A Pioneer’s Market: How Innovation is a Vendor’s Key Differentiator

A Pioneer’s Market: How Innovation is a Vendor’s Key Differentiator


A successful vendor partnership involves innovative thinking from both institution and vendor.

"The most creative places—those that are seen as innovative—are the ones constantly looking for ways of being better. If we are simply satisfied with things as they are, we not only don’t get better, we tend to become even weaker, because people and even institutions never remain the same. They either get better or they go backwards."

—Freeman Hrabowski III, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Vendors have many things to offer their partner institutions but one factor often gets overlooked. Innovation is key to an institution’s long-term growth. It is a way forward and a way to clearly distinguish one institution from a plethora of competitors. Many vendors may claim to offer innovative services or an innovative way of thinking, but how does an institution determine if a vendor is truly a leader in innovation?

It’s helpful first to look at what an innovator is not. Here are some guidelines:

  • An innovator does not cut corners in order to achieve results.
  • An innovator does not merely tack on an addition to pre-existing technology.
  • An innovator does not create a product built on bolted-on solutions. 

Innovation goes hand in hand with good communication and client care. In order to be innovative, vendors must have a deep understanding of what their partner institution wants and needs. Innovative vendors recognize the challenges and the end-to-end processes their customers are using every day. These vendors bring an extensive understanding and passion to their projects, using solutions that are built into their overall products and designed for optimal long-term growth.

Innovation is not limited to product development. Vendors can bring a variety of fresh perspectives to a partnership that can help institutions see their own inefficiencies and challenges in a different light. By choosing a valued, industry-leading vendor, institutions can begin to challenge their own structures and systems and adapt them to fit in the increasingly competitive landscape. By doing this, institutions are better prepared to serve students in the manner they have come to expect.

Here is what one university administrator had to say about why innovation is important to succeeding in this market:

“Innovation is dominating where adult students buy their own education with their own funds and switch if they are not happy. To serve that 73 percent of the market well, schools need to think of students as customers. This means blending brand and innovation for the best offering, services and value.”

—Hunt Lambert, Dean of Continuing Education and Extension, Harvard University

Just as institutions must keep innovation top-of-mind when selecting a vendor partner, vendors will be choosy about which institution to formalize a partnership with. Pioneers will select institutions that also have a desire to adapt and provide services in unique ways. Higher education institutions are notorious for being slow to change and hesitant to shake up the status quo. This kind of attitude is ultimately detrimental to an institution’s long-term growth.

Here is what one industry leader had to say about this:

"If you have this cultural stance within an institution wherein they’re not open to experimenting with [a] particular vendor, that vendor could really be doomed to fail. From the vendor’s perspective, there needs to be an understanding that there is some kind of … shared culture and shared goals."

—Michelle Rhee-Weise, Senior Research Fellow, Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation

Innovation must be a high-priority area for institutions looking to secure their futures and adapt to the changing needs of the market. By partnering with a pioneer who understands an institution’s unique needs and can deliver sophisticated results, institutions will differentiate themselves better from their competitors.

Cost Savings and ROI

Last updated: February 1, 2021


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