The New Year is a time when many of us reflect on the successes and lessons learned from the past year, as well as plan for what lies ahead. For me, it has been a very productive and rewarding first year at Blackboard, primarily because it has given me great confidence in the future.

Over the past year, we’ve been keenly focused on understanding the needs of our clients. Members of our leadership team travelled across the U.S. and around the world to listen and learn more about the challenges institutions are facing today and their concerns for the future. Blackboard’s leadership and employees have also been digging in deep to look at how we can continue to evolve and innovate for our clients. We’re concentrating on how we can use our industry knowledge to anticipate the products and services needed to tackle education’s tough problems and help our clients reach their goals.

Over the past 12 months, we have continued to evolve the business to ensure we are delivering innovative educational products and services that support our clients as they navigate learners along their educational journeys. We’re focused on a holistic approach to serving the educational community. By this I mean that we understand there are myriad factors that impact student success, both inside and outside the classroom. That’s why we’re working hard to deliver new and innovative solutions in some of the key areas affecting the world of the learner – issues like finance, accessibility, student planning, advising, and more.

At BbWorld 2016, I committed to keeping our community members informed on what we’re planning and how we’re delivering on those plans. With that in mind, I am excited to share some of the key ways we have delivered on our promises in 2016:

Helping remove financial barriers through CASHNet

Financial challenges are often one of the biggest barriers to student success. We understand the impact that student financial management has on the fundamental issue of access to education. Through the acquisition of Higher One Holdings, Inc. and subsequent integration of CashNET into Blackboard Transact, we’re now helping to remove these barriers by enabling parents and students to electronically pay tuition and fees, as well as establish customized tuition payment plans.

Making content more accessible for all learners through Ally

As part of our continued dedication and commitment to setting the bar high on accessibility, we acquired the U.K.-based company Fronteer and its associated technology, Ally. Ally is designed to help institutions gain greater insight into the accessibility of their digital course content. The technology provides guidance to instructors about how to improve the quality of their content for everyone and gives students of all abilities immediate access to content in formats that may be more suited to their specific needs. We are dedicated to helping create truly inclusive experiences in education. That is why we are making Ally’s innovate technology available to any educational institution looking to better understand and improve the accessibility of their content – regardless of what LMS they use.

Giving students mobile access to academic and career planning through Bb Planner

This new mobile app is designed to help students better succeed in their academic journey by enabling them to explore degrees and careers that align to their goals and interests. They can use this to better understand the financial, academic and career implications of their decisions, schedule classes, and access internships and jobs that align to their pathway choices. We also introduced the complimentary tool Blackboard Advise. This is a web-based advising tool that combines insight into student plans alongside predictive analytics to help advisors best serve their students.

Using data to drive proactive interventions through Blackboard Predict

We have been pleased to further elevate the power of analytics this year through Blackboard Predict. This innovative technology provides educators with the timely information they need to help students complete college at a higher rate, more quickly, and at a lower cost. It puts the results of high-quality data science into the hands of expert practitioners in a way that promotes timely action. Using data from your existing student information and learning management systems, we build a predictive model that provides clear, actionable early alerts to faculty and advisors. This helps our clients better reach out to struggling students in time to make a life-changing difference.

Making online teaching and learning faster, easier, and more efficient through Blackboard Learn with the Ultra experience

This past summer we unveiled the Ultra experience on Blackboard Learn and made it generally available in several markets. I want to recognize that our clients were patient in waiting for what is not just a redesign of the learning management system (LMS), but a fundamental rethink of the user experience. Ultimately, we want want to help students and faculty focus on educational outcomes rather than the software they are using to achieve them. The Ultra experience serves that purpose through a more intuitive user interface. It includes streamlined workflows, a personalized user experience that brings aggregated and actionable information to a user’s view, and a mobile-first design. Based on user data, the product offers the functionality most instructors need to manage their courses today and will be consistently updated through a continuous delivery model.

Providing our customers with best-in-class data hosting capabilities through partnership with IBM and Amazon Web Services (AWS)

We partnered with AWS as our strategic cloud services provider and entered into an agreement with IBM to manage our cloud and datacenter computing infrastructure as we move to the AWS Cloud. These partnerships will enable us to focus on what we do best, developing innovative educational products and services, while relying on the world-class hosting and operational capabilities of AWS and IBM. Under the IBM partnership, we are also jointly developing cognitive educational solutions utilizing the capabilities of both companies to advance learner success.

As you can see, it has been quite a year for Blackboard. I am proud of our team and what we’ve accomplished, but we’re not done. In 2017, we will continue to innovate and develop unique products focused on enabling student success, while being the best partner that we can be to our clients and all the learners they serve. I’m excited about our future.

From everyone at Blackboard, we look forward to continuing to partner and grow with you in the new year, to help make a difference in lives of the students you serve.

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