In February, Ottawa University announced a groundbreaking contractual arrangement with the largest provider of educational technology and software in the world – Blackboard. A $650 million company, Blackboard built its reputation by providing software and related services in support of the burgeoning online education industry. This partnership has the potential to be by far the most important and far reaching arrangement with an outside party that Ottawa University has ever considered.
As part of its continued expansion, Blackboard was looking for a proven innovator in higher education, an opportunity to grow its recurring revenue streams, a living laboratory in which it could develop and test new products and concepts, and a leadership team which had both the competencies and values necessary to successfully collaborate with its own team to help re-make the world of educational delivery on behalf of students around the globe.
Ottawa University, headed into the midpoint of its long-range Vision 2020 strategic plan, was looking for investment and venture capital, expertise, technology, and a corporate resource with an appreciation for its traditions, mission and vision, and shared commitment to dramatically improving student outcomes at lower all-in costs.
Following a special signing ceremony on February 21 at the winter meeting of OU’s board in Phoenix, the two organizations, one from the profit and one from the nonprofit environment, embarked on what is intended to be a ten-year journey toward their mutual objectives. Despite their sizable resources and capabilities, neither organization felt it had everything necessary in house to achieve its respective vision and goals. Accordingly, after several months of careful planning and negotiations, Ottawa University and Blackboard came together with the full support of their governing boards to embark on a series of initiatives designed to break down the often artificial barriers between online and on ground learning, and to take bold new steps toward re-making the face of higher education as it is practiced today.
This new partnership brings the very highest levels of Blackboard’s learning services, technology and software (current and future) to bear on OU’s Project Virtuoso, thus opening up whole new ways of serving and teaching students and significantly advancing the schedule for its implementation. In addition, the contract calls for Blackboard to augment the University’s marketing and enrollment efforts for APOS to help ensure that all Vision 2020 objectives are realized. The arrangement is designed to generate much greater growth and healthier financial returns for both parties while achieving a more advantageous cost structure and real differentiators recognizable and valued by students.
Among many necessary success factors, surely one of the most salient will be the extent to which the two entities can forge new systems and processes for harvesting the best ideas and insights from each in order to create something more powerful and effective than either could deliver independently. In a world where capital is scarce – especially the kind for research and development of new ideas and methods – such partnerships are destined to become far more common.
“Ensuring that the talent and resources of two separate organizations are brought together as if they were one will be a leadership test of the highest order. Communication, planning, goal congruence, governance, training and education, conflict resolution, creative design processes, budget allocations, and investment decisions – all will be in play in this venture and others like it in the future”, commented OU President Kevin Eichner.
The joint announcement by Ottawa University and Blackboard – unique in size, scope and term for both parties – is an example of what more and more institutions and organizations are creating in what is becoming an increasingly boundaryless world. Ottawa University is proud to be on the leading edge of such strategic and bold innovation.
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