• Why Usability Matters

    When evaluating scholarship management solutions, ease of use might be the most important factor to consider. The three main populations of people using the software - administrators, reviewers, and students - are quite diverse in age and technological savvy. An intuitive, well-designed user interface is essential to serving all users well and minimizing mistakes and frustrations.

    AwardSpring was specifically designed to address ease-of-use concerns that we heard from our first customers. Here’s how the application is specially designed for each of our main user groups:

    Administrators

    We know that administrators come and go, so it’s essential that even brand-new users feel comfortable and confident using AwardSpring. Intuitive drag-and-drop functionality makes it simple to add or modify questions and add conditional logic for applicants. And since AwardSpring is designed for mobile, administrators can seamlessly switch between working on a desktop, laptop, and iPad.

    Reviewers

    Some reviewers are very tech-savvy; others, not so much. The reviewer’s AwardSpring experience was designed specifically for those who may be less comfortable with technology to make it as user-friendly as possible. There’s just one button to click on each page, so it’s impossible for a reviewer to get lost. Once an application is scored, scores are automatically saved and the next application is just a single click away, saving time and effort. And everything can be done on the reviewer’s preferred device.

    "The usability of the program has helped empower our team and translates to serving our students well. It's efficient on multiple fronts. Even reviewers with no technology experience picked up on the process quickly due to how neat the system is." -Darren Echols, Director of Admissions, Lee University

    Students

    These days, students are generally very comfortable with devices and technology, but the scholarship application process may be a new experience. AwardSpring guides students through their applications step by step and automatically saves students’ progress after every answered question. Once a student completes an application, he or is is automatically applied to any other scholarships for which he or she is qualified. And of course, these tech-savvy students are able to use AwardSpring on any device they want!

    "It is very user-friendly. And the web-based system allows me to access it from anywhere and help people on the go." -Rachel Debigare, Executive Director, The Education Foundation of Alachua County

    How We Create Outstanding User Experiences

    To ensure that the user experience is always top of mind, we ask ourselves two important questions before we design anything new: Where are there opportunities for mistakes or misunderstandings? What would the consequences of a mistake be for our end users? The answers to these questions drive our design decisions.

    We use three techniques to make our application easy to use:

    --Clear, simple language. We scrutinize all of the text in AwardSpring to ensure it is accurate, clear, and easy to understand.

    --Additional explanatory text. In areas where there is a potential for confusion, we’ve included explanations that clarify the action about to be taken. Just click or tap on the question mark icon to reveal the explanatory text.

    --Confirming important changes. When a user is about to make a disruptive or irreversible change, a pop-up confirmation box details the results of the action and asks the user to confirm that he or she wants to continue. This way, we reduce the risk of accidentally making a permanent change.

    Creating an excellent user experience doesn’t happen by accident. It requires thousands of little decisions that seem individually inconsequential but result in a simple, understandable experience in the end. Every time we add a new feature, we have to consider how it fits into the administrator’s, reviewer’s, and student’s workflow. There is a significant development cost to building for usability first, but we wouldn’t do it any other way.

  • Simplify Your Day-to-Day by Leveraging the Cloud

    Whether you’re a foundation serving a unique constituency or an accredited college or university serving your student body, being able to efficiently award your applicants is a time-consuming, multi-layered process. You have to juggle applicants (who may be using many varying applications), piece together their final submission, figure out how to match them to the various awards you offer, and get them scored and awarded, all while keeping your donors in the know and satisfied with your approach. More than likely, you’re doing this with too small a staff, or in some cases, entirely on your own. This can be frustrating for everyone involved as your applicants may be confused, your donors may be lacking valuable insight, and, most importantly, you may be inundated with the volume of work and the dollars you’re leaving on the table un-awarded.

    To exacerbate the issue, it’s difficult to rely on your own IT team to deliver tools you need to ease the tension that exists in the award management process. To be fair, in a vast majority of cases, this isn’t even your IT team’s fault as they are also spread too thin and have too many competing priorities to properly service your organization. In many instances, the combination of supporting a large Student Information System (SIS), coupled with managing the core custom applications the IT organization has built, is too herculean a task to keep tackling – leaving smaller custom applications or the management of other infrastructure by the wayside and core systems in “maintenance mode”.

    There’s a solution for these problems, however. Leveraging a cloud-based platform to manage a business-critical task like award management can benefit your organization in two meaningful ways:

    1. Your new partner will focus exclusively on the problem you’re trying to solve
    2. Your cloud-based provider meaningfully reduces the burden on internal IT.

    Let us take a few minutes to better understand these benefits.

    Cloud Partners & Focus

    When you decide to take a core operational process, in this instance, your award management process, to a cloud partner, you should immediately presume some significant benefits. I’ll outline some key benefits in a moment, but first I want to talk about why these new benefits even exist. The answer, quite simply, is focus.

    As a cloud-based, or more accurately, a Software as a Service or SaaS, partner ourselves, we focus solely on delivering the best awards management platform we can possibly deliver. We over-focus on scholarships as our “awards” as that’s been our historical area of expertise, but we think largely about focusing on award management as many other award types are analogous to scholarships. Everything we do can be traced back to building the best possible awards management platform and delivering user-focused, friendly, and personalized onboarding and support. We aren’t bogged down by other products or competing internal initiatives. That’s a level of focus very few, if any, internal IT teams can provide. This level of focus allows you, as a user of a SaaS awards management platform, to make positive, meaningful changes to your day-to-day.

    Time Spent (we like to call this “Time Recovered”). When you start to take advantage of the benefits of a SaaS awards management platform, you should immediately see a shift in how you spend your time. Staff that normally tracks down completed applications, collates submissions, matches applicants to awards, coordinates reviewers and their scores, and makes awarding decisions can now rely on the platform to do a majority of this heavy lifting. This allows you and your team more time to spend helping students find the path to financial support and engaging with your donors to either drive increased gifting or identify new donor sources, or both.

    Constant Innovation. Having a partner that provides this kind of focus should also guarantee you that you’ll be provided new features to help increase your efficiency, drive more completed applicants, connect you to your donors, and provide you insight into your performance. These kinds of enhancements, both to your software and the support you receive for it, are difficult to achieve with an internally developed solution.

    A Trusted Partner. Here are some quotes that may seem cliché, but will ring true with any good SaaS partner: “We’re in it with you.” or “Your success is our success.” A good partner will always think this way. In our example, every single staff member likes to think of themselves as an extension of your office. Our onboarding and support teams want to understand your application, your opportunities and awards, and your constituents as well as you understand them. By embedding ourselves in your unique processes, we create a really interesting feedback loop: We learn your operations and become experts in your processes. » This knowledge gives us ideas for how to better build our SaaS platform and improve our support processes. » These improvements create more efficiency for you and your team.

    Reducing IT Burden

    You might be wondering how exactly adding a SaaS partner to the mix can reduce the burden on your IT staff. There’s actually quite a bit of research that has gone into this, and there’s a particularly good white paper that was released by Oracle in 2014 that covers these concepts in significant detail in case you’re interested in exploring it further (or if you’d like to provide some additional supporting data to your own IT team when pitching the concept of using cloud services). But on the surface, the benefits for your IT team boil down to a few key points:

    Staff Reduction or Repurposing. By moving core business processes to the cloud, your IT team can either get along with fewer resources thanks to the smaller internal IT footprint or these IT folks can be repurposed to focus on other core initiatives.

    Reduced Operating Costs. As your organization embraces the cloud, your IT team will see their footprint reduced, which drives down expenses on physical infrastructure, licenses, and other overhead related to hosting and maintaining business-critical applications.

    Improved Performance and Scalability. When you partner with a SaaS provider, performance and system availability generally become cornerstones of delivery. For example, we pride ourselves on building specific Service Level Agreements (SLAs) into our contracts that give our partners something tangible to expect out of the performance of our platform. In order to meet these requirements, your SaaS partner must keep their environments flexible to scale as you grow (and their volume of partners grows).

    Hopefully the tangible benefits I’ve outlined that are created by a partnering with a focused SaaS provider encourage you to take the plunge into moving your awards management processes to the cloud. Taking this step not only benefits you and this core business process, but also helps reduce the strain on your IT staff, creating wins across your organization, and most importantly with your applicants and donors. And for what it’s worth – we’d love it if you took the plunge with us. Drop us a note if you’d like to hear more.

    Thanks, and come join us in the cloud.

    Kurt Reilly
    Co-Founder & CEO
    AwardSpring

  • AwardSpring and Arbor Day: The Positive Environmental Side Effect of Optimizing Scholarship Management

    We here at AwardSpring pride ourselves on providing a platform and corresponding world-class service to organizations seeking a meaningfully optimized approach to managing their scholarship offerings. By nature (pun intended), we’re also able to help reduce the impact on the environment through the reduction of paper waste by transitioning organizations from paper-based, manual processes to a digital, paperless system.

    Let’s say you’re an organization with a 5-page application that garners 250 applicants. And, because you haven't optimized your application down to a single questionnaire (like you can with AwardSpring, wink wink), you have 4 different applications to cover the dozens of scholarships you offer. This means you are receiving, at minimum, 5,000 sheets, or 10 reams, of paper per award cycle. (Also consider shipping materials required and fossil fuel emissions generated to ensure those applications are delivered!)

    So, what does that mean for the environment? Research shows that every adult pine tree, the standard tree used for making paper, can produce about 15-20 reams of paper. If you can eliminate 10 reams of paper from use in one award cycle alone, you’re saving almost one entire tree from needing to be used for paper. Imagine what our industry can accomplish if we move scholarship management online and away from paper-based application processes!

    The best part? This is simply a positive side effect of our core mission to provide customers with a remarkably easy-to-use, cloud-based scholarship management platform that drives an increased number of applicants, and decreased workloads for you, your administrators, and your reviewers.

    We call that a win-win.

    Happy Arbor Day from the AwardSpring Team!

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