Thoughts on the acquisition of ScoutBook.com by BSA (05/04/2015)


#1

A few weeks ago BSA announced the acquisition of ScoutBook.com, a web site that purports to be “Next Generation Scout Unit Advancement Software”. Many TroopTrack customers have asked how this affects TroopTrack, what the differences are between ScoutBook and TroopTrack, and other questions. We discussed this as a team and felt it would be a good idea to address these issues publicly for everyone at once. So here are our thoughts about the acquisition as of May 3, 2015.

Competition in the Scouting Software Industry is Good for Scouters

First of all, we believe that competition in the scout unit management software industry is good for scouters. Without competition, software companies simply don’t try as hard, and when the companies that make software for scouters don’t try, the products languish and scouting suffers. We’ve learned a lot from our competition and we intend to continue to push scouting software forward just like we have since 2008.

The acquisition of ScoutBook by the BSA is game changing and is obviously a major advantage to ScoutBook

The Boy Scouts of America acquired ScoutBook. Among other things, that’s a huge endorsement and is a major marketing advantage for ScoutBook. At TroopTrack, we aren’t going to bury our heads in the sand about that. This is going to be a big boost for ScoutBook, even more than the ScoutNET Certification Program was a big boost for TroopMaster.

That said, being acquired by the BSA doesn’t mean ScoutBook is the best. It also doesn’t ensure ScoutBook will be around in five years. It merely means that BSA owns it, and the simple fact of the matter is that BSA hasn’t exactly been the best steward of its software products over the last 30 years. Only time will tell if BSA will do a better job with ScoutBook than it has done with other software projects in the past. We are skeptical of BSA’s capability to build and support a modern software platform.

We’re Discouraged, Determined, and Financially Strong

I don’t think there is any point hiding the fact that we are discouraged by BSA’s decision to acquire ScoutBook. It will definitely hurt our growth in the short term. We are already seeing some customers leave TroopTrack for ScoutBook, and that obviously makes us sad.

We are determined to persevere. Every setback is an opportunity to improve. We are going to continue to do what we have always done - make TroopTrack better every day. We are learning from this experience and have already started making adjustments. There are two very important strategies behind ScoutBook’s popularity:

ScoutBook is optimized for small mobile devices. ScoutBook is easy to use on an iPhone or similarly sized mobile device, and that has proven to be very popular.

ScoutBook integrated BSA proprietary art throughout their marketing materials and their product, which made ScoutBook appear to have an endorsement from BSA long before the acquisition was announced.* 

We have learned from these strategies. We will definitely continue our efforts to make TroopTrack easy to use on a mobile device, and we will continue to update our user interface to make it more familiar to scouters while respecting the BSA’s copyright and licensing guidelines as we understand them.

TroopTrack is financially secure. We have been profitable for many, many years and are positioned well to endure any short term setbacks the acquisition of ScoutBook could cause for us. 

We are Scouters Too

BSA’s announcement about the acquisition of ScoutBook touts the fact that Shawn Jackson, ScoutBook’s creator, is a unit leader. This irritates me, and maybe I’m being prickly, but there’s nothing unique about that. Every software company in this industry is led by a scouter, as far as I can tell. 

So here’s our scouting pedigree. Of our seven employees:

  • Four are parents of scouts
  • Two have recently been den leaders
  • One has been a committee chair
  • One is an Eagle Scout and recipient of the Honor Medal Lifesaving Award 
  • One holds a district level position
  • One is currently a venturing leader
  • Four are former Scouts. Two of the other three are ladies.

The point is, we are Scouters too. We’re committed to Scouting and actively involved in Scouting.

 

ScoutBook is optimized for small mobile devices, not monitors.

I’ve spent a good deal of time playing with ScoutBook on my iPhone lately, trying to understand it’s appeal beyond the extremely persuasive marketing it has done. The fact of the matter is that ScoutBook is pretty easy to use on a small mobile device. That is undeniable - it’s what ScoutBook is optimized for. 

I have also spent some time playing with it on my laptop and my 27 inch monitor. I know that having a screen that big is a bit nerdy, but I was curious about what sort of approach ScoutBook had taken to make their product adapt to different sized screens. The results surprised me. ScoutBook doesn’t adapt to the size of your screen at all. It merely gets wider. I’ve included a screen shot of the mobile version of a user profile accompanied by the same page viewed on my laptop. 

This may not matter to most people, but it would matter to me. TroopTrack uses a different approach that we believe is better. We optimize your experience based on the size of your device. That means that we adjust your experience on a small device to make it easy to use without sacrificing the way it works on a larger screen. I’ve attached comparison screenshots below to illustrate this difference.

We are committed to making TroopTrack just as easy to use on a mobile device as ScoutBook. We started releasing improvements to our mobile interface a few months ago and we will continue this effort relentlessly, but we won’t do it in a way that ruins the experience of a person using a larger device.

ScoutBook allows unencrypted traffic. TroopTrack forces all traffic to be encrypted.

This may sound like nerd talk, and if you get nothing else from my article, I beg you to at least take away this one point: As of May 3, 2015, ScoutBook allows your data to be transmitted across the internet unencrypted. This means that unless you are very careful about how you use ScoutBook any information submitted to them can be easily read as it crosses the internet to and from ScoutBook’s servers. This includes your user name and password, as well as information about your scouts, where they live and when they were born.

You can test this yourself. Just go to ScoutBook.com and look at the url. It will have a little lock beside it. Now take the “s” out of https in the url (this removes the encryption). The lock goes away. That’s because ScoutBook accepts unencrypted traffic. Now try the same thing on your bank’s web site, or on TroopTrack.com. If you try to send unencrypted traffic to those sites, the site doesn’t allow you to turn off the encryption. When sensitive data is involved, accepting unencrypted traffic is reckless, irresponsible and downright stupid. I feel no compunction in having such a strong opinion here and I will not apologize for calling it stupid. This is 2015 and there is absolutely no excuse for having such a major security flaw. 

IMPORTANT NOTE: A couple of months after this post was originally published, ScoutBook
  fixed this very serious problem.

TroopTrack is more than “Unit Advancement Software”

TroopTrack does much, much more than ScoutBook. It’s not just for tracking advancement. There are many features in TroopTrack that ScoutBook simply doesn’t have, at least not yet. Here’s a list of TroopTrack features that ScoutBook doesn’t have as of May 3, 2015. It’s not meant to be exhaustive and it’s possible I’ve forgotten a few. The intent is to merely illustrate the point that there is a significant feature gap between the two products.

  • You can build a public web site
  • You can build a secure intranet site
  • You can share documents and links
  • You can create custom awards
  • You can accept payment for events
  • You can track individual money accounts for Scouts
  • You can track unit finances
  • You can create sign up sheets and checklists
  • You can define custom email distribution lists
  • You can send emails to “magic” mailing lists based on member roles
  • You can track fundraising efforts
  • You can check equipment and books in and out
  • You can produce an automated weekly or monthly newsletter

TroopTrack is a much more comprehensive solution than ScoutBook. Whether that means TroopTrack is better than ScoutBook for your unit is something you have to decide, but we are committed to doing whatever we need to do not only do more than ScoutBook, but to also do it better.

We are going to do what needs to be done to remain competitive

The big question about the acquisition of ScoutBook for TroopTrack has been how we will respond. So I’m going to put it simply: we are going to continue pushing forward. We aren’t giving up or going away. We are going to learn from the things that are good about ScoutBook and ignore the things that aren’t. We are as committed as ever to building the best Unit Management Software on the Planet.

* A brief aside about #2: It’s unclear whether ScoutBook had permission to use BSA’s copyrighted imagery on their website when prior to being acquired by BSA. We suspect they did not, since the footer of ScoutBook.com originally said they had no relationship with the BSA. Typically it would have said something like “Images used with permission of Boy Scouts of America” if they had obtained formal approval to use the artwork. This is totally speculation on my part, but I wonder if ScoutBook’s flagrant violation of BSA copyrights somehow led to BSA’s acquisition of the software.


Newsletter/Service hours Request
#2

yeah, BSA made a huge mistake, but, maybe you can market to GSUSA and see if they will be more receptive. They are making a huge push to go electronic with everything right now, and security is super important to them. Just sayin.


#3

You guys should formally ask permission to use BSA copyrighted images such as rank/meritbadge patches, etc in order to better support members of the scouting community, just to see what they say.

I would be interested if they would give you permission or not.


#4

Hi @dave,

Are there any plans for TT to integrate with Scoutbook?

I ask because I am hearing grumblings that my council may start forcing units to go to scoutbook in a year or more. I’m only hearing this through the rumor mill as this point, but wanted to ask the question anyway.

Thanks!

Scott


#5

Not at the moment. I’m not sure what we would do if BSA starts forcing units to use Scoutbook.


#6

Thanks @dave,

Right now it’s just a rumor in the council. I’ll keep you posted if I hear anything.

Regards,

Scott


#7

Ha! They won’t force ME!

Councils exist to serve the resource needs of the packs and troops. I’d organize a feedback loop for this topic with your council before the rumor gains traction.

I don’t know about your area, but in my neck of the woods, Boy Scouts are on the decline – Councils would be wise not to make things any more difficult for us volunteers than they already are!

Good luck Scott!
Mike


#8

I’ve checked in our local council and they said they haven’t heard anything similar here. In fact, we’ve recently built a product for helping scoutmasters find merit badge counselors in the area:

https://bv.trooptrack.com


#9

Thanks @dave and @njmike,

Again, it’s just a rumor. I agree, I don’t think council can force it down our throat unless all of BSA is making the change. We all know how long that could take :):):slight_smile:


#10

It was announced that next months Roundtable will be spent doing a ScoutBook training.
When I asked our DE about it, he said that National has been “encouraging” (he used air quotes) councils to promote ScoutBook.


#11

Thanks @marste3945,

We will see where all this leads.

Regards,

Scott


#12

Our council is catching up to the national push to adopt ScoutBook as a standard. They are subsidizing the subscription cost and soon to make it “free” which means they are going to build it into our renewal. I have little interest in moving from TT but, I foresee preasure from the troop in the future.

During a recent council sales pitch demo of ScoutBook I was able to do a cursory review of functionality. A large percentage of the roadmap functionality is already included in TT. They have a long way to go to catch up however, i am a poor authority on advancement as our troop has not adopted it yet. The place where i see the need for improvements in TT is sending information back to the council. I feared that ScoutBook was going to have the advantage already but that is not the case. They are still uploading advancment information using a text file, maybe more of a auto import not sure. But they are promising “tighter” integrations in the future on the roadmap. Back office is where TT can keep its edge.

So finally getting to my ask. I would like to see adding functionality to TT that will improve the annual troop renewal process. Being a realist i am not looking for automagic solutions, i feel that a few tactical additions or changes will keep us ahead. Some things may simply be discovery of things already in the product. Others will be creating some custom reports for exports. Initially the main product modifications should only be ensuring that all required information is tracked making sure it is done so it can be consumed in the renewal. The Journey to Excellence is the biggest pain point that I forsee. TT manages most of the topics involved with JTE, exporting it in a way it can be accepted by the council would be great. I have ask and expect structure descriptions to be provided, from there i can be more specific.

Any suggestions from the community on how they have used TT data to renew easily specifically involving JTE service hours, renewal rates, troop growth and contraction calculation I am all ears. Service hour entry is a huge pain point, scoutbook does not track them very well, TT seems to but need to leverage it.


#13

@mgranquistavtex.com,

Thanks for the post, love the idea about better integration into JTE!

I fear that one day we will be forced to Scoutbook. Say it ain’t so Joe!!!

Scott


#14

I have since taken on researching the ability to streamline getting service project hours from TroopTrack to what they call the JTE Dashboard. https://servicehours.scouting.org I have been told that there is no option at this time to import data. I was also told that they are re-writing the interface in the future. Their support is following up with any information they may be able to provide about the road map of such an import.

Would it be possible to add the required information to the services hours tracking and provide it as a custom report. I have attached screen shots of the service hours entry dashboard. A not now but possibly later is an acceptable answer.


#15

TroopTrack MUST work on making the achievement experience better for parents and Advancement Coordinators, especial novice parents in Cub Scouts. ScoutTrack is much better in this area.

TT MUST also improve the mobile app. Half of the profiles for scouts fail to load with an obscure error (Failed to load, retry) which vanishes so quickly it take 3 tries to grab a screenshot.

The products comprehensiveness is its best advantage; however, as a CTO/Scrum Master, who runs large and small dev projects; TT does not take the best of all (Web Page/Shutterfly/ScoutTrack/ScoutBook/Box/DropBox/Apple/Amazon/Google UI) and coalesce them into a unified experience with even decent UI/UX.

The cost for all of these features in one place is decent, but not enough to keep parents confused about their kids achievements and Committee Members asking if there is a better way.