New Year’s Eve is the time for looking back at the past year before preparing for the next on New Year’s Day. So, I’m taking the time before the festivities tonight to take stock of 2011 and put down my thoughts on what were the top 10 events in the tech world. This is one person’s opinion, so feel free to voice your own counterpoints.
In reverse order (and with apologies to David Letterman):
10. Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype. I’m still not clear about how Microsoft is going to use Skype, but Skype’s expanding role as a platform for person-to-person videochats may make this one of Microsoft’s better acquisitions.
9. IBM’s Watson wins Jeopardy!, setting stage for creating deep analytical solutions for other business problems. The average person doesn’t understand technology. But many people follow the Jeopardy! game show on TV. By developing an artificial intelligence system that could successfully beat the best human contestants in Jeopardy and giving it the human name of Watson, IBM did a brilliant job of showing its technologies’ potential in a way the average person could understand. More importantly, it has followed up by building new Watson-based solutions for healthcare diagnostics, financial services risk management, and other business situations.
8. Microsoft/Nokia partnership for Nokia to adopt the Microsoft Phone operating system for its smartphones. Both Microsoft and Nokia have struggled in keeping up with Apple and Google in the smartphone market. By combining forces, they gave themselves another chance to become a credible third option in the smartphone market.
Oracle yesterday reported surprisingly weak results for its fiscal quarter ending on November 30 (see December 20, 2011, "Oracle Reports Q2 GAAP EPS Up 17% to 43 Cents; Q2 Non-GAAP EPS up 6% to 54 Cents"), with total revenues up just 2%, software revenues up 7%, hardware revenues down 10%, and services revenues flat. Even worse, hardware product sales were down 14%, new software license revenues rose just 2%, and license revenues for Oracle applications actually fell by 4%. Oracle had set expectations for revenue growth of 5% to 15%, and most financial analysts had projected growth at the high end of that range, based on Oracle's license revenues in prior quarters growing by 22% to 34% for applications, and 14% to 27% for database and middleware revenues. Oracle attributed the shortfall in revenues to potential deals that failed to close by the end of the quarter due to buyer caution.
For the tech sector, this is a worrisome report. Oracle's software revenues had been consistently stronger than the overall tech market, growing by 17% in US dollars in the prior quarters in 2011. If Oracle's software revenue growth slips to 7%, does that imply that the rest of the tech market is going to see little or no growth in Q4 2011?
IBM today announced that it will acquire Emptoris, a leading vendor of ePurchasing software products, with strengths in eSourcing, spend analysis, contract lifecycle management, services procurement, and supplier risk and performance management (see December 15, 2011, “IBM Acquisition of Emptoris Bolsters Smarter Commerce Initiative, Helps Reduce Procurement Costs and Risks”). That IBM made an acquisition of this kind was not a surprise to me, given that the heads of IBM's Smarter Commerce software team at the IBM Software Analyst Connect 2011 event on November 30 had laid out a vision of providing solutions for the buying activities of commerce as well as the sales, marketing, and services activities. Indeed, in the breakout session in which Craig Hayman, general manager of industry solutions at IBM, laid out the Smarter Commerce software strategy and showed the vendors that IBM had acquired in the sales, marketing, and services arenas, he said in response to my comment about the obvious gaps that IBM had in the buying area that we should expect to see IBM acquisitions in that area.
What was a surprise to me was that IBM acquired Emptoris. My prediction would have been that IBM would buy Ariba, because of the long relationship that has existed between these companies. In contrast, Emptoris has generally worked more with Accenture, and not as much with IBM.