Blackboard Inc. is known primarily as the leading learning management system provider (LMS) in higher education today, but it has also been growing throughout the corporate sector through its Professional Education division that was started in 2005.
Blackboard was launched by a small team of young, enterprising Ivy League-educated entrepreneurs during the late 1990s. In 2004, it became a successful public company. Through a good number of acquisitions and investments in new and diversified products over the years, including a popular transaction processing system called Blackboard Transact - whereby college students utilize identification/debit cards to purchase meals, books and other student services - Blackboard software and services (as of December 2010) had grown to being used by over 9,300 institutions in more than 60 countries. In 2011, Blackboard was bought by Providence Equity Partners for $1.64 billion.
Expanding Into Other Sectors
Its flagship Blackboard Learn™ LMS has also expanded beyond the education arena and into the corporate, association and government sectors. On the corporate side, in particular, Blackboard has grown to providing its LMS, under the banner of Blackboard Learn™ for Corporations, to more than 350 clients today, including the likes of such well-known companies as Westinghouse Electric Company, Intel Corporation, and Walgreens, to name a few, said Blackboard’s General Manager, Professional Education, Paul Terry. In addition, a recent partnership started with Salesforce.com in late 2010 has given Blackboard a good deal of additional exposure to the corporate marketplace, said Senior Marketing Manager, Professional Education, Lee Perlis.
Research Firm Named Blackboard Leader in Corporate Learning
A February 2010 Research Bulletin published by Bersin & Associates, LLC - a research and consulting firm based in Oakland, CA, that services HR executives and professionals - touted Blackboard as a leader in corporate learning solutions. As noted in the bulletin, “Blackboard’s corporate learning business rivals that of many of the more well-known LMS companies,” with licensees operating via its on-premise, hosted or SaaS platform. “Its revenues (which are not publically disclosed) put the company in the top LMS vendors in the market.”
Stronger Focus on Learning Opposed to Management
According to Terry and Perlis, it’s the learning part of the LMS – not just the management or administrative features and functions - that helps to set Blackboard apart from its competitors. Having started in the academic sector, where student information systems (SIS) handle the administrative functions of an educational environment, such as classroom assignments, course scheduling, and registration processes, has resulted in Blackboard historically placing a strong focus on “the learning part,” said Terry. “Most of our best corporate prospects already have an LMS and have realized that it doesn’t do the L part, the learning part, very well.”
As noted on the Blackboard Learn for Corporations website, the company’s focus in this sector highlights a suite of online learning and professional development solutions showing how the Blackboard LMS facilitates onboarding, leadership development, sales training and customer and partner training. A Client List and Success Stories section is also provided.
Joining Forces with Salesforce.com
Also making a strong impact on Blackboard’s foray into the corporate world is one of the company’s newest partners, salesforce.com. Blackboard Learn is now an App Exchange Progam partner of salesforce.com, built on the Force.com platform and integrated with the Salesforce CRM, this new application helps improve employee knowledge and retention through a more engaging social learning experience. Blackboard’s sales literature calls this solution “ideal for online sales training, sales enablement programs, on-boarding and new product rollouts.”
“Salesforce actually came to us and said they were looking for a provider in the education and training space to complement what they do,” explained Perlis. “We spent six months putting all the developmental resources together to build an integration between the two systems, and we formally launched Blackboard Learn™ for Salesforce at Dreamforce 2011 in August.” Blackboard Learn™ for Salesforce is tailored to sales trainers, managers, and account executives, giving employees and management dashboards and measurement tools to track learning progress and job performances. It features a single sign-on from Salesforce into Blackboard Learn.
Perlis said that the new partnership has “brought us to a different playing field. It has brought this whole new recognition within the corporate community.” For instance, he pointed to an advertising campaign run by salesforce.com on the front page of the Wall Street Journal in which Blackboard Learn™ for Salesforce was a featured promotion. “The brand recognition and growth from that point was something we probably would not have achieved without working with Salesforce,” he added.“Corporations are looking for ways to differentiate themselves and cultivate growth for their employees’ skills and abilities. They are looking for technologies to support that, going outside the box for new solutions.”
Terry, who is a 12-year veteran employee of Blackboard, added that since starting the Professional Education division in 2005, his team continues to “wake up every morning thinking about the users in the corporate environment, and we have routinely and significantly increased our client base.”
Written for TrainingIndustry.com