open to customising their product according to certain users’ needs and openly welcome suggestions for future developments.

Rob Parker