Since joining Blackboard eight months ago, I’ve wanted to be more involved in social communications given how active many in the ed tech industry are in the space. At BbWorld, I was struck by the scope and pace of the conversation happening on Twitter, and I joined while there. Following BbWorld, I thought the blog would be a good place to share some important updates on Bb’s product strategy and news on a new role for Ray Henderson at the company.
At BbWorld, I shared some of my ideas about the future of education and the direction I think Blackboard needs to go in to support that future. Much of that is included in a video of the keynote I delivered (along with Ray Henderson and Katie Blot) in Las Vegas. If you haven’t seen it already, please give it a view.
One of the major themes you’ll hear me talk about is the need for Blackboard to have a much more integrated product strategy. I believe Blackboard has a phenomenal set of products. But since I’ve been at Bb, one of the constant things I’ve heard from clients – and from our employees – is that our products should work better together. Better technical integration of course but also a more seamless workflow and a more consistent look and feel.
Another observation I shared was the fact that despite everything, Bb has probably under-invested in its core teaching and learning product set over the years, and particularly Bb Learn.
To address some of these issues, I’ve announced some changes to move us in the right direction:
- Centralizing product management and product development across the whole of Blackboard. To date, each of our products at Blackboard has had its own separate product roadmap and agenda, and took requirements in different ways from customers and the various markets we serve. While this model ensured aggressive focus on the products individually, it has made it harder to achieve the natural synergies that a more integrated approach might offer. For example, the Bb Mobile team and the Bb Learn teams might be doing really great work, but in some cases that work could be better aligned to deliver a better experience to customers and users. In the coming months I’ll work with our teams to centralize the way we manage, develop and support all of our products (with the exception of the Bb Transact product line). We’ll do it in an integrated context that maps better to how the products play in the real world for customers and users. And enables us to take advantage of the strength of the product portfolio Bb has in a way that the company hasn’t before.
- New leaders to drive the change. Bringing together our developers and our roadmaps to create much more synergy and consistency in how these products work together will require strong leaders. Mark Strassman, our new Senior Vice President of Product Management and Gary Lang, our new Senior Vice President of Product Development will play a big role here. Some of you had a chance to meet and talk with them at BbWorld. They bring great experience in product portfolio management and development (much of it from blue chip software companies like Microsoft, Adobe and Autodesk). They’re still settling into their roles but both are off to fast starts and I’m confident they’ll put us on a solid path to meaningful integration of our portfolio.
- Doubling down on our “core.” This doesn’t mean we’ll be less aggressive with investments in individual products like Bb Learn. Quite the opposite. Bb Learn will receive a much deeper level of investment than it has received in the past. As a teaching and learning company and a product company we have to be much more aggressive in improving and fast-tracking capabilities for our flagship LMS. While we’ve already accelerated the pace of our development (60 meaningful improvements delivered in the last 12 months), look for us to drive even harder here.
Now back to the title of this blog: a new role for Ray. After four years of leading the charge for improving the experience we deliver to Bb Learn customers, Ray has agreed to take a new role with our Board of Directors. Ray’s been a strong change agent for our company and I’m pleased that we’ll continue that story with him in an important position at the company.
With the new approach we’re taking to product management and with capable leaders stepping in to strengthen our game there, this is a logical time for Ray to have a broader scope. Ray will still be involved in product strategy in many ways, and he’ll still be a key leader and ambassador for Blackboard. But in moving to the Board he’ll have the opportunity to influence a much broader set of issues than he could in his previous role. I’m glad we’ll have him to help direct the further development of the company, and I expect he’ll add a strong perspective on customer needs and product insight that the group can greatly benefit from. Read more from Ray on this transition on his blog.
We have much work in front of us to be sure, and our customers will judge us on the quality of the experience we provide to them. With Mark, Gary and now Ray in their respective new roles, I’m feeling very good about the health of our product focus and overall company direction in these important areas.
More to come.