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How Blackboard is Unifying Identity for Millions of Users

The EdTech leader is creating a universal identity solution across its product portfolio as part of its digital transformation

About

Blackboard is a leading EdTech company, serving higher education, K-12, business and government clients around the world. We connect a deep understanding of education with the power of technology to continuously push the boundaries of learning. Our mission is to advance learning together with the world's education community, so that all learners, educators and institutions can realize their goals today and prepare for tomorrow.

Industry

Education

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AMER

Blackboard is a global leader in EdTech, with a portfolio of educational software used by schools, businesses, and governments alike. Blackboard has undergone multiple evolutions since being founded in 1997, and recently, it began its biggest transformation yet.

“The digital transformation that’s taking place at Blackboard is a full business transformation,” says Jeremy Sapriel, senior director of product management. Sapriel explains that Blackboard is becoming a true SaaS company, breaking down the barriers between products to form a single, integrated ecosystem.

In order for Blackboard to adopt this integrated approach, it needed to de-silo identity. It enlisted Auth0 to get it there.

“Software is a conversation, and what Auth0 enables for us is to know who’s in the conversation across our entire product portfolio.”

Jeremy SaprielSenior Director of Product Management

Thousands of Identity Providers Needed One Identity Broker

In the past, Blackboard had a fragmented approach to identity. “A client would set up identity with one of our products, and then they’d sign up for another product and have to start over a little differently with a slightly different feature set,” explains Michel Courson, Blackboard’s senior director of enterprise architecture. “So the biggest business problem that we’re trying to solve here is to have a single Blackboard identity. You do it once and then it works everywhere.”

Achieving this unified identity posed a challenge for Blackboard since each customer acts as its own identity provider. “What we’re doing here is integrating with their identity providers, and we’re using Auth0 as a ball carrier between those identity providers to make it look like one identity provider for us on the inside,” says Courson. It’s the same principle as social login, but instead of using a handful of identity providers like Google and Facebook, each school provides the login credentials for its students.

Single Sign On (SSO) has been set up to offer a seamless user experience, and it’s being rolled out across the entire Blackboard ecosystem. Having a single user ID for all educational properties allows for data-fueled personalization, where insights can surface about users’ learning behaviors and outcomes.

To implement this unique use case, Blackboard relied on Auth0’s support. “In terms of prototyping a solution, we actually went very far just by using Auth0's documentation and what was publicly available,” Courson says. When the team needed more help, they turned to Auth0’s professional services team. “At critical points in our development process, we held workshops with the consultants,” says Courson. “We would explain to them what we're doing, present our plans, and then they would work with us to refine the designs and explore all of the edge cases. Understand the way that the API, the rate limits, and so on would work together, and make sure that our design would work the way we intend it to.”

“What we’re doing here is integrating with their identity providers, and we’re using Auth0 as a ball carrier between those identity providers to make it look like one identity provider for us on the inside.”

Michel CoursonSenior Director of Enterprise Architecture

Connecting Identity Without Compromising Security

One of Blackboard’s core requirements for its new approach to identity was that it upholds the company’s rigorous security standards. The company felt confident that Auth0 would keep the company compliant with evolving best practices and data privacy laws.

“The accreditations that Auth0 has were very important for us,” Courson says. “It’s really about being able to rely on a company whose sole core competency is to deal with identity and to free us from having to maintain that level of security.”

One way Blackboard uses Auth0 to maintain legal compliance with GDPR and other international laws is by using Private Cloud, which allows for control over where user data is stored. “Data locality is super important in the education market,” says Courson. “So the fact that Auth0 has the ability to be deployed in individual regions was a really key selling point for us.” In addition, having a single user ID for each user across Blackboard’s systems means that the company can easily access, change, and delete data in keeping with the GDPR’s “right to be forgotten.”

“Data locality is super important in the education market. The fact that Auth0 has the ability to be deployed in individual regions was a really key selling point for us.”

Michel CoursonSenior Director of Enterprise Architecture

Reducing Maintenance Costs and User Friction

Blackboard is still in the midst of its transformation, but Auth0 is helping it speed up its journey by letting it focus on its core mission. Says Sapriel, “We’re reducing our maintenance costs because we're not managing identity across all these products, and we're not having to worry about daisy-chaining identity, so we're making our cycle time for releasing features faster.”

“We're also lowering the bar for our clients to trial, adopt, and use new products and functionality,” Sapriel explains. “Since with the universal identity, we can provision users using their existing login, which allows us to activate licenses for customers for trials without large implementations.”

Providing best-in-class identity management is a core component of Blackboard’s vision for its future. “Software is a conversation,” says Sapriel. “And what Auth0 enables for us is to know who’s in the conversation across our entire product portfolio.”

“We’re reducing our maintenance costs because we're not managing identity across all these products, and we're not having to worry about daisy-chaining identity, so we're making our cycle time for releasing features faster.”

Jeremy SaprielSenior Director of Product Management

About Auth0

Auth0, a product unit within Okta, takes a modern approach to identity and enables organizations to provide secure access to any application, for any user. The Auth0 Identity Platform is highly customizable, and is as simple as development teams want, and as flexible as they need. Safeguarding billions of login transactions each month, Auth0 delivers convenience, privacy, and security so customers can focus on innovation. For more information, visit https://auth0.com.

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