In January*, we announced that we’ve expanded our Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) deployment option to include two additional tiers: Plus and Advantage**. No two institutions are the same, therefore we offer three SaaS tiers – Standard, Plus, and Advantage – to provide you with choice and flexibility in addressing your deployment needs.
Between past BbWorld presentations and webinars I’ve hosted, you might remember that I’m a big fan of lists (I have a very strong “Judging” preference on the Myers-Briggs Personality Test, and a love of lists is a big characteristic). With that in mind, I‘ve put together a top 10 list that addresses questions that have been asked on Listservs, Twitter, webinars and other venues.
#1. What is the SaaS deployment for Blackboard Learn?
SaaS deployment for Blackboard Learn is the same Blackboard Learn you already know and love, delivered on a modern cloud computing technology stack. With SaaS deployment, you get all the benefits of a cloud architecture combined with the power of the Original experience that is already familiar to your faculty and students from Blackboard Learn 9.1. Plus, you have the option to enable the new Ultra experience characterized by simplified workflows, a modern look and feel, and a fully responsive interface on all devices.
#2. What Are the Benefits of SaaS Deployment for Blackboard Learn?
Zero impact to your faculty and students during updates: With a cloud-computing environment, you benefit from continuous updates (new features, enhancements, fixes, etc.) with zero or minimal downtime for your educators and students.
Higher quality: A SaaS model allows us to deliver maintenance, updates, and fixes to production faster than ever before, and the cloud platform easily scales during periods of high usage.
Fast access to new features: A SaaS model allows us to deliver enhancements and new features faster than ever before, so your campus can have the latest and greatest features versus having to wait longer periods of time.
Peace of mind: Experienced Blackboard staff manages operations 24x7x365, so you can focus on other strategic, mission-critical projects.
#3. What Is the Difference Between the Three SaaS Tiers?
All of the SaaS tiers include the following: continuous delivery of features, enhancements, and maintenance; a curated, certified set of pre-installed Building Blocks; full LTI, Web Services, and REST API support; a test instance; and the ability to choose either the Original experience of Learn 9.1 or the new Ultra experience. The Plus and Advantage tiers of SaaS deployment give institutions the ability to customize and configure Blackboard Learn for their specific needs. The Plus and Advantage tiers offer: the ability to install Building Blocks on your system, including custom and homegrown integrations; a Flexible Deployment Option; and additional services like a staging instance, Service Delivery Management, and Direct Data Access. The differences in the SaaS service levels are similar to the differences with our Managed Hosting offerings for Blackboard Learn.
#4. What is Continuous Delivery vs. the Flexible Deployment Option?
Continuous delivery is a software industry standard practice and the default delivery method for SaaS deployment. Continuous delivery updates are small, can include maintenance, enhancements, and new features, and are delivered on a frequent, consistent basis—minimizing the change management impact and ensuring faculty and students are always experiencing the highest quality learning environment. The Flexible Deployment Option is a unique Blackboard offering, available with SaaS Plus and Advantage, that provides more time for institutions to test critical customizations and integrations as well as plan change management activities. Institutions who choose this option receive maintenance on a regular basis, but changes to the platform (new features and feature enhancements) can be deferred and applied either once or twice per year.
#5. Will My Commercial & Custom-Developed Integrations Work If I Move to SaaS Deployment?
SaaS Plus and Advantage enable you to install all Building Blocks, including custom and homegrown integrations. For more information on integrations, please join us for an upcoming Integrations webinar.
#6. Does the User Experience Change When I Move to SaaS?
One of the most common misconceptions is that you need to turn on the Ultra experience and Ultra Course View when you move to SaaS. To clarify, Blackboard Learn in a SaaS environment looks EXACTLY the same as the Blackboard Learn 9.1 user experience you have today. When you move to SaaS, you continue using the same Original experience from Learn 9.1 that your faculty and students are already familiar with. Take a look at the screenshots below. Notice any difference? There is no difference because SaaS is a deployment option, not a different LMS.
#7. So schools control when to enable the Ultra experience?
Yes, the option of turning on the Ultra experience is another benefit of being on the SaaS deployment for Blackboard Learn. You decide if, when, and how to enable the Ultra experience to best meet the needs of your institution. You can experiment with the Ultra experience and Ultra Course View now by using our free Educator Preview environment.
#8. What does the move to SaaS deployment entail?
Moving to SaaS deployment consists of two phases, and Blackboard is there with you every step of the way. The first phase is to prepare by planning for the transition. This includes identifying the best migration window and data migration approach for your institution (either course-based migration or full data migration), defining a migration plan, and testing and verifying any integrations you have. The second phase is to move to production by executing the data migration. This includes data preparation, a test migration and integration setup confirmation, and the final migration and cutover. From project planning and management, to the test migration, to the final migration – we are there to lead you through each step. We have a dedicated cloud provisioning team that has 16 years of data migration experience and is focused solely on ensuring smooth, successful migrations.
#9. Where can I learn more about SaaS deployment?
We will be holding a webinar in September to discuss SaaS in more detail. You can sign up here. We also have a lot of information about SaaS available on help.blackboard.com. And don’t forget, you can try out a SaaS environment with the Ultra experience enabled by signing up for our free Educator Preview.
#10. How do I proceed if I’m interested in SaaS for Blackboard Learn?
If you are a self-hosted Learn institution, you can receive a free business analysis of your Learn system with our cloud services team. We encourage all institutions to also reach out to your Account Representative or Customer Success Advocate to discuss next steps. No institution is the same, and that’s why our teams are ready to have a conversation with you about timing and your readiness to move to SaaS.
*Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in January 2016 and has been updated to reflect current offerings and plans.