Blackboard, which estimates that 12 million students, faculty and other individuals used its products in 2003, has been growing rapidly. Revenue increased 59.5% to $61.4m in 2002 and increased by 32.3% to $92.5m in the year to December 31. It cut its net loss from $51.4m to $11.5m last year.
The company offers its software on a standalone basis or as part of its two major packages. Its academic suite includes a learning system for delivering education online, a portal system, and a content system, which enables sharing and re-use of electronic files.
Blackboard’s commerce suite handles the commercial side of education with a transaction processing system that supports the creation and management of student debit accounts, a portal-based system that enables the development of online storefronts by student organizations and university departments, and transaction technology that enables educational establishments to trade with suppliers.
Blackboard claims a leading market position in the US post-secondary, or further education sector. It quotes a study last year by market researchers MDR which said that its learning system was used by at least 46% of the US post-secondary institutions that use one or more course management systems, making it the most widely adopted course management system.
Apart from increased penetration of its traditional markets, Blackboard is looking to expand into the US schools sector, where it has 330 clients and further education markets overseas. Its international efforts are focused primarily on Canada and 11 other countries in Europe and Asia. It currently claims more than 420 clients outside of the US.
Last year the company invested $150,000 in an international joint venture with university ISP Cernet Corp, a Chinese corporation whose owners include China’s Ministry of Education and 10 leading Chinese universities.
Despite the size and growth of the market, Blackboard’s competitors tend also to be specialist companies targeting the education sector. On the education software side, it lists its competitors as WebCT Inc, eCollege.com and Desire2Learn Inc and learning content management system providers such as HarvestRoad Ltd. and Concord USA Inc. The one major player to move into the sector is SunGard Data Systems Inc, whose SunGard SCT Inc subsidiary offers education enterprise information portal technologies.
Main competitors for its commerce suite are companies that provide university transaction systems, such as Diebold Inc’s Card Systems division and The CBORD Group Inc.