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Blackboard + WebCT = new Blackboard
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Paging the Department of Justice...

BlackCT? WebBoard?

Blackboard and WebCT will become one. The new company will be called Blackboard. Blackboard's CEO will lead the new company. WebCT's CEO will become a consultant.

Here's the letter that went out a earlier today to cognoscenti, movers, & shakers:
We are writing you today to directly communicate some momentous news. Earlier today, WebCT and Blackboard signed a formal agreement expressing our intent to merge our companies.

This decision is one that has been made based on careful consideration by both entities. We believe that this union will have a positive impact on the global e-Learning community and on the individual clients of both companies. We want to communicate the rationale behind the merger and to provide some of the early details on what this news means for you.

By leveraging the best of Blackboard and WebCT, we believe we can improve the online learning experience for educators and students worldwide. As a single company, we will bring together some of the brightest, most experienced talent in the e-Learning industry, and we will be uniquely positioned to share and deliver proven best practices to the combined client base. Most importantly, the combined Blackboard and WebCT community of practice will represent the largest and most comprehensive network of e-Learning practitioners in the world. We will work diligently to bring this community together to broaden access to shared expertise, reusable technologies, faculty and developer networks, and to promote exemplary course programs.

The combined company will continue to develop, innovate, upgrade, improve and support both Blackboard's and WebCT's products, WebCT Vista and WebCT Campus Edition, and Blackboard Academic Suite and Blackboard Commerce Suite. Following the merger, the combined company will be actively engaged in industry standards efforts. We will develop common, standards-based APIs, based on Building Blocks and PowerLinks, that will allow the existing product lines to interoperate with one another as well as provide a means for clients of both Blackboard and WebCT to share their applications, innovations and experiences with the global client community. Over time, the combined company will incorporate the best features and usability characteristics from the two product lines into a new, standards- based product set.

While we are eager to realize the benefits of combining our clients' collective expertise and designing future solutions, we remain overwhelmingly focused on your success today. We will continue to maintain the same level of commitment to support and service level agreements, and there will be no interruption in the service you receive today. As we build this new community, we will maintain and enhance each company's current commitment to advisory boards as well as user groups and mailing lists.

We expect the merger of Blackboard and WebCT to be finalized later this year or early next year, subject to regulatory and other approvals. The combined company will be named Blackboard and will be led by Blackboard's current President and CEO, Michael Chasen. We are pleased that several members of WebCT's executive team will remain with the combined company and join Blackboard's existing executive management team, including Chris Vento as Sr. VP of Technology and Product Development, Peter Segall as Sr. VP of Education Strategy, and Barbara Ross as Sr. VP of Integration Strategy. Karen Gage will be joining the Marketing group as a VP. Carol Vallone, WebCT's CEO, will continue with the combined company as a consultant focused on client relations and strategy. Until the merger is complete, however, each company will continue to operate independently.

In closing, we would like to thank you for your institution's business to date and request your input as we embark on this next phase of e-Learning. Additional information will also be available at www.Blackboard.com/WebCT. In the mean time, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact your current account manager.

...

We look forward to our continued partnership, hearing your thoughts and answering any questions you might have.

Sincerely,
Carol Vallone
Chairman, President & CEO WebCT

Michael L. Chasen
President & CEO
Blackboard Inc.

Comments from a couple of pals:

Could it be that the motivation for LMS consolidation is more a belief that $1 + $1 > $2 , instead of anything directly relating to product attributes, customer opinions, complimentary products/markets or competitive forces (open source, etc)?



Seems really odd Jay. The places I go and the people I meet definitely prefer WebCT to Blackboard. Most believe that Blackboard's technology is inferior. And after getting to know the WebCT management people a little bit during the past year after giving talks at their conferences and having them write a chapter in my book and having met some of the Blackboard people (who have a habit of saying no to any good idea or to say "why don't you put that in our building blocks" even if it hits them smack in the head), I can attest that WebCT people are a much more fun and better managed group of people. And WebCT has become profitable during past couple of years. So this seems odd. Why is Blackboard in charge? The industry is in real trouble now.

Could opensource tools like Sakai and Moodle be forcing such a decision?

5 Comments:

Blogger Paul said...

As with other recent mergers in the e-Learning space, the Web-CT and Blackboard marriage seems driven more by financial gain, than client satisfaction. As has been mentioned by others, Web-CT is a better platform than Blackboard. In the SumTotal Systems/Click2Learn ''merger'', the Aspen suite came out on top, leaving clients with a Microsoft dependent application, with reduced functionality.

Is there also some sinister plot afoot, to take out Java based applications, and increase Microsoft's presence in as many fields as possible? When Docent announced their ''merger'' with Click, they stated that they would support Java and Microsoft. Spot the deliberate mistake; NO JAVA SUPPORT!!!!

We live in interesting times !

4:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Paul - that it is the venture capitalists and shareholders driving this merger between WebCT and College Acquisition Sub, Inc. (a subsidiary of Blackboard). There was cash sitting in both companies so the driving force is to acquire rather than take that cash and invest it into a better product. Mergers cost a lot of money. $80 million for this particular merger is coming from a Credit Suisse in the Cayman Islands and will have to be paid down by BB. This and the $112 million in cash could have gone a long way into R&D. Both Blackboard and WebCT continue to be mired in trouble when the LMS comparisons rise above features to the truly scalable LMS vendors out there like Desire2Learn and others. Thus 1 + 1 = 0.9

3:58 PM  
Blogger Dave Lee said...

2 comments in response your and Paul's concern about WebCT being a better product than Blackboard. 1) The name being stickered on the side of the company has never had much to do with the quality of the product. If WebCT is a better product, then the new company will sell more WebCT Vista - even if they change the name of the company to Whiteboard. 2) If you have ever sold in the the Higher Education marketplace, it doesn't take long to realize that quality product is seldom considered by adoption committees on campus.

As to the 1+1>2 theory. I think you have it backwards. I think this may well be driven by a concern that Moodle and Sakai are quickly making it a proposition that 1+1<2 is, or will soon, be the more true equation.

9:33 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

This line from the announcement is some of the greatest spin I have ever read: "Following the merger, the combined company will be actively engaged in industry standards efforts." Read, "our engineers will be working overtime trying to figure out how the two products could possibly work together".

9:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I personally do not see the future of Blackboard/WebCT in developing countries at least, whether they merge or not, due to the recurring high costs and the not-yet-perfect features. I would encourage universities, particularly in developing countries, to have their IT staffs further develop/tailor the several CMT open sources out there for their own use. Several CMTs that I have come across include Drupal, Geeklog, Mambo, PHP-Nuke, phpWCMS, phpWebsite, Post-Nuke, Typo3 and Xoops offer pretty advanced and virtually adequate features, although some of them are made for corporate use.

8:55 AM  

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