Before we start, its important to be clear that this article is a collection of our thoughts and opinions and not based on inside information! Although what we think may turn into a valid prediction(!) what happens next is very much an unknown. Alex and I have been thinking through some of the potential scenarios though given the scope and scale of influence these giants have on how we collect, store, and manage Higher Education data.
The cynic in us says Ellucian has spent £172m on a HE customer list. Plausible, but there are several factors making this acquisition complex as well as significant.
An overlap in functionality of their key SRS product offers (Banner and SITS): The challenge of maintaining two separate ecosystems can't be underestimated. The difference between not only the ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions (if they exist) and the bespoke architecture held by many HEIs as well as the systems themselves, is significant (to say the least). Take away the technical headache, from a business perspective, surely Ellucian do not want to manage at least double of everything – workforce with expertise skills, cloud servers, pricing options, maintenance and evolution infrastructure, customer service etc. Aside from the obvious costs (money and people), it just doesn’t make good business sense.
Does Ellucian’s work creating a more component based system offer now pose a significant risk to competition within #HE technology? Acquiring Tribal does create a dominance in the market. Will we truly be adopting a system and supplier which best fits with us as individual organisations or will all doors lead to the same back-end architecture i.e., will we have less ‘real’ choice and influence?
The crux of this article is the assumption that Ellucian will want to migrate all Tribal products over to their equivalent offer. The scale of work to achieve this is daunting but once past the technical hurdles, how will customers be migrated? For those #HEIs contracted with Tribal, should we prepare ourselves for migration to Banner and associated products – and will there be incentives to make the pill easier to swallow? The details remain unclear, but it's likely to involve data migration (automated and manual), a push toward compatibility with Ellucian’s Ethos platform (which acts – in a very broad sense – as an integration platform), and exclusive features available only in Banner to tempt customers over. However compelling an offer may be, those #HEIs needing to make a wholesale system change know it’s not as easy as the theory makes it sounds – especially for those with highly customised implementations.
What about timescales? We must be looking at a long migration period? There’ll be much discussion behind the scenes but an indicative business plan along with a timeline will be helpful for the sector to understand the level of change they need to begin planning for. For the large-scale change this could turn out to be, #datastrategy and #datagovernance is of utmost importance. #HEIs will need much more clarity and confidence in the data they collect, hold and process through their respective systems to ensure any transfers to a new platform achieve maximum benefit. We need to avoid the “rubbish in, rubbish out” copy and paste approach! Recognition of the need to formalise #datamanagement is critical to steer the ship through what could be very choppy waters.
Lastly, this may not be a “what-if” scenario exclusively for Tribal customers – it could well have an impact on Ellucian customers too. The likelihood and scale, I’d assume, would be less. Nevertheless, system change of any scale involves planning, data management, departmental collaboration, and a continued eye on potential impacts on many critical processes underpinned by these technical solutions. Regardless of which side of the fence you’re currently sat on, I’d be surprised if either Ellucian or Tribal users will escape the inevitable consequences that any changes would have on #HEIs capability in meeting regulatory data requirements (in-year Data Futures returns being a prime example).
No doubt much of this has crossed your mind too – have we missed any other potential outcomes? Here are our lingering questions……
Will Tribal products depreciate in functionality; if so, how and to what timescale?
What happens in areas where there's no overlap between equivalent Ellucian/Tribal systems?
How many conversions can Ellucian facilitate, and at what pace?
Are there other competitors lurking in the background, ready to attract SITS customers?
How (if at all) will current Ellucian customers be impacted? A lot of attention on system re-design and/or merger will be needed to bring Tribal into the Ellucian fold but will it be at the cost of current customer satisfaction?
The answers to these questions are uncertain, but we'll be closely monitoring the evolution of this merger as it unfolds.