I’m pissed off.
There, that feels better. No, it really doesn’t.
I came back from a nice vacation last week to the news that Blackbaud has decided to kill off the Common Ground product that they acquired when they purchased Convio earlier this year. While this move doesn’t directly affect Citizen Schools, as we’re essentially on the Luminate product, it does affect a lot of organizations in a very negative way and that makes me angry.
It makes me angry at Blackbaud for operating in what seems like a bait and switch fashion – on the one hand messaging their commitment to the Salesforce platform:
“One question I can comment on now: Will we continue a significant investment in developing on Salesforce.com’s Force.com platform? The answer is yes. A key aspect of the value of the acquisition was our belief that the nonprofit industry needs a diversity of solutions based on the diversity of needs across the industry. We value the Force.com platform as the right solution for an important and growing part of our industry. So, to state clearly, Convio’s success in working on the Salesforce.com platform was a big part of our acquisition investment, and we have every intention of continuing to capitalize on that value.” (from a message sent by Jana Eggers, Blackbaud’s SVP of Products and Marketing to customers on June 12, 2012)
while on the other hand, killing the Salesforce.com based product that had the biggest customer base (Common Ground vs Luminate). They also have the gall to tell their Common Ground customers:
Common Ground customers do not need to make any decisions or changes at this time. We are evaluating your needs to determine the best alternatives for you and will be communicating our recommendations in the coming days and weeks. We will involve each of you in the discussion about your options and the timing specific to them. The Common Ground product will be supported through March, 2014.
(from the email announcing the retirement of Common Ground to Common Ground customers sent August 3)
It’s nice that Blackbaud thinks that it can evaluate the needs of the (reported) 700 Common Ground customers and devise a solution for them, but not very realistic.
It makes me angry at Gene Austin, former CEO of Convio, for leaving the organization less than six months after closing the merger, taking his stock and salary payout and running.
And finally, it makes me angry at the regulators for approving the merger – clearly (in my opinion) missing the boat on the potential impact on the customers and marketplace.
Okay, so I’m angry, big deal. Time to get over it and move forward. I wrote back in January about my concerns over the merger and unfortunately they seem to be justified, so how might we mitigate the problems that we face.
If you’re an organization that is being affected by the retirement of Common Ground, start your planning now. Don’t panic, but recognize that you need to develop a plan. There are a number of other packages (Affinaquest, RoundCorner, the Non-Profit Starter Pack) which are built on the the Salesforce.com platform. Look at them, talk to their client references, kick their tires. They are leveraging the most powerful platform available to provide you with tools to run your CRM and Development functions, as well as your other processes.
Talk to partners – there are a lot of good consultants who understand both Salesforce and the nuances of our processes. Assess your needs (you know them better than a software vendor) and figure out where you want to go and what’s going to be necessary to help you get there.
Consider carefully Blackbaud’s plan to migrate you to eTapestry or the Raiser’s Edge – it’s a step back in time, to platforms that won’t scale as well or support your changing business needs. Non-profits in the 21st century need to be agile and these solutions will slow you down.
If you’re on Luminate, be wary. At this point, I have no confidence in Blackbaud’s commitment to the Force.com platform or the Luminate product. I expect that within 6 months to a year, we’ll be getting similar notification about the retirement of Luminate, as Blackbaud continues to develop their Blackbaud CRM product.
We’re going to prepare. We know Salesforce.com well, and as we’re adding functionality or enhancements, we’ll be limiting our exposure to the objects and fields in the Convio managed package. We won’t be migrating data out of those fields/objects at this point, but we’ll be looking to reduce our reliance on them. There are already aspects (reliance on Flash for the relationship widget, legacy S-controls for functionality) that were problematic. I don’t have high expectations that these are going to get fixed, so we’ll probably undertake development of our own to compensate for the gaps – I’ll be sharing our efforts here.
This isn’t the end of the world, but it is an unwelcome distraction from other work that we all have to do and that’s going to cost time and money that could be better spent elsewhere.
I couldn’t attend the Blackbaud townhall meeting yesterday, but there are some good summary points in the comments section of Robert Weiner’s post and in Idealware’s Q&A with Jana Eggers. From those posts, I don’t see anything that changes my fundamental conclusions: Existing CG clients are going to be forced to move to something, potentially with some incentives from Blackbaud to move to ETapestry or Raiser’s Edge (note to other vendors, Salesforce.com based or not – how do you capture some of this market share) and lip-service about commitment to Luminate (show me a product road-map and maybe I’ll believe it).
Salesforce.com’s annual user and developer conference, Dreamforce, is next week. I expect there will be lots of conversation on this topic, and maybe some coordinated action, coming out of it. I’ll post what I hear, either here or on Twitter (at @wnourse).