This week I learned that the SIS I'd grown to know and love over several years of use with my old school district and three years on their advisory council had been acquired. Follett (that's right, the library people) had bought X2 Development Corporation.
Although the acquisition was announced early this month, I've been so buried in consulting work that the news never made it to me. I was surprised, particularly given that, while I was a big fan of X2, the company only operated in 7 states. Their international operations were growing, but I would have expected an educational juggernaut like Follett to buy one of the bigger names in student information systems. However, as Follet's press release explained,
“The acquisition of X2 Development Corporation expands Follett’s portfolio of technology solutions that simplify the delivery of education for schools and school districts,” said Thomas Schenck, President of Follett Technology Solutions and International Group. “And with the addition of the Aspen Student Information System, Follett now provides a full range of K-12 enterprise management knowledge, products and services to help schools effectively and efficiently meet administrative and classroom needs.”
It wasn't about the customer base, which is primarily centered in New England. Rather, it was about the platform and the technology. In fact, X2 will remain a wholly-owned subsidiary of Follett and continue its development work. X2 was selected from 52 SIS vendors nationwide. So credit to X2, but what does it mean for the larger picture?
While this will take some time to play out, it means that Follett is going to have a suite of resources to offer potential customers. It also means that customers thinking that Follett just might be a little too expensive when open source alternatives like Koha just keep getting better will be faced with the possibility of fully integrated library, student information, textbook, ERM, and special education software. X2 had just started introducing learning management tools and integrated teacher websites as well, begging the question of just how far Follett's textbook resources might be integrated with X2's software and where Follett's extensive classroom tools might make their way into an SIS.
What this all comes down to is a major value add for both X2's and Follett's potential customers (who are now one and the same). I'm hopeful that this won't resemble Pearson's purchase of Chancery SMS. Although Chancery's web-based SIS was utterly dismal compared to their early forays in client-server SIS products, Pearson bought Chancery for its customer base and killed off the product. All the better to move them to PowerSchool. Fortunately, the X2 acquisition gives Follett not only customers but a well-built SIS, help desk and ERM software, and special education software, none of which it had before.
This acquisition actually has the potential to alter what schools can expect from a mega-vendor like Follett and, if pricing can be kept competitive (as it was with X2 as a standalone company), then there is now one more really big name, commercial SIS available for schools nationwide. Take that, Powerschool.