District-based education technology company Blackboard made the latest in a string of acquisitions last week, picking up a small British outfit that makes video conferencing and instant messaging software.
The purchase of London-based Requestec follows a summer spending spree in which Blackboard also bought CardSmith, a maker of student identification cards, and Perceptis, a provider of administrative and technical support for students.
The acquisitions are part of a broader strategy under chief executive Jay Bhatt to provide school systems and universities with a complete bundle of products that assist their students with a range of tasks including buying textbooks, tracking grades and building résumés.
Blackboard continues to be a dominant player in the U.S. education market, thanks to its long-held business of providing schools with a learning management system to augment classroom instruction.
Bhatt said Blackboard’s strategy is not to become the technological backbone for all the interactions a school has with its students but instead to offer schools a comprehensive suite of software that assists with many aspects of teaching and learning.
“We’re not trying to be everything to everybody. We’re trying to stay on top of our core,” Bhatt said.
The strategy is not a complete departure from the days when Blackboard was a public company. Providence Equity Partners, a private-equity firm, bought the company for $1.64 billion in 2011.
At the time, the company also offered an array of products to help schools with various aspects of the educational experience, but those products were sold individually rather than bundled, Bhatt said.
“Those are all things that have to be linked because we have this holistic portfolio of tools that are meant to affect the entire teaching and learning spectrum, and we weren’t really doing that,” Bhatt said.
That process started with restructuring the company, a decision Bhatt made shortly after joining Blackboard nearly two years ago. Employees were divided among the company’s target markets, rather than its individual products, so that they could sell the company’s software to customers as a bundle.
Blackboard’s recent acquisitions — which began in January with the purchase of Austin-based MyEdu — are part of that strategy. Bhatt said Blackboard typically buys firms for two reasons: to expand its offerings or enhance its technology.
Last week’s purchase of Requestec fits the latter category. With fewer than a dozen employees, the firm’s main appeal to Blackboard is that its technology allows students to communicate via video and instant message in their computer or mobile browser without downloading a plug- in.
The technology, called Web Real-Time Communication, is something that Bhatt said Blackboard would not have the capacity to build in-house but that makes the firm’s learning software more appealing to schools.
“We should be both innovative through acquisitions and partnerships, but we should also be innovative organically as well,” Bhatt said. “If we’re going to be the leading technology provider in education, we have to have the leading technology portfolio.”
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