So, about three months ago I got off the plane from Beijing to start my new assignment at Blackboard, working with Barb Ross on integrating our combined company’s operations. I’ve been with Blackboard since 1999, but while I was in China Blackboard had gone public and announced its merger with WebCT, so I was pretty interested to see how things had changed.

Having left DC at the end of 2003 to begin Blackboard’s joint venture company there, and with a return trip to the US every 4-6 months in the intervening years, I had kept pace with Blackboard in some ways but, to be honest, a 12 time zone differential has a way of providing you with a pretty fair amount of distance and separation from the home office. I had a fairly clear recollection, however, of two companies who were fiercely competitive and equally passionate about the future of e-learning.

Three months, six trips to Lynnfield, one trip to Vancouver, and a side-trip to Troy, AL later, I have to say that these two companies have a lot more in common than I expected. Perhaps it’s just because I got so used to Chinese universities telling me why American software was not very appropriate (in Chinese society no one would ever be so impolite as to call it “inappropriate”) for the Chinese market, but my observations so far: * Each company was started at roughly the same time, and so has gone through roughly the same infancy, adolescence, and perhaps we’ve even reached our young adulthood. (Compare this to China’s 5,000 years of culture, about which I was reminded every time I talked about the enormous progress made over the last 10 years in the field of e-learning.)

* Each company’s demographics are remarkably similar – the average tenure, work experience, and even the resumes of people in various departments seem to be within 10% of those in corresponding departments. (OK, I made up that 10% number, but it must be awfully close to that.)

* Each company’s internal organization was roughly the same, with, for example, the accounting, sales, marketing, and training teams doing about what you’d expect each of these teams to be doing. Sure, it’s true that at Blackboard there has been a PAB (pronounced pab) and at WebCT there has been a P.A.B. (pronounced pee-ay-bee), but nevertheless we have found that the teams are coming together very quickly. Interestingly, the passion that people feel for our clients comes through in nearly every integration meeting of which I’ve been a part – sometimes resulting in fireworks, which may be noisy and dramatic but also, frankly, can be quite inspiring.

* Meeting many people at Blackboard for the first time, and nearly everyone at WebCT for the first time, it’s clear to me that the similarities in our people and our businesses will result in swiftly, but not hastily, becoming a combined organization that operates as one, for the benefit of students and teachers eager to take advantage of the benefits of e-Learning.

Monday, we will host our first Merger Advisory Council. As was mentioned in a recent client newsletter, the first task – choosing whom we should invite from among such an informed, collaborative, forthright client base – was a very significant challenge. With representation from four continents and a real mix of institution size, stage of implementation, student population served, the sessions promise to be lively, engaging, and I’m sure challenging. During these sessions we will have the opportunity to review the progress we have made toward realizing the potential of our companies’ combined energies being focused at e-learning 2.0, toward defining our product roadmap, and toward offering a complete solution as part of our standard programs that enables institutions to achieve their e-Learning objectives and strategies. I’ll be updating this regularly with information that I hope our audience finds useful and timely.

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