Coming soon: Communications

Our upcoming release includes a number of new Communication features—they're even gonna get their own tab. In addition to upgrading existing features like Mailing Lists and Email Templates, we're also adding some new items, like Printed Letters and Custom Page Layouts.

And, the centerpiece of Communications: Communication Plans. These gather Email, Printed Letter, and To-Do templates into a series of automated events that structure how you correspond with your contacts.

http://vimeo.com/12374136

Say you're in touch with a prospective student. On his profile's Activity Feed (another new feature), you add a Communication Plan, and a whole series of emails, letters, and tasks are instantly scheduled. On Day 1 of the Plan, it sends an introductory Email. On Day 2, a Printed Letter goes out (via the new Print Queue), accompanying some additional materials about your college. On Days 7 and 14, follow-up phone calls hit your To-Do list. And so on. Plans help ensure that all the steps get covered, that no student falls through the cracks, and that your communications stay consistent and focused.

While we built them with the admissions process in mind, they'll be just as useful when you're working with donors, current students—or anyone else you can think of.

Two other things coming up in Communications: Mailing Lists will keep a history of what you sent to them (Emails and Printed Letters), including stats on how many people opened a particular Email. And Page Layouts will let you upload an Open Office template so you can customize the look and feel of your Printed Letters. You'll be able to upload templates for normal documents, mailing envelopes, and mailing labels.

These features are just around the corner. We think they'll make Populi even more useful to your college.

The new profile: a preview

As we mentioned recently, our upcoming release features a pretty substantial re-design of the Profile. The new Profile improves how information is organized and presented; further, it accommodates some new features (and some other things we'd like to do down the road). We think it's pretty magical and revolutionaryat an unbelievable price, to boot.

Many things spurred the re-design. The original profile was built around the functionality that Populi had at the time (pretty much just Academics and Admissions in the early days). But Populi's subsequent expansion filled the Profile to bursting, and it just wasn't as simple to navigate as we wished. Further, there were new features we wanted to introduce that just wouldn't fit in the old Profile. And, of course, we've had a good look over the past few years at how our users employed certain Profile features as workarounds for what they really wanted to do. For instance, almost everyone used Profile notes to store email correspondence. We really needed to make that easier on our users—and, we hope, more useful and enjoyable.

Without further ado, here's a brief video introducing the new Profile.

http://vimeo.com/11870432

And, should you care to have this in writing...

Basics

Wherever you are on the new Profile, you'll see the person's ID Photo, Roles, and Tags, as well as a quick Email link and a phone number so you can easily contact the person. Along the top are tabs to the information you’re looking for—Academics, Admissions, Financial, and so on. The basics are right there no matter which tab you’re on.

Activity Feed

The new Profile starts on the Activity Feed.

On the left side is the past: a complete history of your interaction with this person—notes, emails, letters, files, and to-dos that you or others have added. You can filter the Feed down to show particular items and people.

On the right is the future: to-dos and scheduled communications coming up with this person. It’s a complete summary of what you need to do and when you need to do it.

Speaking of communications, the new profile incorporates Populi’s new Communication Plans—scheduled emails, to-dos, and printed letters that help structure your interaction with your people. This’ll be really handy for Admissions staff who want to keep up with their prospects.

Bulletin Board

The Bulletin Board has been upgraded to a simple social networking tool for everyone at your school. Post updates on your board, leave comments on other people’s boards, and follow other people to get their updates fed directly to your bulletin board.

Info

Info shows basic personal and contact information—address, hometown, relationships, and so on. The new utility button which lets you do things like Reset a Password or Export an ID Card.

Academics

Academics gathers up all of a student’s academic information. On the left, the big-picture stuff like the Transcript and Degree Audit. On the right, the details: student information, courses, degrees, awards, discipline. Use the Utility button to export a grade report, schedule, transcript, or lock the student’s grades and transcript.

The new layout gives you all of the student’s academic information on one screen. Now you can do things like check the Degree Audit and compare it side-by-side to the student’s upcoming courses without changing pages.

Registration

Online Registration is the same familiar interface; the Utility button lets you lock a student’s Registration.

Admissions

The main Admissions screen hasn’t changed much. But don’t forget the Communications Plans on the Activity Feed; we built those to enhance other important Admissions workflows.

Financial

Financial’s generally the same, too, but we’ve improved a few things. The Current screen is now called the Dashboard—it gives you the overview of the student’s financial picture and lets you record payments. By Term still zooms in to the Financials for individual Academic Terms. The new History screen lists all of the student’s past transactions and lets you filter down to see particular transaction types.

Two other improvements: the Utility button lets you apply a Financial Lock to the student’s account. And invoicing lets you select individual pending charges to include on the invoice.

The long and the short of it

The new profile lets you track more information on people than ever before while at the same time making that information even easier to find.

The sales process noise

We started Populi because small colleges didn't really have anywhere to turn for good software that doesn't slaughter the budget. Over time, we've tweaked and tuned our business to reflect our other principles—principles we formed in part just to be contrary to the way business is done in the college software industry. We hope that we're cultivating a simpler, more honest, and even refreshing way of doing business.

For instance, we've always believed in just telling you what we charge. No nonsense, no mystery, no "sit-through-a-pitch-first" hoo-hah. To our knowledge, none of our competitors publish their prices (most of them won't even publish pictures of their software). From what many schools have told us, you have to get deep into the sales process to get a basic price quote. And then the sales process wears on as the quotes get modified and the options get haggled over. The fine print and terms of service sprout as many configurations as the software. You need lawyers and consultants to figure out what you're actually buying.

We self-consciously decided long ago that we wanted no part of this. We just don't want to contribute to the sales process noise colleges must endure when they look for new software. Our website reflects that principle. If you want to find out  what we offer, what we're up to, how to get a hold of us, how the service is holding up, or what our Terms of Service are (among other things) you can, easily. And if your curiosity's piqued, you can just as easily sign up for a live demo.

But we still have to contend with how laborious the industry has made procuring college software. Recently, one college went with Populi not just because it was the best software they had seen, but because other vendors wouldn't cough up a price quote without weeks of the sales process din. Even though some of their prices came in lower than ours (outsourcing support and development overseas is cheap), the work it took to get a number out of these companies told the college what it needed to know about them.

Another school told us that a competitor—one of the big guys with all the big-company overhead—had "underbid" us by a pretty serious chunk of change (when projecting the cost over the minimum five-year contract the competitor required). Of course, our competitor was leaving a few things out that the college still had to negotiate for. Things like a user interface, which, last we heard, would run the college around a hundred grand. That attractive five-year price quote wasn't for an actual information system so much as it was for a database with no way for the average user to... well, use it.

Maybe we're just being naïve, but we honestly do think that if we're daring enough to ask you to pay us to handle your sensitive data, we ought to earn your trust. And so we figure that simply telling you about us upfront seems to be the best way to start that.

Populi makes college management simple. Hopefully we can help make the sales process simple, too.

Populi on the iPad

Unless you've been living on a boat in the middle of the Pacific with a broken radio, you're most likely aware of Apple's new iPad, which—as of last Saturday (April 3)—is now available to the public. One first-day-adopter, a new customer of ours, told us this morning that "Populi (like everything else) is GORGEOUS on the iPad."

Since we're not in this business to plug Apple products (though it's worth noting that most everyone here uses—and loves—Macs), here's the Populi plug: Populi looks good on the iPad because it's built according to web standards. Web standards are standardized technologies that make browsers and websites work better, look better, and stay more secure (among other things). As the web becomes a bigger part of our day-to-day lives, standards-compliance becomes more necessary—especially for critical software that handles information-intensive things like college management. We saw this early on, and from the get-go, Populi was built to be standards-compliant.

As a result, Populi runs beautifully on standards-compliant browsers* like Chrome and Firefox... and, of course, Apple's own Safari—the built-in browser on the iPad. So our customer's report makes perfect sense. We're actually pretty excited about the iPad's potential in the classroom, and since Populi won't require any jerry-rigging to work on it (it doesn't even require an app), the device could give students and faculty access to everything they need from the program.** We'll see what happens.

*It'll run on Internet Explorer, too... but since IE is not standards-compliant (less secure, more buggy, and slower) we don't recommend it.

**Populi will also work on the iPhone and iPod Touch. They have Safari built-in as well (though the viewing experience is tiny), and there's also the Populi iPhone app (get it here).

Some astonishing numbers

This one's interesting to us because Washington State University is only about ten miles away from the Populi office... and because the numbers are so huge. According to this story in WSU's Daily Evergreen (the campus newspaper), the University is about to embark on a two-year, $15 million project to upgrade the "core information systems" to make things like the course catalog and student accounts accessible to students. One Michael Corwin, formerly of the University of Texas, will pull down $140,000 a year overseeing the project. Previously, the University had requested $1 million to "study their options".

We looked at our pricing page and roughed out some numbers for the 25,000+ student University. Figuring they'd go for the "Large" pricing plan, WSU could have Populi for about $1.3 million a year, and in 11 years, they would have spent what they're spending just to get their new system set up.

Now, we're not exactly aiming Populi at the State University market, but we did want to share our "same-planet-different-worlds" moment with y'all... especially that request for a million bucks just to study the options. We're sure Mr. Corwin's gonna earn his salary, and we're willing to admit that $15 million will get you some software... but 1,000,000 clams just to see what's out there? Astonishing.