How student research informs our product direction

Posted by  Andrew Garner

I regularly get asked about Unit4 product strategy and how we make strategic decisions. This is quite a complicated and complex area, as it is for any software vendor, but it’s worth taking some time to try to explain how we do this.

Unit4 have core sectors. Education is one of those sectors, and within this there are clear areas which relate specifically to both our HE and FE customers. Making sure we’re aware of these and take them into account is something we take very seriously.

Like most vendors, we have the mix of advisory councils made up of customers, we have user groups who can vote on topics, and we have special interest groups who are dedicated to a particular area. This gives us great insight that we use across the product development cycle.

One group which is often overlooked by vendors is YOUR customers, your students. Did you know that for the last two years, Unit4 has paid an independent market research company to go to key University cities and talk to students about what they want from their University in terms of a digital experience?

We ask them about issues they face at their University, and ask them to suggest ways to improve the problems they identify. It brings us fascinating insights and is enormously valuable to our business. It allows us to plan much further ahead than the next roadmap release and it gives us insight into the expectations of your customers – the next generation of users.

Our latest project ran in four locations across the UK, and we’ve just had the results back from the research company. The ideas, thoughts and feedback are incredible; the students have all kinds of suggestions that come in all different formats, from post-it notes with written input to storyboards of a typical day – one student even suggested how we could market Wanda better!

We’re more than happy to talk to anyone who would be interested in the results, but my challenge to you is this: when was the last time you spoke to your customers about what you needed to deliver? Not via the NSS survey or other formal metrics, but actually went out on campus and asked them what they want? Try it, you’ll be amazed at the insight you’ll gain.

Andrew Garner

Andy has worked in the HE sector for the majority of his career, and joined Unit4 to specialise in Student Systems and Student Experience. During his career in HE, he has worked for several SI’s in different roles, giving him rich mixture of experience in the sector. He is passionate about making things better for students, and believes the power of higher education can transform lives. Andy has a unique perspective on how the sector works and he understands that success in the sector involves taking the time to build a strong relationship between parties, which can then be used to achieve great things together.

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