I’ve always been inspired by John Wooden, the legendary college basketball coach. His records have endured for decades but I think his most lasting legacy may be his wisdom about leadership. In particular I like his quote “It’s the little things that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” Coach Wooden believed that by mastering fundamentals, you’d be prepared for whatever unexpected circumstances you might encounter.
Taking inspiration from Coach Wooden, last year I identified four key areas as Blackboard’s fundamentals: client support, transparency, openness and quality. And over the last year, we’ve provided lots of attention to these areas with the belief that if we can steadily improve them, the bigger things will take care of themselves.
I provided an update on our efforts in these areas at BbWorld, offering my first annual report card during the corporate keynote that Michael Chasen and I presented. In case you missed it, we’ve included the full video among a wealth of new resources now online at BbWorld.com. In the video Michael starts, I hit the report card in the middle, and we close with NG and Blackboard Mobile videos. Here’s a snapshot of my report card:
- Client Support: When I arrived at Blackboard, I knew that client support needed lots of improvement. I also knew that the kind of improvement we sought takes time. So we got the whole organization focused on this issue. We added staff. I played client to see what the experience was like. But most importantly we looked at the hand-offs – the places where tickets could get stuck in transit – and improved our internal SLA’s around them. And we did a better job understanding why tickets arrive in the first place and applied our resources to proactively reduce them. I’m pleased to report that as a result of these efforts our 7 and 30 day ticket closure rates have improved sharply – amounting to the largest jumps in either direction since we’ve been measuring it. And responses on client satisfaction surveys have risen along with them. GRADE: Improved.
- Transparency: Clients told me that they wanted to get behind our marketing veil. To get greater access to our thinking, and the rationale behind our decisions. They wanted us to be more transparent. So I’ve personally tried to be more visible and participatory in industry dialogs. I’ve taken on some controversial topics, and shared more about our thinking and rationale for major directions we’ve undertaken here on the blog. I’ve made myself available when asked to attend industry, press and community events. It’s a trend I’m keen to continue, and I thank those of you who’ve engaged in conversation with me in these forums. GRADE: Improved.
- Openness: This one’s close to my heart. Last year I pledged that Blackboard would support the Common Cartridge and its sister standard, Learning Tools Interoperability. And despite initial skepticism, we’re making progress. In May, we showed a working prototype of Common Cartridge at a key standards meeting, and at BbWorld I announced our plan to support Common Cartridge and LTI by the end of 2010 for Blackboard Learn Release 9.1. We also made another big announcement at BbWorld: that we’ve opened the database in our latest release, borrowing a page from the ANGEL book and responding to this longtime request from Blackboard clients. As I’ve said before: we believe that your data is your own. Our job is to help you protect it, to access it, and to use it to inform the decisions you make. Starting with the Release 9.1 Service Pack 1 that is available today, clients now have access to the schema and report engine to write custom queries and reports. And ideas can be shared with others in the Blackboard community. GRADE: Improved.
- Quality: We’ve made dramatic changes in our investment and approach to quality improvement this year. And we’re looking at quality in a much more expansive way. The NG playground created early access to some features, and with the feedback we heard from customers we were able to close out 100% of the bugs that were reported by SP1. By this and many other metrics, Release 9.1 is by far the most stable release we’ve had. We also improved our upgrade center and tools, and established a guided cohort program - borrowing an idea from academe – that hundreds of clients have signed up for to learn from each other as they head through the upgrade process. Clients who were part of the first cohort reported great satisfaction with the process. In addition, we created high quality video tutorials in the On Demand Learning Center for improved help and onboarding new users. And the quality story goes beyond upgrades - recently the National Federation of the Blind certified Release 9.1 with their highest honor for accessibility for the visually impaired, making ours the first and only LMS to achieve this certification to date. GRADE: Improved.
Let me be clear. We’re not declaring victory in any of these areas. Not by a long shot. But I’m confident that in each area we’re headed in the right direction, and your survey responses and direct feedback confirms that. So our report card shows improving marks, evidence of progress we’re making in better balancing our priorities and being more client focused. Many of you shared your feedback on these grades at BbWorld. Looking forward to your comments here on the blog – tell me what you think.
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