Microsoft’s announcement of its intent to purchase LinkedIn for $26.2 billion has inspired countless media outlets and education analysts to speculate about what this will mean for education. It has even caused some commentators to predict that the deal will bring about some sort of data apocalypse.
With such a high price tag, Microsoft clearly sees value in LinkedIn’s 100 million active users, but they aren’t the only ones. One behind-the-scenes story of the LinkedIn acquisition is that Salesforce was involved in a bidding war with Microsoft, pushing the final price up 22 percent. We believe that the real value of this deal will be based less on Microsoft’s ability to monetize the profiles of existing LinkedIn users, and more on its success in using this asset to develop entirely new solutions for neglected problem areas in education.
The True Value of LinkedIn’s Relationship Data
While we relish the idea of connecting Cortana, Microsoft’s personal assistant app, to LinkedIn contacts for research purposes, more enthralling is the prospect of turning currently enrolled college students into the most active group of LinkedIn users the company has ever seen. In order to do this, Microsoft could use LinkedIn data and its marketplace of potential employers to revolutionize how career services functions on college campuses today.
Microsoft’s ownership of LinkedIn and its trove of data on employers, jobs, and the skills that employers are seeking to fill those jobs, gives Microsoft’s other technology platforms a cornerstone of matchmaking potential. It’s not hard to imagine how current students could find job prospects or have their LinkedIn profiles reviewed by career advisors, all while working together on the Microsoft Dynamics CRM platform.
LinkedIn’s data, however, is more valuable than its user profiles alone. Longitudinal data on career outcomes, interests, and networking groups—data that has been nearly impossible for companies to collect at scale—would be valuable to career services and advisors.
Therein lies Microsoft’s biggest opportunity: LinkedIn data could power a killer app for its own CRM. Microsoft should focus on creating a turnkey, Software as a Service (SaaS) solution for the enterprise buyers of CRM. This would include LinkedIn data sources that career services professionals can readily tap for career advising sessions with students. Only an exclusive feature, such as linking LinkedIn profiles to student resumes, portfolios, and evidence of learning would give Microsoft any sort of advantage in the higher education CRM market.
A Languishing Career Services Market, Ripe for the Taking
Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM platform is currently not seeing the same level of adoption in higher education as Salesforce or any of the other enterprise CRM vendors. Limited adoption of CRM technology for promoting student success is not limited to Microsoft, however. Apart from the success of products such as Hobson’s Starfish, few companies have discovered an effective way to merge CRM systems with the student success, outcomes, and career pathways data of advisory and retention solutions. No company has yet figured out how to link all of the departments and offices that engage students, including career services, in a one-stop-shop model using a single CRM platform. This is ironic, since the new federal Gainful Employment regulations clearly ties high-quality career services to an institution’s ability to meet its goals.
Microsoft will face significant competition from incumbent, legacy vendors when it uses its Dynamics CRM platform to take the career services management (CSM) market head on. That competition will most likely come from a single vendor with a near stranglehold on the current market: Symplicity Corporation. Its product, aptly named Symplicity CSM, dominates the competition with a nearly 70 percent market share.
This near monopoly, made possible by its acquisition of Experience from ConnectEDU in 2014, is bolstered by its continued role as the technology platform behind the nonprofit college and employer career network known as NACElink. Symplicity has struggled since the Experience acquisition to modernize the look and feel of its platform, and to engage students outside of its core resume writing, review, and job application functionalities. Additionally, Symplicity has been dabbling with the use of more extensive student portfolios in lieu of resumes, and machine learning and analytics to better match applicants to job opportunities.
One More Acquisition Away from Locking Up the Market
Simply launching a new career services product won’t lock up the market for Microsoft. The adoption of new paradigms of student-employer engagement has been slow. Institutions have been reluctant to change the way that career services has worked for decades, with their traditional focus on career fairs and resume workshops instead of discussions about employer fit and the alignment of workplace skills.
If Microsoft has a little cash left over from the LinkedIn deal, they might want to scoop up Symplicity for its institutional and employer relationships, and lock up the higher education market overnight. While Symplicity advertises the fact that it was connected to the largest, nationwide, crowdsourced database of entry-level jobs from employers—in the form of NACELink—that network pales in comparison to the potential market of 6.5 million job postings that the LinkedIn employer community brings. Instead, the value of Symplicity to Microsoft would be in its existing client relationships.
The new clients from such an acquisition is all that Microsoft needs to finally make a name for itself in higher education outside of its Microsoft Office productivity tools.