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Blackboard Buys into Data Analytics

Blackboard has expanded its forays outside of its traditional academic realm by entering into the territory of administrative operations with the announcement of a new set of data analytics applications. The news comes just weeks after Blackboard quietly acquired iStrategy, a private company focused on data warehousing and business intelligence for higher education.

Blackboard Analytics is a suite of programs that provides business intelligence operations for higher education institutions, including analytical reporting and data warehousing. The goal, said the company in a statement, is to help their customers "make better use of data to inform important decisions across the institution."

The first iteration of the new analytics platform works with data from student information, human resources and financial systems. Blackboard said that the new programs can be set up "in a matter of weeks" to help users better understand and improve performance in multiple areas. Product modules for the release will include eLearning, Student, Financial Management, Human Resources, Advancement, and Financial Aid.

The new platform will be available to all institutions whether or not they work with Blackboard's learning management system. The acquisition of iStrategy gives Blackboard a boost into a market area currently parceled out among multiple companies, including SunGard Higher Education, SAS, Oracle/PeopleSoft, Datatel, Jenzabar, Microsoft, and Campus Management. In fact, the technology Blackboard is buying with its acquisition of iStrategy specifically works with PeopleSoft, Datatel, and Banner applications. iStrategy customers include the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Stony Brook University in New York; and Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania; among others.

Indiana State University, an iStrategy and Blackboard customer in Terre Haute, has pegged iStrategy's reporting tools in its latest IT plan as part of a solution to improve office and administrative effectiveness and efficiency. "Amid challenging economic realities, our institution must make the most of every resource while operating with a high degree of transparency and accountability," said Karl Burgher, special assistant to the president for strategic planning. "The Blackboard Analytics platform helps us do that by making important information available to decision makers campus-wide. It allows us to make informed decisions based on a single source of truth in areas including student retention and enrollment management, helping us make a positive impact on programs vital to our future."

Pace University, an iStrategy user in New York since May 2010, initially purchased the company's data warehouse software to access data stored in its Banner system student module. That module deals with enrollment, admissions, applications, census, scheduling, and graduation. A joint institutional effort worked to implement institutional rules, validate data, and create reports with drill-down capabilities. That was completed in October 2010 and was expected to be followed throughout 2011 and into 2012 by additional deployments in financial aid, finance, and HR. The acquisition by Blackboard won't slow down those plans at Pace, which also uses Blackboard Learn.

"By implementing the Blackboard Analytics student module we saved years of development time and have introduced a proven, pre-built system for data, measurement and reporting," said Matthew Bonilla, interim CIO. "The platform has received an excellent response from our leadership including deans and budget directors from different schools who are very enthusiastic about the ability to have greater access to reporting and a trusted source of student data."

"This isn't just a new product--it's a major commitment of resource over the long term to really innovate in bringing data warehousing applications to the market," said Ray Henderson, president of Blackboard Learn. "We're opening the lens to help solve a wider range of problems in education with greater speed by helping leaders analyze and act on real time data. With better access to more reliable information, they can improve programs and institutional performance and be in a better position to deliver learning and services at scale over time."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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