In last week’s post on Blackboard, I shared the roughly linear progression of migration of the Learn LMS to a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model – a move that we believe is more important than is the Learn Ultra user experience. If you take into account percentages of total Learn deployments, you see that Blackboard has roughly 25% of Learn clients on SaaS after starting in late Fall 2016, increasing by approximately 10% per year.1
Blackboard is not the only LMS company migrating to the cloud, however, and D2L 2 has taken a more aggressive bet on SaaS for their Brightspace LMS platform (also based on AWS), as described in Summer 2018.
While we heard grumblings from multiple clients during the transition – especially through early 2017 – D2L clearly made some hard choices and and is aggressively moving to the cloud, not just as an option, but as their primary delivery model. According to David Koehn, VP of Product Management at D2L:
- All new Brightspace implementations are on AWS cloud;
- Virtually all current Brightspace implementations use Continuous Delivery; and
- Approximately 50% of current customers are already on the AWS version of cloud deployment; and
- By the end of 2018, a large majority of customers will be on cloud deployment.
Last Fall I spent time at D2L’s Kitchener, Ontario headquarters getting an update on the company’s progress on a number of initiatives. D2L executives described that all but roughly a dozen Brightspace clients are now on SaaS deployment, and by the end of 2019 they should be fully a SaaS platform company.
Why is percentage of total deployments important? Two reasons are that the move to 100% SaaS deployment enables the movement to a single version of code, dramatically simplifying regression testing and enabling more rapid development of new designs, while also taking advantage of modern technology stacks. As described in the Summer 2018 post:
David Koehn also pointed out that the real driver for the AWS cloud move by D2L is to enable a redesign of the user experience [branded Daylight] and to provide improved scalability and reliability. In other words, the cloud deployment is a means to the Daylight end.
The downside, of course, is that pure SaaS deployments largely leads to a reduction in customization capabilities. Companies like D2L and Blackboard that are moving from an enterprise model to a cloud model are betting that they can build in appropriate configuration options (rather than customized code) and leverage third-party integrations to overcome this challenge. But to get the full advantage of SaaS, a company needs to do the entire move.
I further spent some time in London and had the opportunity to talk with D2L’s London-based leadership team that covers EMEA and Latin America regions. D2L leaders in London presented a transparent and honest appraisal of the company’s current market position in Europe and Latin America, and where they see the biggest opportunities. For starters, D2L acknowledged that Instructure’s system-wide wins for the Canvas LMS in the Nordic countries had largely blocked opportunities for expansion in that region. Other areas, however, have been much more promising. They are doing well particularly in the Benelux countries (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg) with Ghent University in Belgium being an example of a recent, large (45,000 student) implementation. There have been important wins in the UK and Ireland, and activity in Spain seems to be picking up some momentum. Germany continues to be a challenging place to get a foothold partially due to university funding that favors in-house staff maintaining open source systems.
In Latin America, D2L was open about cutting back investment in the region in 2017, particularly in Brazil, largely due to economic uncertainties and limited growth opportunities. They now see activity picking up in the region and have been investing to take advantage of the market potential.
In both Europe and Latin America, the provision of professional services beyond the LMS platform, as well as willingness to add requested features, appears to be a differentiator for D2L, especially in comparison to Instructure. D2L has shown a much greater willingness to roll up their sleeves and collaborate on instructional design, course building, and online pedagogy using internal staff, almost in an Online Program Enablement model. It surprised me during my Fall HQ visit to see just how well-established is the content creation team that helps schools redesign courses and even design front-end web sites for online programs. We have heard similar messages from D2L customers and even from a consulting firm that works directly with Canvas and Brightspace customers.
To a degree, none of this post is different from our Summer 2018 coverage other than updating on progress, so why has D2L not made more of a market share increase in the past year? I suspect there are three reasons. One is that D2L has done a better job updating their product line and introducing new services than they have done in fixing issues with current customers, particularly around data and analytics. During my Fall HQ meetings, when the D2L team was describing their new data and analytics approach called the Brightspace Data Platform, I pointed out that while this appears to be an improved approach, it does not acknowledge that D2L has been touting its data and analytics capabilities for years. There are leftover frustrations from customers based on previous attempts that did not match client expectations.
The second reason is Instructure. While D2L is in a solid second place for new implementations worldwide (schools migrating from one LMS to another), they have also lost a number of clients in North America – almost all to the Canvas LMS. In our recent LMS Market Analysis report, we showed a transition graphic with higher ed LMS migrations from 2017 – 2018.
The third reason is that it is very difficult to be a third competitor in terms of customer mindshare. The academic LMS market has tended to have a narrative of a major competitor and an upstart. Blackboard and WebCT in the early and mid 2000s, Blackboard and Moodle in the late 2000s, and Blackboard and Canvas through much of the 2010s. It is difficult for a company like D2L to break through this narrative and be top of mind for institutions from day one of an evaluation.
While D2L has challenges in market position and introduction of a new data and analytics approach, they are completing the transition to a SaaS platform company and focusing on flexibility and services.