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Blackboard acquires CardSmith

Andrew Hudson   ||   Aug 06, 2014  ||   



Blackboard acquired rival campus card vendor and cloud-system provider, CardSmith. The acquisition broadens Blackboard’s system deployment capabilities adding an established software-as-a-service option to its traditional on-premise offering.

In its ten-year existence, CardSmith built a multi-tenant cloud technology alternative to hosted card systems, enabling both universities and K-12 environments to deliver student ID solutions without the need to host software or physical servers on campus. As a result of the acquisition, Blackboard can now deliver both cloud and locally hosted solutions.

The acquisition potentially opens the door for Blackboard to pursue a wider range of institutions as well as other closed campus environments like schools, corporate campuses, residential and retirement communities. Smaller entities that traditionally have been unable to afford or maintain hosted solutions may now be within the company’s sweet spot.

“Combining with the campus card industry’s only proven and comprehensive cloud deployment offering, we are able to deliver a full-range of reliable and scalable options to schools,” says David Marr, senior vice president of Blackboard Transact.

Blackboard will also benefit from key products for card issuance and student tracking that joined the CardSmith portfolio following its 2012 acquisition of Jupiter, Fla.-based Vision Database Systems. VDS founder Emil Bonaduce and his team built the widely-used card production software, RapidCard IDMS, as well as a host of student tracking and mobile verification offerings.

CardSmith serves more than 200 institutions and the Blackboard release cites CardSmith’s reach at more than 2 million cardholders.

“As cloud infrastructures become more mature and deployment more widely adopted, today’s news marks a big step in the evolution of the campus transaction industry,” says Jay Summerall, founder and president of CardSmith. “By joining forces with Blackboard, we are giving an innovative solution more scale to serve more institutions and improve the educational experience.”

For the foreseeable future nothing is expected to change at CardSmith. A Blackboard company spokesperson told CR80News that CardSmith’s management, employees, locations and brand would remain in place and operate as an independent entity for now.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The CardSmith story

It’s been nearly a decade since CR80News reported that a couple of campus card industry veterans opted not to join Blackboard when their employer, Student Advantage, sold the assets of its student payment offering known as SACash. Rather than make the move, Jay Summerall and Taran Lent opted to start their own company. That was the birth of CardSmith.

Fast-forward ten years, and the founders of CardSmith will now reportedly join the Blackboard team following their company’s acquisition.

Since its inception, CardSmith was intent on building a campus card offering that broke barriers in the traditional client-hosted, hardware-centric industry. The company pioneered software-as-a-service for card offices and helped take cloud solutions from peculiarity to legitimacy in the higher education vertical.

In the time since, nearly every campus card vendor has worked to migrate their functions to off-premise hosting, multi-tenant architecture and outsourced service. CardSmith managed to stay a step ahead in the software-as-a-service arena thanks in part to the company’s original focus on the cloud infrastructure, but also its late arrival to the party, so to speak. Because the company did not have 20-plus years of entrenched system development and client expectations – as was the case with established players like Blackboard, CBORD and Heartland – it was far easier for CardSmith to stay agile and build upon new technology without legacy encumbrances.

Back in 2004 as the company was preparing for launch, founders Summerall and Lent shared with CR80News their goals for CardSmith. “We really believe in the campus card phenomenon,” Summerall said. “Our mission is to make it easier to afford, use and maintain so that the whole range of campuses can reap the benefits card programs bring to a campus.”

“There are literally thousands of campuses that have yet to deploy an effective card program,” added Lent. “Many are too small or lack the resources to take advantage of current industry offerings. We plan to fill this void.”

The company and its founders sought out the smaller, underserved campuses and were successful in this aim. Though CardSmith can only claim a handful of top tier institutions, the hundreds of small colleges and universities, as well as K-12 schools, stand as a testament to the company’s original vision.

The first customer was Sweet Briar College – a 600 student women’s institution in central Virginia. Sweet Briar’s new head of campus finance and administration, Paul Davies, had just come on board from Duke University. He had established ties with the CardSmith team and gave the fledgling company its first real test.

At the time of the Sweet Briar install, Davies told CR80News that with CardSmith he would, “provide the same card functions that the DukeCard had, while at the same time reduce IT expenses and employee issues. I believe this will be the wave of the future.”

If an acquisition by one of the biggest players in the higher education industry is any indication, it seems Davies was right, as were Summerall and Lent.

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