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Blackboard provides a roadmap to the cloud for higher education

05 Sep 2016

The widespread availability of business-grade “as-a-service” (aka cloud) offerings is affecting all industry sectors, and higher education is no exception. However, while the institutional discussion regarding cloud has moved from “if” to “when,” most organisations are still challenged as to the practicalities of how they get to the future state. At the recent Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference (TLC) in Sydney, Australia, Blackboard laid out a transition plan to help institutions manage the move while minimising disruption.

Real-world institutions need real-world solutions

Ovum has previously identified that the organisational advantages accruing from using true as-a-service solutions are so compelling that for anyone fortunate enough to be setting up a greenfield institution, cloud service delivery would be the default starting point. The benefits available in maximising organisational agility, minimising capital requirements, and moving to a “continuous delivery” paradigm that avoids the massive, risky “big bang” upgrade cycles of the past are undeniable.

Unfortunately, most existing organisations are not in that lucky position, and while technical, administrative, and faculty staff agree on the future benefits, institutions have various legacy non-SaaS systems that they utterly depend on. For institutions investigating their cloud options, it is commonly the case that there are significant user experience differences that, when compounded by concerns regarding performance and data jurisdiction, make wholesale migration to the cloud quite daunting.

At its recent TLC event in Sydney, Blackboard announced the availability of its Learn SaaS product, hosted on Amazon Web Services (AWS) in Australia and New Zealand, to strong support from the assembled delegates. With the same user experience, functionality, common license, and code base as its existing on-premise and managed hosted offerings, Blackboard aims to minimise the friction involved in moving to the new world of SaaS.

Recognising that institutions will need to transition at their own pace, the company laid out an illustrative roadmap that allows migration to SaaS without any visible change for end users. This can be followed by a transition to the new Ultra user experience in alignment with student and faculty change management processes. The ability to migrate individual departments to Ultra as they are ready, rather than manage a big-bang deployment across thousands of users, significantly reduces the change management overhead and project risk.

With SaaS adoption increasing across all application suites, institutions should develop an individual roadmap that takes account of their business and academic priorities to ensure they can harness the manifold benefits of SaaS delivery as soon as possible. In the case of learning management systems, Blackboard has provided an eminently practical example of how this can be achieved.

Article by Al Blake, Ovum principal analyst.

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