Anthology Together, the joint conference of EdTech’s power couple Anthology and Blackboard, took place in Orlando several weeks ago. For Anthology and Blackboard customers who have waited through significant product delays and support challenges over the last few years, Anthology’s energetic messaging and early evidence of success are an important step forward. Attendees were collectively optimistic, but individuals tempered their optimism with skepticism based on past and recent experience.
(See The Anthology Blackboard Merger for the details of Anthology’s acquisition of Blackboard.)
Anthology used the conference to showcase investments in its development and customer support teams. The company is increasing its pace and deepening product maps across product lines. Most notably, the Blackboard Learn Ultra development team (which recently tripled in size) delivered record-breaking releases in April and July. The short-term Learn Ultra roadmap—some of which was being delivered in near-real time—includes essential improvements to assessments, course and content design, and mobile apps (among other functionality). It was ambitious, on point, and received with extended ovations by the higher education clients in the room. The profundity of the investment was evident, but its exact amount and source were less so.
Artificial intelligence (AI) for efficient, data-driven action is surfacing in product roadmaps across the educational technology landscape. Anthology’s take on the trend is Intelligent Experiences (iX), introduced by CEO Jim Milton at the Anthology Together keynote and in an accompanying press release. Briefly, iX aims to leverage the power of a collective Anthology technology landscape to support critical decision points in the student journey. While iX is largely conceptual for many Anthology products, the Blackboard Learn Ultra team stands out in its ability to describe iX applications in concrete terms sprinkled throughout the mid- and long-term roadmaps.
Now that Anthology is confident in its delivery of Blackboard Learn Ultra essentials, the message to its client base is unambiguous—it’s time to move from Original to Ultra Base Navigation (UBN) and Course View. A vast number of breakout sessions were devoted to institutional migration stories. Best practices for change management, faculty support, and timing (ranging from less than one year to multi-year timelines) prevailed. Privately and publicly, most institutions reported excellent vendor support for the Original to Ultra migration process. These reports contrast with accounts of lackluster service that have generally plagued Anthology and Blackboard but are consistent with the laser focus Anthology has placed on migrating remaining Blackboard clients to Ultra.
Blackboard Learn Ultra’s roadmap was (arguably) the conference showstopper, but Anthology enterprise products are also benefiting from significant research and development. Since Microsoft clarified its Microsoft Dynamics 365 roadmap, Anthology can funnel resources toward its Finance and HCM platforms. (Both systems leverage Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations Public Sector Edition with Anthology-built higher education extensions.) The company is positioned to make significant progress on these products this year. It will also continue to improve Anthology Payroll, which was introduced in 2021.
Anthology Student has had a tough year: Despite deep investment and visible progress, traditional higher education institutions still report implementation, customer support, and functional challenges with the product. Many of the implementation challenges appear to stem from data conversion and migration issues, so, to that end, Anthology is taking a more active role in the conversion process. Institutions will hopefully see improvements as Anthology continues to staff up and scale its new high-touch approach. Similarly, Anthology clients are eagerly awaiting the new and improved degree pathway audit (DPA), now with more advanced rules-based functionality that was explained in detail (and emphasized) at Anthology Together.
Anthology Together was held at a resort overlooking the EPCOT theme park, Disney’s optimistic and aspirational take on the community of tomorrow. This backdrop reflected Anthology’s vibe—and its deep investments, energetic hustle, and enthusiastic ambition. Anthology Together attendees are eager to see results, and the aggressive delivery of product functionality (particularly for Blackboard Learn Ultra) was enough to spark genuine excitement. However, success in services has yet to catch up completely, and the lag is enough to make most institutions Tambellini spoke with temper their excitement with a wait-and-see attitude. Tambellini will continue to watch Anthology’s progress and explore institutional outcomes as part of our ongoing coverage of Anthology and its competitors.
© Copyright 2023, The Tambellini Group. All Rights Reserved.
Higher Education Institutions
Solution Providers & Investors
Get exclusive access to higher education analysts, rich research, premium publications, and advisory services.
Weekly email featuring higher education blog articles, infographics or podcasts.