The Anthology and Blackboard Merger

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Top of Mind: The Anthology and Blackboard Merger
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On September 10, 2021, Anthology and Blackboard signed a definitive agreement to merge, creating the most comprehensive ecosystem across academic, administrative, and student engagement applications to date. The subsequent press release outlined most of the agreement’s public details, including:

  • Current Anthology Chairman and CEO Jim Milton will serve as Chairman and CEO of the combined company. 
  • Anthology investors Veritas Capital and Leeds Equity Partners will be majority and minority owners of the combined company, respectively. Veritas has contributed additional capital to support the merger
  • Blackboard’s majority investor, Providence Equity Partners, will remain a minority stakeholder in the combined company.
  • The transaction is subject to customary closing conditions and regulatory approvals but is expected to close by the end of 2021. 

Tambellini analysts recently spoke with representatives from both companies, including Anthology Chairman and CEO Jim Milton. Milton confirmed that higher education would continue to be the primary focus of the combined company, with K–12 as a secondary focus. Blackboard will continue to market its student engagement and academic products to K–12, but Anthology has no plans to adapt its student system for K–12 markets.

The combined company will work to expand its presence in all market sectors within the higher education space. However, Milton emphasized for-profit education and nontraditional learner pathways as areas of alignment between Blackboard and Anthology.

Motivating Factors

The Anthology-Blackboard merger enables Anthology to develop and support a higher education data lake on a much grander scale than any other currently available. In doing so, it hopes to better facilitate flexible, customized, multidimensional learning pathways for degree, non-degree, and combined programming.

The merger also offers opportunities for domestic growth. Anthology has a large install base, with over 20 uniquely deployable solutions within its product suites. The company’s crossover analysis identifies over 3000 unique opportunities in the US (4000 unique total opportunities, globally) for cross-selling and upselling within the collective Anthology and Blackboard base.

Finally, the merger offers a significant opportunity for Anthology to grow its international footprint. Anthology is in approximately 40 countries, but its on-the-ground presence is underdeveloped in most of them. (One exception: Anthology’s Bangalore office is home to 500 employees and a significant amount of its technical and development expertise). 

In contrast, Blackboard is in more than 80 countries with a mature presence in many of them. Anthology hopes to capitalize on this established presence to expand into developing global markets for student systems. 

Now What?

Anthology and Blackboard will operate independently in the short term. The goal expressed by both firms is to have the transaction closed by the end of the year. A third-party consulting firm will manage the integration process, which kicked off at Blackboard headquarters today. Leadership at both companies has reassured their customers that technology roadmaps and product support will remain unchanged. Milton also reaffirmed the company’s ongoing commitment to supporting heterogeneous technology environments, external product integrations, and Blackboard’s open standards and architecture.

What Does It All Mean?

Tambellini sees the combination of Anthology and Blackboard as significant to the higher education enterprise and academic technology landscape. Jim Milton made a compelling argument supporting the merger; together, Anthology and Blackboard have the potential to accelerate higher education’s digital transformation by supporting multi-source student data aggregation, analysis, and workflows at scale. The combined company also has the opportunity to transform and expand the global market—particularly in developing countries with less established educational technology infrastructures.

However, as things stand today, Anthology and Blackboard risk the consequences of trying to be all things to everyone. There are multiple opportunities for it to fail to make the impact its leaders envision for it. Based on the available information, Tambellini has identified the following essential areas in which Anthology-Blackboard must succeed in achieving its goals.

  • Capitalize on international infrastructure. Anthology’s opportunity to expand into emerging markets may be the most significant aspect of this merger, but its success will depend on Anthology’s ability to leverage Blackboard’s preexisting resources.
  • Address service organization concerns. Customer support is a critical factor in successful cross-selling and upselling. While customer support is a top priority for Anthology and Blackboard, it has also been a challenge for both companies in domestic markets. It remains unclear how the combined company will enhance its service offerings to improve current customer satisfaction.
  • Deliver on promised product integrations. Product integrations across data sources to support multi-source data aggregation, analytics, and related workflows are notoriously hard to achieve. Anthology has been slow to deliver essential integrations within its existing product suite. Moving quickly to create a coherent data ecosystem across Anthology and Blackboard products may be a technical challenge.

About Anthology and Blackboard

Anthology was created in 2019 when Veritas Capital and Leeds Equity Partners combined Campus Management, Campus Labs, and iModules. It is a leading provider of cloud-based higher education software solutions and services for student, financial management (finance), human capital management (HCM), constituent relationship management (CRM), fundraising, recruitment, and admissions, advising and retention, institutional and learning effectiveness, and business analytics.

Anthology has experienced steady growth over the past decade and exhibits market strength in higher education’s private, for-profit sector. Anthology has successfully maintained its private, for-profit client base while steadily increasing market share in the public sector and private, not-for-profit sector.

Blackboard was created through a combination of two businesses in 1997. The company went public in 2004 and expanded in part by acquiring competitors, including Prometheus (2002), WebCT (2006), and ANGEL (2009). By the time the Providence Equity Firm bought out Blackboard in 2011, the company was dominating the US LMS market. Blackboard’s SaaS solution, Blackboard Learn Ultra, launched in 2016.

The company currently supports self-hosted, managed-hosted, and SaaS deployments for Blackboard Learn but has announced that it will end full support for managed-hosted deployments by the end of 2022 and self-hosted deployments by the end of 2023. At least 65 percent of Blackboard institutions are currently using the SaaS solution, with an additional 15 percent of institutions planning to transition to SaaS before the end of 2021. Blackboard has struggled in the US in the last few years, losing its LMS market dominance to Instructure Canvas.

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Tambellini Group
The Tambellini Group is the leading independent technology research and advisory firm dedicated exclusively to higher education. Tambellini Group is a trusted market advisor who helps bring credible resources and strategic advising to IT leaders through direct interaction with the top industry analysts and market-leading research.

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