Asahi Net International Acquires the Sakai Division of rSmart

Today Asahi Net International acquired the Sakai Division of rSmart. rSmart CEO Chris Coppola will join the Ashai Net International Board creating interlocking boards. The financial arrangements are not known.

rSmart is a well known contributor to Apereo Inc.’s Sakai learning management system and to the Kuali suite of administrative software applications. rSmart has enhanced, implemented, and supported Sakai. It has also implemented the Kuali Financial System for colleges and universities.

This reorganization of effort may represent the changes in higher education: The relentless promotion of online learning and demand for more productive administrative systems is being advocated as a solution to the rising cost of higher education in developed countries.

“Worldwide over 350 educational organizations [have confirmed use of ] Sakai as a learning management system, research collaboration system and ePortfolio solution.” The actual number is much higher. (Sakai users are not required to register their use and the Sakai software does not automatically report its use to a central site). A new version of the Sakai software, Sakai OAE, is expected soon. It passed intense performance testing late last year and now can serve a large number of students. The market for Sakai support and Sakai as a “cloud” application is accelerating as colleges and universities continue to expand online education.

Ashai Net International’s parent company, Japan-based Ashai Net Inc. developed a learning management system, called manaba, beginning in 2007. The company offers manaba cloud-based learning services to 190 colleges and universities.

Georgetown University’s East Asia National Resource Center and Harvard College’s Japan Initiative are manaba users. Manaba support is led by Tomoka Higuchi McElwain M Ed, a Stanford University trained educator. Presentations on the use of manaba were recently made at Educause 2012, 20th International Conference on Computers in Education (ICCE 2012), and the Association of International Education Administrators 2013 Conference.

In April 2011, Asahi Net International, Inc. was established as a New York company. It was founded to support the growing international use of manaba.

In August 2012 parent Asahi Net, GSV Capital and others invested $10.75 million in rSmart. GSV investment advisor Michael Moe advised. At that time Moe expressed confidence in the firm saying “rSmart is helping universities realize lower total cost of ownership and higher-quality products that are easy to use.” Moe was a principal investment advisor for the last wave funding higher education—private for-profit colleges and universities.

CEO Takashi “Take” Takekawa is the President and CEO of manaba – Asahi Net International, Inc. He remains on the Board of Directors of rSmart. “Take” received an MBA from Harvard Business School.

The Kuali Foundation developed the community source model where colleges and universities would cooperatively develop administrative software and make it open source so higher education as a whole could benefit from that investment. rSmart CEO Chris Coppola was an early and vigorous supporter of that community model.

rSmart Board Chair John Robinson has a long and successful history founding and developing companies providing administrative software to colleges and universities. He founded Information Associates, later acquired by Sungard SCT. Robinson describes his commitment: “A large part of my job is spreading the word, helping open source become the business model for the development and distribution of software in the higher-education marketplace. The most gratifying aspect of this work is seeing the open-source community grow in education and collaborating with so many exceptional people.” Kuali has benefited from his “working with community leaders in education.”

Currently, the Kuali Foundation has four open-source software product lines: finance, research administration, IT infrastructure—called Rice, and student systems. rSmart is a Kuali commercial affiliate supporting all four software systems. The number of installations is shown in the Figure.

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The Kuali Foundation has developed and supports research administration software—called Coeus. This is a higher education-specific application based on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology system of the same name. This system is becoming mission-critical for research universities as federal funding shifts emphasis, and licenses are expected to be increasing potential revenue for research universities. rSmart can be expected to benefit from their immediate need.

The two organizations combine talented staff long committed to higher education. They have a reservoir of experience and knowledge. This has been shown by their contribution to open-source software- products designed specifically for higher education. Both companies have been and should continue to be successful without yielding control to organizations that have different values. Higher education should be pleased with today’s announcement.

Edited by Paul Heald, Sigma Systems Inc.

Correction: Data received today reported the manaba network serves 190 institutions globally. This correction has been made. Combined the Asahi Net International will be supporting 230 academic institutions serving 550,000 students.

Data can be downloaded here; graphics can be downloaded here.

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Jim Farmer is an engineering economist at instructional media + magic inc. His interests include educational technology, academic research, and information standards. He also writes for Intellectual Property Magazine. For more information, see his profile page.
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