Last week Watermark announced its latest acquisition, Aviso Retention, a student success solution that supports case management, predictive analytics, early alerts, and student notifications to mitigate risks to retention. At first glance, this announcement does not indicate a new strategy for Watermark. The company has consistently grown through acquisition. It began as the merger of three market leaders in assessment management (Taskstream, TK20, and LiveText). Within its first year of business, Watermark announced two new products but also acquired Digital Measures (faculty information management), EvaluationKIT (course evaluations), and SmartCatalog (curriculum management) to round out its offerings.
Watermark’s original goal was to create a robust and integrated institutional effectiveness (IE) portfolio to facilitate one-stop institutional shopping. It took several years to establish a unified brand and interface across acquisitions, and Watermark is still aggressively working to fully integrate and standardize security across offerings.
What makes the company’s choice of Aviso Retention interesting is that the solution brings Watermark one step closer to closing the technology gaps between IE and student success work on campus. In other words, Watermark is cultivating cross-functional appeal and, as such, has the potential to help knock down institutional silos surrounding student data and support.
Philosophically, IE and student success are two sides of the same coin. IE staff focus on institutional outcomes and inputs into student success, like faculty performance, course and program evaluation, and assessment management. It monitors student retention and success at the institutional level. Conversely, student success staff are often advisors who focus on individual student performance, wellbeing, and navigation through the institution. These distinct sets of activities require different skill sets and technologies, making their shared purpose almost unrecognizable in practice.
In the past several years, the growing interest in student analytics across IE and student success leadership have brought the two groups closer together. This interest surfaces through cross-functional student success initiatives, which have regained urgency and top-down support in 2020 and the initial onset of COVID. Successful initiatives strengthen student engagement, support, and risk mitigation through standardized data governance, technologies, and best practices across campus. (See this Tambellini blog post for more on how CIOs can support student success initiatives.)
The technology needs of cross-functional student success teams intersect at institutional outcomes management, student analytics, and advising and retention case management. Watermark is just the latest of several companies to recognize the opportunity afforded through these institutional partnerships. Heliocampus, known for its enterprise analytics platform, strengthened its IE support by acquiring ABC Insights and AEFIS. Student success vendor EAB recently rebranded and began aggressively marketing its analytics platform, Edify. Watermark, Heliocampus, and EAB must also compete with Anthology, which offers a near-comprehensive—if not fully integrated—marketplace for educational technology products.
Growth through acquisition carries significant cultural and technical challenges for companies, as discussed in this Tambellini post on Ellucian’s acquisition of CampusLogic. However, Watermark has the advantage of considerable experience over other vendors in its field in making it work.
Watermark leadership shared with Tambellini that one of the most appealing qualities of Aviso—beyond the obvious benefits of adding a student success product to its portfolio—was the cultural alignment which already exists between Watermark and Aviso. Although they did not comment on precisely how Aviso will integrate with their other solutions, Watermark indicated that Aviso and Watermark clients have already contacted them with some very innovative ideas.
Watermark products do not currently include predeveloped integrations to student success platforms. Historically, student systems and learning management systems have been primary targets for integration, although some institutions have developed custom connectors to student success platforms in the past. Watermark leaders remarked that the company intends to discuss its integration roadmap publicly after several months of internal discovery and client outreach. However, if the company remains true to its strategy of marketing the portfolio as more than the sum of its parts, clients can expect Watermark to prioritize Aviso-specific integrations over other student success platforms.
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