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Breaking: Alabama Community College System Voids LMS, Tutoring, and Proctoring RFPs

One month ago today I described a major EdTech decision from the Alabama Community College System (ACCS), where Blackboard won a systemwide RFP evaluation based on Learn Ultra, leading to the first Canvas loss-of-client in its history (for higher ed). At the time, I described the nature of the decision:

There is more to explore here, such as why the system made this selection. The short answer is about centralization, and despite Canvas coming ahead in all the product evaluations by faculty and staff, Blackboard won with a full bundle of products (Learn Ultra, SafeAssign, Ally, Collaborate, Retention Center, Analytics, etc) priced well below Instructure’s Canvas LMS and Canvas Studio offering. The longer answer deserves more research and a separate post.

Today ACCS announced that it is voiding that entire RFP due to flawed administrative processes. The system is also reverseing the parallel systemwide RFP processes that selected Honorlock for proctoring and Tutor.com for online tutoring. According to a system letter from the Chancellor shared today:

Commencing in May 2020, the System Office Information Technology Division (IT) initiated a Request for Proposal (“RFP”) process designed to seek proposals from interested vendors for a system-wide, unified Learning Management System (“LMS”), Online Proctoring System (“OPS”), and Online Tutoring System (“OTS”). Our intent and desire focused on moving ACCS institutions to a shared technology environment and on standardizing against a common set of business processes to give the greatest increase in efficiency and effectiveness which improve student and employee experiences. This was an ambition effort in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic and the demands on our statewide IT Professionals.

Our evaluation and review team completed their work, and I received the recommendations of proposed vendors for the above referenced RFPs on September 30, 2020. Since receiving this input and announcing my initial decisions for selected vendors, I received and reviewed information that has caused me to reconsider an immediate implementation of these IT solutions. Among other things, our IT staff has advised me of pending Banner implementation issues which require us to prioritize Banner completion before taking on these additional major projects. Additionally, I have been informed of some information regarding the administration of our evaluation process that also causes me to believe we should pause these project and reconsider when and how we should move forward.

Please make the necessary arrangements to continue or renew your existing LMS solution that is currently being used by your institution for no more than an additional one (1) year term. No renewal term should extend beyond December 31, 2022. We will plan to reissue an RFP for the OPS and OTS solutions within the next 30 days. As we get further down the road, we will engage in more detailed discussions about how we move the system institutions to a more common platform for these important IT services. Our IT division stands ready and able to assist you with securing these services if any assistance is need [sic] or desired. Additional information will be forthcoming regarding the 25% institutional “hold-back” of Cares Act funding we imposed earlier this year.

To my knowledge, the issue was one of administrative control of the evaluation process. And given the current rush in education to centralize much of the EdTech infrastructure, this story from ACCS deserves more scrutiny.

But for now, in the LMS world the key issue is that Blackboard’s biggest win since 2015 has been voided – we are not seeing a systemwide migration to Learn Ultra in the next year. And I should note that the Canvas streak of no higher ed losses is back on track, asterisk or not.