In my previous post, Key Issues to Watch at Datatel+SGHE Summit, I provided a look ahead and what I thought would be key issues (note, Datatel+SGHE was rebranded as Ellucian during the Summit). Last week I was able to attend Executive Summit in Las Vegas and talk to a number of customers and executives of Ellucian, and I wanted to share my observations.
With Summit occurring only 60 days after the the combination was official, there was not sufficient time to bring the organization together and build the messaging and product strategy. As with any combination like this, it is important for the vendor to come out of the blocks with a clear message, avoid potential missteps, and provide a credible direction so that the current customer base is satisfied and potential customers still view them as an option.
The overview of the product strategy and the message delivered was that all currently available products would be supported, which is consistent with their previous messaging. As part of the presentation, they went through the evolution of Colleague and Banner and how they were similar. The key message from the discussion was Banner 9 is moving forward and is part of their product strategy. Although they are on different technology stacks, each will continue to be developed using a services approach. At some time in the future, the products may begin to merge the UI and/or the services definition. In my opinion, customers should look at this as a commitment to Banner 9 in the short to mid term, but there has not been enough time to define if or how the products may come together in the future.
Although, the Banner 9 message was clear, there were some small discrepancies. In one session, there was a message that some things in Banner 9 would slow down so they are able to do additional analysis. The particulars were not identified. In the Banner 9 update meeting, the message was very clear: the time to start the Banner 9 upgrade is now. The only difference I noticed in the message was the Banner 9 update was focused on what has been delivered and what is being delivered this year, the other session was responding to longer term questions.
Challenges (and Opportunities) to Address
One of the themes throughout the talks was Accelerated Innovation. A consistent message, but not a clear message as to how this is going to happen. There was a big focus on three initiatives: Community Source, Development Partners, and Mobile Frameworks. All three have a common thread, which is utilizing the customer base to provide new or enhanced solutions to the entire Banner customer base.
Leveraging the customer base is a great strategy for moving the product forward. There are advantages for both Ellucian and institutions using Banner:
- Leveraging solutions already developed by organizations through Community Source allows new capabilities to be added to Banner with reduced effort from the Ellucian team.
- New capabilities from development partners can add new modules or functions to Banner with reduced effort from the Ellucian team.
- For institutions that did not want to customize to improve their implementation, are now able to provide the improvements through baseline Banner.
- Mobile capabilities have been built with limited investment by the institutions or Ellucian.
- Enhancements important to institutions, but did not make it high enough on the priority list for product development are now addressed outside of the normal product development process.
Although this approach has advantages for both Ellucian and the customer, there are some potential challenges in the future. With the move to Banner 9 and most customers still on Banner 8, how will these solutions transition to Banner 9? At what point will these initiatives be focused on Banner 9 and not Banner 8?
Similarly, as I presented in my post SaaS Changes to Higher Ed ERP Market, the SaaS market is providing challenges for the traditional ERP vendor. Ellucian has developed some SaaS based solutions, but a clear approach is needed. I do understand their challenge as some customers do not want their data in a SaaS solution even though the acceptance of SaaS has been growing. This is a great opportunity for them to be a leader.
Student Centric Services
One area that was not covered in the product approach that I think Ellucian will need to address is Student Centric Service. In my previous post, Key Issues to Watch at Datatel+SGHE Summit, I said:
One of the areas I would like to see addressed in the strategy is how a student service experience will be delivered. Understanding the interactions with students through the entire life cycle is key, as well as allowing the student to drive the interaction.
Taken on their own, supporting all products, accelerated innovation and broader products and services will provide value to Ellucian and to their customers. It is a good message for 60 days into the combination, but the concern is taken together, this sounds like a big undertaking requiring resources, time, and money. In discussions with other attendees, the common message I heard was (paraphrased):
The approach makes sense, but the hard decisions have not been made. Supporting every product is easy to say and not easy to deliver. At some point in time, they will finalize the strategy and that is when we will begin to learn the future.
I thought this was a good summary. If the approach continues, without identifying efficiencies, my concern would be the Ellucian would spread themselves too thin and not be able a vendor that provides leadership through the industry changes.