Friday, May 09, 2008

A Flaw in the Blackboard Damages Logic

There's one thing has bugged me about the damages assessed during the Blackboard vs. Desire2Learn trial. Well, clearly there's a lot more than just one thing - but this post is going to focus on just one thing. The damages were set based on lost revenues to Blackboard from D2L winning clients in the U.S. I have no doubt that the lost customers include my employer, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU).

A little history first. I was the chair of the MnSCU IMS of the Future Task Force that was charged with recommending the IMS (I prefer the acronym VLE) that MnSCU should standardize on and support for all 32 institutions and 50-some campuses. That task force reviewed all the submissions to the RFP, recommended the four finalists, evaluated the four finalists during their dog-and-pony shows, and then made the final recommendations to the MnSCU CIO. It was an exhaustive process, but it went really well and the group had as much consensus as I've ever seen in such a large group where very different opinions were present at the beginning of the journey.

The four finalists included D2L, Angel, UCompass Educator, and Web CT. Blackboard was not chosen as one of the four finalists and therefore had no shot whatsoever at being selected as the MnSCU VLE (BTW, they were very unhappy about not being a finalist and tried to bulldog their way into the process - sound familiar?). This was still a couple of years before WebCT was bought up by Blackboard.

The task force made the clear choice of D2L being at the top of the heap. It wasn't even close. However, the group did say that both Angel and Educator were acceptable choices if agreement couldn't be reached with D2L. WebCT was deemed to be an unacceptable choice (which many found surprising since it was already being used by more than 20 schools in the system).

Therefore, I'm more than just a little bit baffled as to why the damages to Blackboard include MnSCU's choice of D2L in the calculation. There was no way that we were going to go with Blackboard. We would have either gone with Angel or Educator. Blackboard lost our business way before we even knew how much we preferred D2L.

Clearly there are many things in this whole patent debacle that makes you tilt your head and say "huh?", but this one really seems to be out of line with common sense and very unfair. It makes me wonder how many of the other "lost clients" never would have picked Blackboard even if D2L was out of the picture. Several, I'm betting.

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