GW and Cornell University began competing on the online class software market four years ago. GW’s Prometheus program racked up 65 university customers while Cornell’s Blackboard captured 2,200 clients and spun into its own corporation.
The two companies are now one, after GW sold Prometheus for an undisclosed amount Jan. 8.
Blackboard will now operate Prometheus, whose clients include Vanderbilt, Columbia and New York universities, and take away some of the flexibility universities enjoyed. The two programs, developed in 1997, differ in that Prometheus’ source code is public, so universities can make changes to the program to suit their needs. Blackboard users are presented a standard program, without the option for changes.
Blackboard is the largest course management, boasting more than 2,200 clients in more than 140 countries. The company employs 450 people.
“We were at GW and planning to spin Prometheus out of GW,” said Bo Davis, managing director of Prometheus. “We were looking for an organization where it would be very safe; that’s really why we chose Blackboard.”
But the buyout was not always GW’s first option.
“At one point in time, GW was looking at commercializing and spinning off a corporation, but the economic climate was very risky, so we decided it was best to approach a competitor,” said David Swartz, GW’s chief information officer.
GW students will continue to use the Prometheus software. Blackboard has said it will continue to support Prometheus.
Swartz said the acquisition is mutually beneficial.
“They are a larger company, they have depth of resources and they can provide an even greater level of support,” he said.
Swartz said the market for online course management systems is starting to consolidate.
Prior to the acquisition, Prometheus was the third-largest course management system.
Although it is possible that Blackboard will discontinue Prometheus, Swartz said the decision will come with “plenty of advanced warning. I don’t think that’s planned. We think things will continue as is,” he said.
As part of the agreement, Blackboard acquires all assets from Prometheus, agrees to continue Prometheus as a community-source system, will assume all contract obligations and pledges to collaborate with GW on activities such as focus groups and beta testing.
Davis said the acquisition is still in transition stages.
“Some of the staff are moving over to Blackboard,” said Davis, who will continue as managing director of Prometheus while working with Blackboard. Other employees are transitioning to other departments within the University.
Because Blackboard is a private corporation, it is not required to disclose financial terms of the deal. University officials declined to say how much money GW got from the deal.