Blackboard and SunGard Higher Education Partner To Better Serve Joint Customers

Gilfus Education Group Education Industry Predictions Make Progress

LMS & SIS vendors pick partners for the big dance The student information systems (SIS) and LMS markets have partnered up relatively quickly: examples include the established relationship between Oracle and Sakai and Campus Management and Moodle, Jenzabar’s relaunch of its e-Racer solution, and the more recently announced agreement between Datatel and Moodlerooms. Consequently, it is not surprising that SunGard Higher Education has also picked a dance partner – albeit not an exclusive one. The dark, heavy lines that have historically bounded solution areas have been graying for some time, and the one between LMS and SIS is no exception. As support and integration staff will be trained and certified on both product sets, the partnership between SunGard Higher Education and Blackboard enables institutions to break down the existing silos between these solution areas further.

It also creates an IT infrastructure that is better aligned to faculty and student needs. Currently, integration support will be for select SunGard Higher Education products with Blackboard Learn. While the biggest integration pain point lies between SIS and LMS (and therefore should be tackled first). As influential players in the higher education industry, these vendors are in a position to drive the more widespread inclusion of learning data in institutional retention efforts by providing the tools to link LMS and constituent relationship management (CRM) solutions more substantively. Sharing data across LMS, SIS, and CRM is the “holy grail” of relationship management, as it creates a 360-degree view of the student experience and includes a more complete set of factors influencing their success. A practical pairing may provide longer-term happiness While sniping at Blackboard continues to be a popular sport and many are debating whether to move to an open-source LMS, the reality is that most institutions continue to use one of Blackboard’s LMS and are likely to do so for the foreseeable future.

As SunGard Higher Education executes on its vision of an “open digital campus”, supporting the large percentage of its client base using Blackboard is crucial. While it might be cool, politically correct, and even forward-thinking for SIS providers to back open-source LMS, SunGard must still support the current and most pressing needs of its installed base, including those using Blackboard. At the end of the day, we see this as a very practical partnership from which institutions maintaining costly integration points between Banner and Blackboard Learn will realize immediate and long-term value. However, a lingering question is whether these vendors will be able to cultivate this partnership in such a way that it accelerates the client service and technical innovation gains each has made, rather than inciting squabbles over who owns the land upon which the fence sits. SunGard Higher Education has invested significantly in restructuring its organization to focus on client needs and figure instructional elements more prominently into its “Open Digital Campus” vision. Similarly, with its acquisition of Angel Learning, subsequent appointment of Ray Henderson as the president of Blackboard Learn, and rollout of mobile learning capabilities, Blackboard has also taken action to improve client support and instructional innovation. In this context, a significant new partnership in addition to working more closely with less familiar communities within their installed based (academic computing for SunGard Higher Education and administrative for Blackboard) will likely prove challenging for the two companies. Patience with (and tolerance for) ambiguous problems, the disciplined avoidance of finger-pointing, and a commitment to making this partnership work will be crucial for this practical pairing to realize its full potential.