Blackborg – resistance is futile

As every Star Trek fan knows, this chilling statement is the rallying cry of the Borg, a race dedicated to incorporating the unique characteristics of everything it encounters.

“Just like Blackbaud”, you may say!  But is it?  We think the “new Blackbaud” emerging from the merger with Convio is beginning to look more like Convio than old Blackbaud.  Who is assimilating whom?

Last week Blackbaud Europe announced its new-look management team, which includes  three former Convio managers, two recent hires and only three longstanding Blackbaud staffers.  This isn’t the only signal that things are different this time.  Back at corporate HQ in Charleston, Convio’s former CEO, Gene Austin, has been appointed to the executive team as President of the Enterprise Customer business unit, and a number of other Convio execs are emerging in key roles in new Blackbaud.

Unlike previous acquisitions, where targets have simply been absorbed into the product portfolio, this time things are different: this time they mean to reinvent the company.  But why change the habit of a lifetime?

These people are smart; they are doing this for good reasons. We have discussed previously in this blog how the culture at Convio is very different to old Blackbaud.  Open not closed; collaborative not isolationist; modest not proud.  In short, Convio is a fresh new organisation, conceived and built in the online social world, and in tune with a new generation of fundraisers. This is the kind of organisation that Blackbaud knows it needs to be like if it is to achieve its ambition to become a billion-dollar company.

It has been said that this cultural difference is a threat to the success of the merger, but we wonder if this was in fact the very reason for it.  Blackbaud will achieve the change it needs to make faster and more effectively, not by smothering Convio, but by adopting these vital characteristics and changing itself.

So when can we expect to see more concrete signs of this change, and how will this impact non-profit organisations?  The clues are to be found in the various announcements, press conferences and videos that have been released.  A few themes are coming through loud and clear:

1.  Cloud/Software-as-a-Service

Almost all of Blackbaud’s technologies, and in particular its principal mid-market product, The Raiser’s Edge (RE), is based on old client-server technology, and is starting to show its age.  In late 2011 the company announced that development of the long-awaited RE8 had been scrapped.  Given that Blackbaud has repeatedly stressed its commitment to cloud computing, they clearly had an alternative strategy in mind to achieve this, and Convio brings the know-how to fill this gap.

2.  Products

This points to a key role for Convio’s online products and Services in Blackbaud’s future product range, such as Common Ground, Luminate and Team Raiser, and we expect to see initiatives to help migrate RE clients to these new platforms. And there is further evidence – in his video message in early May, CEO Mark Chardon announced a series of challenging deadlines to deliver specific changes in 30, 60 and 90 days.  These are fast by any standards, and you can be sure that we’ll be watching out on the days these deadlines expire, ready to bring you the news here at Purple Patch!

3.  Collaboration

Chardon and others have also been at pains to stress a new openness – listening, engaging and interacting, rather than just announcing.  This has been directed towards relationships with clients, whose satisfaction levels are known to have been slipping in recent years, through a refreshed consultation process.  But also we are seeing signs of new behaviours in the way that Blackbaud engages with other professionals in the market, such as digital marketers, system integrators and other software vendors.  For example, at Purple Vision, we have had more contact with Blackbaud in the past three months than all the years we have been working with their products.

Just as Apple and Salesforce have pioneered the explosive development of their businesses with open platforms and well organised app exchanges, Blackbaud knows that Convio has grown fast by exploiting the power of innovative independent partners.  They understand the concept that involving others in your business is an investment that enhances the attractiveness of the platform, and grows the whole market, resulting in greater value for for everyone.


So, what does this mean for Blackbaud and Convio clients?  Many people fear that with fewer suppliers in the market, innovation will be stifled and choice reduced, leading to neglected customer service and scope to increase prices.  On the other hand, if you are an RE user, there is precious little on the product development roadmap, and nothing that addresses the opportunities for fundraising in the cloud.  But now, with Convio joining the Blackbaud family, you have access to a range of innovative new products and services, delivered not by one monolithic vendor, but by your choice from a network of independent partners.

Time will tell if Blackbaud can boldly go where no-one has gone before.  Stay tuned for the next episode!