Today we announced a major new investment in real-time collaboration with our acquisition of Elluminate and Wimba. I’ll share a few thoughts here about what brought us to this step, expanding on those next week at BbWorld and further in the weeks to come.
SYNCHRONOUS EDUCATION & COLLABORATION: For much of the past decade we’ve seen synchronous education platforms emerging in education. They’ve always represented the needs of an important niche in education delivery, and are a strong complement to the asynchronous platforms like Blackboard. For most of that decade their core value has been in delivering instruction for the true distance learner. But in recent years their use has been growing in support of a broader trend towards online collaboration. This includes instructor-student collaborations in virtual office hours. It also includes many variations of student-student collaboration for team-based activities to learning cohorts. We believe these are permanent changes to the product landscape for education.
PORTFOLIO OBJECTIVE: A key objective of Blackboard is to assemble the most compelling portfolio of products and services for educators in the industry. This drive has provoked us to modify our existing offerings, invent new ones, and to acquire firms and talent to supplement our own.
CLIENT INPUT ON PORTFOLIO ASSESSMENT: A critical input to our process is listening to our clients. We sample our client satisfaction statistically about current offerings. This confirmed a need to improve the service and responsiveness for our core products. In other settings we listen for their imagination about entirely new things they can’t do. This led us to understand their need for mobile learning products that’s dominated our new product development investment. In others, we observe the market and product usage trends in areas adjacent to our own. This drives partnership programs and integration priorities most frequently, but occasionally drives us to consider expanding our offerings.
FUTURE IMPORTANCE: We hear consistently from our clients that their online infrastructure and offerings have grown from important to mission critical. And in this feedback we’ve seen them articulate a clear mission for synchronous tools to improve learning experiences of all kinds –in and around Learning Management Systems like ours, in a variety of informal settings for social learning beyond the course framework and ultimately across the institution for all manner of education collaboration. We’re still very early in the going here but to our eyes there are really interesting pointers in this realm, as is true in the mobile world, to what’s needed (more fluid presence awareness for example) to power compelling future learning experiences.
ELLUMINATE AND WIMBA TOGETHER: Both are leaders in applying synchronous learning and collaboration technology to the education context. Both have very strong technical proficiency and service levels, and enjoy high client satisfaction as a result. They’ve built strong teams and great thought leadership about the application of real-time collaboration technology to many forms of educational collaboration. And our clients have chosen both in good number so we wanted to invest in both to serve our whole community, not just a portion of it. To us it’s a potent combination, and one that provides a strong signal about our beliefs about the educational value and need for further innovation to support social learning and collaboration.
CLIENT EXPERIENCE LEADS NOW: We know well that the path to a positive future for these businesses begins with the very first step. That first step, and first focus, is an uninterrupted client experience. We brought a hyper-focus to ensuring a smooth transition for ANGEL clients a year ago. We’ll take a page from our playbook with Blackboard Mobile as well. The firms will be combined into a new division called Blackboard Collaborate which will operate as a peer organization to our other platform groups like Blackboard Learn, Transact, etc. We believe this will help us find a balance between support and independence that reflects what are unique business goals for the new group.
EMBRACING THE OPEN APPROACH TO INTEGRATIONS: Now, one of those unique goals that we’re announcing today: we intend to sustain the product integrations and business partnerships Elluminate and Wimba enjoyed with our competitors. Both had projects underway to integrate with major open source products, and both had business partnerships and integrations with the major commercial platforms. Our message to the industry is that we intend to sustain this work and the partnerships. The latter are, of course, governed by agreements between two parties. While nuanced, we believe our interests can align around collaboration technologies while we continue to compete in other areas.
LEADERSHIP: I’ll share that among the most anticipated outcomes of this news for me is the collection of leaders that will come to our halls in this combination. There’s the opportunity for an unmatched body of expertise with this team of former rivals, a blend well suited to fully realize the potential before us in collaboration. We’ll communicate with greater clarity on the full team after closing (expected in a month or so), but the early news is two-fold. Maurice Heiblum of Elluminate will take on leadership of Blackboard Collaborate and I’ll work closely with him providing guidance from my chair as caretaker for our overall teaching and learning strategy.
So that’s a first cut on the topic. I’ll share more in the coming days as the dust settles and we begin our work. As always, your comment and questions to us are welcome. Please visit www.blackboard.com/collaborate for more information.