Build vs. buy: Why Oklahoma Baptist chose to buy

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A state-of-the-art emergency alert system that can reliably reach the entire student body is a must for modern-day universities. “It’s really imperative,” says Gary Nickerson, IT director at Oklahoma Baptist University, a 2,000 student school in Shawnee, Oklahoma. In implementing these alerts systems, university IT directors like Nickerson face an important choice: they can develop their own product or purchase a system from a vendor.

In 2009, Nickerson began to worry about the effectiveness of the university’s existing emergency alert system. The old university-built system was out of date and unreliable. “Years ago, we had developed our own platform in-house, but it was not really robust enough to handle a large number of messages,” Nickerson says. “Our old system also did not have a mechanism for alerting us if and when students actually viewed the messages.”

At first, Nickerson considered updating the school’s old in-house platform. But he ultimately decided that exploring vendor options fit better with OBU’s limited staff resources. “We are a small school and we didn’t have the surplus personnel to dedicate to designing a new system,” explains Nickerson. “With all those dependable commercial products out there, we asked ourselves ‘why reinvent the wheel?’”

After surveying the market, Nickerson was drawn to Rave Campus Messenger, a popular emergency messaging system sold by AT&T. Rave integrates with existing school information systems and can send out mass texts to an entire university population. Oklahoma Baptist’s existing relationship with AT&T first attracted Nickerson to the Rave system. “We already had a successful partnership with AT&T,” explains Nickerson “We were quite familiar with their account representatives, since we use AT&T’s web security products.” In the end, the price point and ease of installation convinced Nickerson and Oklahoma Baptist that Rave was the right product for the university. “Rave fit with our budget, and working with AT&T we were able to get the system up and running in just a few days.”

In making the switch from an in-house system to an external vendor, Nickerson’s ultimate concern was product reliability. “With our old system, we were not 100-percent confident that the messages would get through,” Nickerson says. By partnering with a national IT provider, Oklahoma Baptist University was able to plug into a large-scale system that could guarantee swift and reliable delivery of all the university’s emergency communications. “What we really like is that if we send out a mass text through Rave, we know it’s going to get through.”

Avi Asher-Shapiro is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y.