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AUTM Annual Meeting Recap: When it Comes to Apps, TTOs Shouldn’t Have to Compromise

on March 4, 2015


autm logoLast week, I was in New Orleans for the AUTM (Association of University Technology Managers) 2015 Annual Meeting. If there was one word to summarize the conversations I had with Tech Transfer Offices (TTOs) on the exhibit floor, it was “compromise.” Not compromise in terms of cooperation between two parties, but compromise in terms of settling for something less than optimal. Let me explain what I mean.

TTOs, or Offices of Technology Development (OTD), have no shortage of ideas for new apps to streamline their processes, increase staff productivity and extract insights from all the data they’re tracking. I spoke with TTOs who were interested in apps for IP & patent management, equity management, tracking distribution of revenue, and much more.

However, in nearly every case, they don’t see a path from idea to app. There are a few packaged software vendors that play in this area but because the needs of TTOs are so unique, so specific to their office, they couldn’t get exactly what they want by customizing these tools. As one university TTO put it:

“When it comes to off-the-shelf software, 80% is not 100%. We would rather not compromise.”

At the same time, building custom software the traditional way would take too long and cost too much; and TTOs lack the in-house technical expertise to ensure the desired outcomes. With no other options in sight, they turn to basic office productivity tools (e.g. Outlook, Excel, Access) to cobble together homegrown solutions that are less than optimal. They are forced to compromise.

The dichotomy is disappointing. Here you have TTOs helping their world-class universities to commercialize a staggering amount of innovation. Yet, none of that innovation is benefiting their daily lives, helping them to innovate their own processes and work smarter, better and faster.

That’s where Mendix can help. As I spoke about how our platform is helping TTOs quickly build new apps and extend existing systems to meet 100% of their needs, their eyes lit up. They would start to imagine the productivity gains from streamlining/automating their own processes. What else could they be doing with the extra time they spend now inputting or searching for information across multiple, homegrown systems?

In particular, there were a few areas of our platform that TTOs really value:

  • Visual development – While TTOs help commercialize innovations, they’re ultimately business offices with minimal technical resources. They see visual, model-driven development as a way to quickly build new apps without coding expertise. In addition, by using a common language accessible to non-technical employees, they’re more likely to get the exact solution they need, the first time.
  • Reusable templates and components – The topics of modularization and component-based development really resonated with the TTOs I spoke to. They see reusable templates and components as a way to get a leg up on addressing their most pressing needs. Rather than reinvent the wheel, they can drag and drop these components into an app and focus on customizing it to meet their specific needs.
  • Alerting and task management – Today, alerts and tasks are managed almost entirely in Outlook, which creates lots of manual work and inefficiencies. Mendix’s ability to easily integrate with Outlook and other systems and then automate notifications and tasks based on key triggers (e.g. patents due or expiring) was seen as a huge productivity booster. Coupled with sophisticated workflows and application logic, TTOs really start to see the potential to transform their operations.

If you’re a Technology Transfer Office / Office of Technology Development, I would love the opportunity to speak with you about your application needs and challenges. Leave a comment below, tweet me, or email me at matthew (dot) collins (at) mendix (dot) com.

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Matt Collins

About Matt Collins

Matt Collins is a Business Development Rep at Mendix focused on helping educational institutions across North America differentiate themselves through innovative products, systems, and processes.