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Listening to you!

Posted by tjatkin Oct 26, 2018

I recently shared a review of the work we’ve done across Blackboard this past year guided by the 2017 Annual Client Satisfaction Survey. We’re now working with the insights from the initial report of our 2018 survey results.


Today, I want to highlight this year’s results, in comparison with 2017, as well as how we are using your feedback to inform and guide our efforts as we look to 2019 and beyond.


We used the same independent partner to conduct the web-based survey and perform sophisticated statistical analyses on the results. The survey was sent out to clients globally in 3 languages – English, Spanish and Portuguese. It included a cross section of stakeholders (including executives, IT staff, instructional designers and educators) across Higher Education, K-12, Business and Government. We used the same questions as last year to enable year-over-year trend analyses and comparison.


What stayed the same?


What’s Most Important to You: The areas that are most important to you remained consistent from last year:

  • Ease of using products and services
  • Adoption of products and services within your institution
  • Value your institution receives from products and services of the price paid
  • Quality of products and services

We will continue to prioritize these areas and invest time and resources to ensure we are making improvements.


What changed since a year ago?


Client Participation & Engagement: This year over 2,500 individuals responded to the survey, up 20 percent from last year (and last year was 15 percent higher than the year before). The increase in the number of clients providing feedback is so positive to us because your insights are critical.


The Faculty View: We improved in a year-over-year comparison in virtually every category in the survey responses from faculty. There are several areas in which faculty survey responses indicated significant improvement:

  • Blackboard Is a strategic partner/extension of your institution
  • Blackboard is committed to the success of your students
  • Blackboard helps your institution anticipate, influence and adapt to the future
  • Blackboard is a resource for discussing and addressing your institution’s day-to-day challenges


We are encouraged by these results, and we know we need to continue to make improvements in our efforts to support and enable faculty as they focus on student success.


New Areas of Importance: While the areas that were most important to you remained the same, there were some additional areas you highlighted as more important to you today than they were a year ago.

  • Blackboard thought leadership within the education sector

We recognize this is critical for us to be a true Partner in Change. We also know this must be a dedicated and focused effort. To that end, a few months ago we established a Chief Learning and Innovation Officer position reporting directly to our CEO. Phill Miller has taken on this important role to focus on our understanding of the needs of the education community, regional differences, forward-looking trends and how these inform our work on our EdTech platform and portfolio. More to follow on this as we focus on it in the coming months!

  • Resolve non-technical questions/problems

While faculty survey input showed improvements in virtually all areas of performance, this was highlighted by faculty as an area of increased importance today, and thus will be a key focus for our teams.

  • Interaction with client team

The results showed a clear increase in importance for you across multiple facets of your interaction with your Blackboard client team: frequency of interaction, availability and consistency of the client team. We believe this reflects the value of being a true partner. We will continue to focus on improvements here.


We Did Better: In my recent blog, I reflected on the last year and in several areas we were pleased to see that you told us we are doing better than we were a year ago: (1) ease of doing business with Blackboard (2) proactive communications and (3) migrations and upgrades. While you provided positive feedback in these areas, we know we still have more work to do and many of you provided specific feedback in the survey that will guide us.


What’s next?


Last week we gathered the top 100 Blackboard leaders from around the world. We spent three days planning for next year and beyond and your feedback helps us to prioritize and inform our efforts.


We are committed to being transparent with the results of our survey, our areas of focus, and our progress along the way so we can continue to build your trust as a partner.




Welcome New Members!

Posted by tjatkin Oct 17, 2018

Last week I participated in the Blackboard Teaching & Learning Conference Asia (TLC Asia) in Singapore with over 130 participants.  It was an honor to meet with and get feedback and insights from clients across the region - Malaysia, Singapore, India, Philippines, China, Thailand, Australia, Vietnam, and Hong Kong. I also had the pleasure of traveling out to visit our Singapore clients including Polymall and Institute of Technical Education  at their campuses.


At the conference, we highlighted the significant momentum within the client community to migrate to SaaS, and focused many of our discussions and sessions on the change management of Ultra which is now being used in production by over 90 clients.


I also had the pleasure of presenting the Catalyst Awards. I would like to congratulate the teams from University of Santo Tomas, Malayan Colleges Mindanao, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, INTI International University and Colleges, and Temasek Polytechnic for their innovative uses of Blackboard technology.


Throughout the conference, we highlighted the Community Site and the Community programs which provide tremendous value through the sharing of insights, best practices and lessons learned across the 13,000+ members of the Blackboard Community. We had 30 new members join the Community site at the conference – welcome to the Community!




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Almost exactly a year ago, I shared the results of our 2017 Annual Client Satisfaction Survey via my blog.  We used your feedback to inform our planning and our efforts this past year and dedicated ourselves to continuous improvement with your views as guideposts for this work.


Ease of Doing Business with Blackboard

You told us that our post-sale delivery efforts were uncoordinated and made it difficult for you to work with Blackboard, and that we needed to focus on improved responsiveness in our work to support you.


We established a new organization under the leadership of Lee Blakemore to focus on providing an improved post-sale client experience -- the Global Client Operations & Success organization. We brought together all of the client delivery and support functions across the company into the new organization, along with our infrastructure and cloud services teams, to better integrate and coordinate our work.  


Over the last year we enhanced and formalized our executive and team focus, prioritization and coordination in responding to incidents and challenges that surfaced for our clients. 

  • Our leadership team is informed immediately of outages through an alert system, and we receive a consolidated daily Major Incident Management Report to ensure visibility into occurrences and resolution.
  • Lee Blakemore and I co-chair a weekly hot issues call, with leadership from our support, client success, infrastructure, cloud services and technical teams, to ensure tight coordination and track longer-term corrective actions.
  • We conduct monthly program reviews with our CEO and the entire leadership team that assess the trends and the actions we are taking to improve performance.


We have worked hard to strengthen our focus on continuous improvement as an integral part of our culture and work ethic.  We expanded the scope and strengthened the efforts of our work to understand the root causes of incidents that impact you.  Through our Incident Review Boards (IRBs), we assess the technical, process and human aspects of every incident. We validate the actions taken to resolve the incident were appropriate and as timely as possible. And, we focus on what we can do to improve the “system” to avoid future incidents of a similar nature.  The work of our IRBs is linked to our weekly hot issues calls so we can ensure the appropriate coordination and attention to all incidents.


Product Quality and Stability

You told us product quality and stability were critically important and needed attention. Building upon the outputs and insights from our IRBs as mentioned above, we placed a significant emphasis on improved testing in order to ensure higher quality.


We use an agile scrum process as our software development lifecycle which means our engineers and quality assurance resources approach the work collectively as a team whether it’s work on a bug fix or a feature change. The team reviews requirements from an engineering and QA perspective, looks at the code, and develops a test strategy. They perform a risk analysis to determine what testing needs to be done.


We've improved our automated testing across four areas: unit level testing, integrated testing, API and REST testing, and User Interface accepting testing.  In addition, the team does manual testing to validate all the changes being made are appropriate and typically includes:

  • Manual validation of the bug or feature change
  • Visual test across browsers, tablets, and mobile devices
  • Test using assisted technologies
  • And exploratory testing of critical use cases that may be impacted by the change.


Learn SaaS Clients using Continuous Delivery told us they would like to have more time for User Acceptance Testing (UAT) to ensure quality in their environment and manage the change (they were getting 7 to 8 business days - and one weekend, depending on time zone). Our product management and development teams identified process improvements allowing for more time for client UAT.  Our process improvements enable us to modify the Continuous Delivery Learn SaaS release schedule to give clients more time to conduct user acceptance testing and to manage change; we now provide 12-13 business days (and two weekends, depending on time zone).


We measure ourselves by your direct feedback, and through hard results of our performance. While learning is a year-round endeavor these days, there remains a very busy “Back to School” season in the July through September time period.  While we continue our efforts to improve product stability and quality, I’m proud of the work my colleagues and peers have done through the efforts mentioned above.

  • While the number of SaaS clients has doubled in the last year, the year over year comparison of outages between the 2017 and 2018 back to school season has shown a dramatic improvement – we have seen a 60% reduction in incidents.
  • For managed hosting clients, we similarly saw a significant decrease in outages – a 50% reduction in outages during back to school season (year over year).

And while I’m encouraged by the improvements, we know we are not done. Every outage has a direct impact on student success and we will continue to focus our work to improve stability and quality.


Proactive Communications

You told us proactive communications are important – here are just a few examples of our efforts to be more timely and transparent:

  • We introduced a new feature on Behind the Blackboard that provides a pop-up window announcing any current and impacting issues to enable you to know quickly what’s going on. The pop-up window shows up on your screen once you log into BtBb.
  • We redesigned and made improvements to  in order to keep you updated on planned system maintenance activities and service interruptions as they occur.  You can now receive alerts pushed to your iOS or Android device.
  • Quarterly Teaching & Learning Roadmaps: We offer quarterly roadmap sessions in 3 different time zones highlighting the upcoming features for each Learn, Collaborate and Blackboard Open LMS.


Keeping with our commitment to be transparent, as I did last year, I’ll use my blog next week to share a summary of the results of our 2018 Client Satisfaction Survey.


The Year in Context

Our work to be responsive to your feedback this past year was done while we continued to see a great deal of momentum and movement to Learn SaaS and Ultra.

  • We have seen a significant increase in SaaS deployments. As of this week, we have 428 clients on a Learn SaaS deployment. With the addition of China this summer and South Korea this week, we’ve deployed Learn SaaS to 6 regions plus GovCloud. This gives us a worldwide footprint to meet more and more client’s desires to transition to SaaS.
  • As of this week, we have 91 institutions that have enabled Learn Ultra (that’s more than a 45% increase since BbWorld).


I’m proud of my Blackboard colleagues around the world who are committed to improving how we serve as a partner to you. While we made progress in a number of areas, we know more remains to be done and we are focused on our culture of continuous improvement.


Thank you for your feedback, your partnership, and the work you do.