I'd barely remembered to print the year "2010" properly on my personal checks when the landslide of acquisitions in information management started snowballing. Siperian, Initiate, Savvion, SilverCreek, AmberPoint and a half-dozen other semi-familiar names tumbled across Wall Street into the arms of Informatica, IBM, Progress Software, Oracle etc.
Clearly, Wall Street is feeling upbeat compared to Main Street, but I wouldn't call it a fire sale either. And let's be clear, I'm no financial analyst myself, but I know the usual boardroom drivers for this sort of thing. If Oracle and IBM were thinking about your company specifically when they made these deals, it probably isn't in the way you would have preferred.
The first driver would be maturity consolidation, in which a best-of-breed field has sorted out to a handful of standalone vendors ripe for larger platforms to beef up tentative or incomplete investments in emerging technology areas. In MDM, which has come a long way in a few years, Initiate and Siperian fill this bill for IBM and Informatica respectively in different ways.
In business process management, Savvion went to Progress to tackle the human to machine side of BPM, something I figured would happen years ago, but a lot of BPM specialists are more tied to intellectual property than big software. Now that services are at the fore you can see why the consulting dollars suddenly looked attractive. (IBM buying Lombardi and Software AG buying IDS Scheer last year also fall into this category.)
Customer acquisition and a third usual driver, cross-selling the customer base, falls across all of these deals.
But look at those TLAs -- MDM, SOA, PIM, BPM -- and mostly it tells me how fast "new" generation software and services are falling into the ranks of infrastructure, in theory at least. That leaves me more concerned about the impact on customers now that packaged software and middleware bundles, (not to mention compete IT stacks from Oracle and Microsoft/HP) are going to change and muddle the budget process). Look for all sorts of discount and standardization arguments to question the hard-won decision you made a month ago.
The biggest vendors that were comfortable to ride out 2009 with cash on the side are now investing and seem pretty confident in their roadmaps. No one would doubt they've vetted these deals more thoughtfully than in the first half of the last decade.
All these circumstances will take some decisions right out of customer hands. As old partners turn into competing platforms we had no intention of standardizing on, many of us will be left asking what we were thinking a year or two ago. I'm sorry to say it, but another round of hard selling is being pointed at customers at this very moment.
The "new, new" generation of SaaS and cloud and virtualization still has enough growth, groundswell and IP to keep the M&A hawks at bay for a while, but that cycle already appears to be shortening as well.
I think I was right a few weeks ago when I was talking about annual IT budgets becoming a thing of the past, and a CIO at a big company confirmed his own confrontation with that thought just this morning. It's a long sprint when you're running as fast as you can and the finish line is moving away every time you think you see it.