I recently spent a few days in Connecticut, USA, with Pitney Bowes. So why, you ask, is a CIO advisor who spends most of his time talking about the future of business technology in Asia Pacific spending time with a company that makes machines that stamp mail? That is a good question, and one I hope to answer while at the same time showing where I believe Pitney Bowes can help in your organisation.
So Pitney Bowes stamps mail. Yes — but they see it differently. They see that they enable communications with customers. Interesting. But mail is declining — right? Yes, it is, and Pitney Bowes has made many acquisitions to position itself as the leader in the digital mail space. And they have gone from just providing the communications capability to working across the entire customer lifecycle. Acquisitions of Portrait Software, MapInfo, Group 1 Software and many of the other firms they have acquired in the last 10 years have given them the ability to do:
- Customer profiling and segmentation
- Data preparation and composition
- Multi-channel customer output
- Customer response management
- Response analysis
Bridgekeeper: "What ... is your name?"
Traveler: "John Swainson of Dell."
Bridgekeeper: "What ... is your quest?"
Traveler: "Hey! That's not a bad idea!"
We suspect Dell's process was more methodical than that!
This acquisition was not a surprise, of course. All along, it has been obvious that Dell needed stronger assets in software as it continues on its quest to avoid the Gorge of Eternal Peril that is spanned by the Bridge of Death. When the company announced that John Swainson was joining to lead the newly formed software group, astute industry watchers knew the next steps would include an ambitious acquisition. We predicted such an acquisition would be one of Swainson's first moves, and after only four months on the job, indeed it was.
Haven't we seen this show before? Like last year? Once again, Europe wrestles with and is again losing against its debt crisis. Once again, after some promising growth in late 2011, the US economy is showing signs of losing steam. Once again, China and India are flashing distress signals. And once again, John Boehner and the Congressional Republicans are threatening to refuse to raise the US debt ceiling unless US Federal spending is cut sharply.
Last year, the mid-year economic troubles did take their toll on tech purchases in the third and four quarters of 2011, but a last-minute resolution to the US debt ceiling issue, the European Central Bank's aggressive lending to banks so they could buy Italian and Spanish government debt, and some strength in US consumer spending, Germany's surprisingly strong growth, and continued growth in China revived global economic growth in Q4 2011 and into Q1 2012. Much depends on whether this pattern of slump and revival will recur again in 2012. My bet is that we will in fact see the same pattern.
So, let's look at the economic evidence, and then the tech market evidence.
US economy slows but continues to grow. In the US, the US Bureau of Economic Analysis on May 31 revised down Q1 2o12 real GDP growth to 1.9% from 2.1% in the preliminary report, and on June 1 the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that a disappointing 69,000 increase in payroll employment in May, the second month of sub-100,000 job growth. On a more positive note, US retailers and auto makers reported good sales growth in May, while gas prices at the pump continued to fall from peaks earlier. My take is that we will see real GDP growth in the 1.5% to 2% range in the remainder of 2012, down from my earlier assumption of 2% to 2.5% growth.
The big news in the ePurchasing software market yesterday was SAP’s acquisition of Ariba. This blockbuster deal will extend SAP’s position as the largest software vendor in the ePurchasing market. It also brings into the SAP fold one of the most innovative companies in this market – a company that has a fair claim to having begun the whole market in the late 1990s.
Still, as my title suggests, I’m not convinced that this acquisition makes strategic sense. I think there’s a real risk that this turns out to be a deal where one plus one equals 1.75, not two, let alone a multiple of two. Reason one: the tremendous duplication of products between the two firms, and thus the problems of product rationalization and internal competition. Reason two: the Ariba Network, which is the main rationale for the acquisition, is based on an idiosyncratic pricing model that in my view is unsustainable at current rates and thus will not generate the kinds of revenues that SAP is expecting.
Let me first state the case for why this could be a good deal:
SAP has a goal of significantly increasing the portion of its revenues that come from SaaS subscriptions, so adding a projected $342 million in subscriptions revenues in 2012 (on an annual basis – SAP’s share for the year will be about half that) helps SAP reach its target of $2 billion in SaaS revenues.
Ariba has correctly recognized the economic value in operating a supplier network that stands between corporate buyers and suppliers and facilitates their transactions. SAP’s acquisition of Ariba now gives it control of and revenues from the largest of these supplier networks.
While I am still relatively bullish on the 2012 tech market outlook for the US (see our April 2, 2012, "US Tech Market Outlook For 2012 To 2013" report), I have to say that the data we got on the US economy and on the US tech market was a bit softer than I expected. US real GDP growth came in at 2.2%, a bit lower than my expectation of 2.5%. On the positive side, consumer spending rose by 2.9% in real terms, and residential construction continued to improve. On the negative side, business investment in structures was weak, and government spending fell at both the federal and state and local levels. More to the point, business investment in computer equipment and communications equipment fell from Q4 2011 levels, though computer equipment investment still was almost 8% higher than levels a year ago. Software investment, though, was up strongly — by 8.2% at an annualized rate from Q4 2011 and by 8.4% from Q1 2011.
The US economy continues to show improvement – for example, today’s news that new jobless claims were near a four-year low. As the economy outlook has improved, so, too, have prospects for the US tech market. In our updated Forrester forecast for US tech purchases, "US Tech Market Outlook For 2012 To 2013: Improving Economic Prospects Create Upside Potential," we now project growth of 7.5% in 2012 and 8.3% in 2013 for business and government purchases of information technology goods and services (without telecom services). Including telecom services, business and government spending on information and communications technology (ICT) will increase by 7.1% in 2012 and 7.4% in 2013.
The lead tech growth category will shift from computer equipment in 2011 to software in 2012 and 2013, with and IT consulting and systems integration services playing a strong supporting role. Following strong growth of 9.6% in 2011, computer equipment purchases will slow to 4.5% in 2012, as the lingering effects of Thailand's 2011 floods hurt parts supply in the first half and the prospect of Windows 8 dampens Wintel PC sales until the fall. Apple Macs and iPad tablets will post strong growth in the corporate market, though, and server and storage should grow in the mid-single digits.
On March 20, 2012, Oracle released its financial results for the quarter ending February 28, 2012, and Accenture did the same on March 22, 2012. Both had generally positive results, but with different implications for the software, hardware, and services markets of which they are a part. In short, we think the software and computer equipment market will do better in Q1 2012 than Oracle’s results suggest, while the IT services market will not do as well as Accenture did.
There is no doubt that Agile growth in the market is significant, and the growing daily number of inquiries I’ve been getting on Agile from end user organizations in 2012 gives me the impression that many are moving from tactical to strategic adoption. Why’s that? Many reasons, and you can read about them in our focused research on Agile transformation on the Forrester website. But I’d like to summarize the top five reasons from my recent research “Determine The Business And IT Impact Of Agile Development” :
Quality was the top — quite astonishing, but both the survey we ran across 205 Agile “professional adopters” and the interviews across some 21 organizations confirmed this. My read is that this is about functional quality.
Change was second to quality. We live in an era where innovation strives and organizations are continuously developing new apps and projects. But your business does not necessarily know what it needs or wants upfront. The business really appreciates the due-course changes that Agile development allows, as they enable the business to experiment and try out various options so it can become more confident about what is really right for the organization. Cutting edge cutting edge systems-of-engagement (Mobile, Web-facing, Social-media, etc) require lots of Change in due course.
The Dell brand is one of the most recognizable in technology. It was born a hardware company in 1984 and deservedly rocketed to fame, but it has always been about the hardware. In 2009, its big Perot Systems acquisition marked the first real departure from this hardware heritage. While it made numerous software acquisitions, including some good ones like Scalent, Boomi, and KACE, it remains a marginal player in software. That is about to change.