Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

February 20, 2014

Technology Corner: Need new software?


Four years ago, faculty members in the Department of Chemistry contacted Software Distribution Services in CSSD for help in getting a site license for ChemBioDraw, a drawing tool for developing publication-ready drawings and querying chemical databases. This software program started out with a relatively small number of Pitt users (fewer than 200), primarily in the chemistry department.

Now, ChemBioDraw is used by almost 2,000 faculty and students at Pitt in chemistry, biology and engineering.

Do you know a great piece of software and want to use it for the classes you’re teaching?

Software Distribution Services helps make a broad range of software available to the University community for teaching, learning, productivity and research. In addition to managing dozens of software packages, the Software Distribution Services team receives and processes many suggestions for new software every year. We can help you, just as we helped the chemistry department. You can submit a suggestion for new software to be used in your classes, department or University-wide.

Who we are, what we do

Software Distribution Services manages many aspects of software available to the Pitt community:

  • Software made available for download through the Software Download Service on (e.g., Symantec antivirus, Matlab, Endnote).
  • Software applications available on student computing lab computers (e.g. Nvivo, Finale, Adobe Creative Cloud).
  • Software for sale or no-cost distribution in 204 Bellefield Hall and at the technology services desk at the University Store on Fifth (e.g., Parallels, Microsoft Suite, iOS Apps).

Many of the products now available began as a new software suggestion.

Suggesting software

We handle suggestions for applications to be used by hundreds of users or by much more targeted groups of students. Many of the software licenses made available through the suggestion form are small, 15- to 30-user licenses. Small-scale licenses like these are made available in the campus computing labs and utilized for coursework.

Other suggestions may be for software deployed on a larger scale, often referred to as a site license or University-wide license. ChemBioDraw falls into this category.

However, Software Distribution Services does not purchase and manage software to be used by a limited group of employees within a department. Those purchases are made directly by the department through University Purchasing Services.

Partnering with you

Software licensed for University-wide distribution can be expensive; we will work with you to develop a solid justification for its purchase. Questions we will consider with your input include:

  • Are there other faculty or staff members who need this software?
  • Will an entire department need this software for most or all of its students every term?
  • Is there already a large deployment of the software in several areas, with the potential for benefiting from merging and centralization?

Often — and together — we find that the answer to many of these questions is yes.

Talk to your colleagues. It can be helpful to have colleagues who would use the proposed software also submit software suggestions for the same product. It is very helpful to provide as accurate as possible estimations of the number of users so that the University can negotiate the best possible agreement.

Evaluation process:

New capabilities?

Cost-effective? Willing vendor?

We need to consider how this software differs from software already in place. Software Distribution Services licenses dozens of software products that cover nearly every field of study, from engineering to writing to art and everything in between. Peruse the list of available software before making a request and be able to identify the unique features of the suggested software. For example, if you are interested in a statistical package, let us know what it does that SAS, SPSS, Stata, Spotfire S+, R and Minitab do not.

We cannot say yes to every software suggestion. Price is a concern; software that is exorbitantly priced may not get approved. For University-wide licenses, we look at the number of users to determine how valuable the acquisition would be.

And lastly, we have to look at how the vendor licenses the suggested software. Unfortunately, some vendors are unwilling to modify licensing agreements to accommodate centrally managed IT services.

How long will it take?

New software agreements can take some time to work their way through all of the technical, legal and financial channels.

Small agreements, for software to be used in student computing labs, generally can be processed in about a month, but the new software then needs to be integrated into our computing lab computers before students can use it. For this reason, we establish deadlines for suggestions of software that is intended for use in an upcoming academic term.

Larger, University-wide licenses can take many months to research, negotiate and process.

What will it cost?

For faculty requests of small-scale (~30 users) software licenses to be used for instruction and/or coursework in the campus computing labs, there is no cost to the faculty member making the request.

For larger, University-wide licenses, a cost model is developed for cost-recovery purposes. The cost will be equal to or, more often, less than what users would pay on their own. Software Distributions Services’ goal is to provide software as inexpensively and with as little administrative overhead as possible.

So send us your suggestions; we’ll be waiting to hear from you!

Josh Hyman is the supervisor for Software Distribution Services.