While taking in the latest US GDP report and its implications for the tech markets, I have been struck by a pattern of US business putting its money into technology instead of people. Part of the increased tech investment is replacement of old servers and PCs, but most investment has been in technologies to cut costs and improve efficiency. These purchases have been good news for the US tech market, which (as I predicted) is growing strongly. However, it is not so good for the overall economy. The lift to US economic growth from business IT investment is a positive, but the corporate reluctance to hire new employees is making consumers reluctant to spend. Moreover, much of the business investment in computer equipment is flowing overseas in the form of imports of these products, which is also hurting US GDP growth. So, the strong outlook for the tech market is paradoxically contributing to a less robust outlook for the US economy.
The US Department of Commerce released its preliminary report on US Gross Domestic Product in Q2 2010 last Friday, July 31, 2010, and today posted more detailed numbers on business investment in computer equipment and communications equipment. In addition to providing Q2 2010 data, there also were revisions in data for business investment in computer equipment, communications equipment, and software for 2007 to Q1 2010. So, let’s look at what the latest data is saying about the state of the US tech market.
To paraphrase Charles Dickens, Q2 2010 seemed like the best of times or the worst of times for the big software vendors. For Microsoft, it was the best of times; for IBM, it was (comparatively) the worst of times; and for SAP it was in between. IBM on June 19, 2010, reported total revenue growth of just 2% in the fiscal quarter ending June 30, 2010, with its software unit also reporting 2% growth (6%, excluding the revenues of its divested product lifecycle management group from Q2 2009). Those growth rates were down from 5% growth for IBM overall in Q1 2010, and 11% for the software group. In comparison, Microsoft on June 22, 2010, reported 22% growth in its revenues, with Windows revenues up 44%, Server and Tools revenues up 14%, and Microsoft Business Division (Office and Dynamics) up 15%. And SAP on June 27, 2010, posted 12% growth in its revenues in euros, 5% growth on a constant currency basis, and 5% growth when its revenues were converted into dollars.
What do these divergent results for revenue growth say about the state of the enterprise software market?
Expectations about economic growth prospects and the resulting implications for tech markets have been gyrating wildly in 2010. First, there were fears that the Greek debt crisis would spread to Portugal, Spain, Italy, maybe even the UK, leading to a breakup of the euro zone and a renewed recession in Europe. Then, as worries about Europe started to ebb after Greece and other countries successfully held debt tenders, the slow pace of job growth and weak retail sales in the US sparked concerns that the US was facing a double-dip recession.
What should a tech market watcher make of this uncertainty? As I read the economic and tech market indicators, I see more news that is in line with our expectations than not; where there have been surprises, they have been more often positive than negative. Economic recoveries seldom move in a straight line, so I did not expect to see an unbroken string of good news. Moreover, because of the imbalances that caused this downturn (too much consumer spending in the US, housing bubbles in the US and several other countries, too much debt), I expected the US economic recovery in particular to be relatively weak, with real growth rates of 2% to 3%. True, European economic growth — in large part due to the effects of the Greek debt crisis — has been weaker than expected, and the euro dropped much more against the US dollar then I had assumed. On the other hand, economic growth in Asia Pacific and Latin America has been stronger than I expected, and many of the currencies in these regions have risen in value against the dollar. Lastly, the indicators of the tech market itself — both US and other government data on business investment in technology (where available), as well as the vendor data from earnings releases for calendar Q1 2010 — has generally been stronger than our forecasts.
TECH DYNAMICS: Last Friday, June 25th, the US House and Senate reached agreement on a financial reform bill, which is likely to pass and be signed into law.* At first glance, this legislation has nothing to do with the IT industry directly. But buried in this bill is a provision regarding debit card fees, which could serve as a model for how end users of software could bring about a change in something that is very important to the economics of the software industry — software maintenance fees.
Now, software maintenance fees have been one of the givens in the software industry in perpetual license deals. Typically set at 18% to 22% of initial license fees, they are fixed in stone. An enterprise software buyer can try to negotiate a discount on a license fee; a really smart one can negotiate a deal where the maintenance fee rate is applied against the discounted license fee, not against the list license fee. But software vendors rarely discount maintenance fees.
Why? Established software vendors depend heavily on maintenance fees for the bulk of their revenue. Almost half (49%) of SAP’s revenues and Oracle’s applications revenues in 2009 came from maintenance fees. Oracle’s middleware business earned 55% of its calendar 2009 revenues from maintenance fees.
And yet maintenance fees are one of the biggest sources of complaint from enterprise software buyers. Every so often this dissatisfaction breaks into the open. SAP faced massive client unrest when it raised maintenance fees for most customers during 2009. SAP tapped the biggest vein of resentment about maintenance fees: fees on old software. Old software is the crux of the problem with maintenance fees: It tends to be stable and therefore requires little support.
TECH DEVELOPMENTS: I have been re-reading Clayton M. Christensen’s The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail in preparation for a session that Chris Mines and I are running on adapting to the Next Big Thing at Forrester’s IT Forum 2010.* Last week, I attended SAP’s SAPPHIRE NOW conference in Orlando, listened to co-CEOs Bill McDermott and Jim Hagemann Snabe, and met with McDermott along with other Forrester colleagues. The juxtaposition of the book and the event caused me to wonder: is SAP like one of the highly successful companies in Christensen’s book that failed to adapt to disruptive technologies? As Christensen noted, “the managers of the companies studied here had a great track record in understanding customers’ future needs, identifying which technologies could best address those needs, and in investing to develop and implement them.”
Everything that McDermott and Snabe said was consistent with these characteristics. They talked about how companies were facing a world of mobile, empowered customers; their need to be connected with each other to optimize the value chain through to the end consumer; the desire for new process flows; and the importance to them of fast decision-making. They identified a combination of on-premise, on-demand, and on-device solutions that SAP will be offering to meet these needs. They discussed SAP’s investments and new offerings in these areas, including its acquisition of Sybase for its mobile solutions and real-time analytics capabilities.
TECH DEVELOPMENTS: With SAP's release of its Q1 2010 earnings, it is clear that those who saw an irresistible shift from licensed software to software-as-a-service (SaaS) are a bit premature in their obituaries for the licensed software model. SAP's license revenues increased by 11% in euros, and by 18% when its euro revenues are converted into dollars at the average exchange rates in Q1 2010 and Q1 2009. Oracle's license revenues for its fiscal quarter ending February 2010 rose by 13% in US dollars (and 7% in euros). Among other vendors, Lawson reported a 28% increase in its license revenues (in dollars), and Epicor reported 23%.
These growth rates partly reflect how badly licensed software (which is treated as capital investment) got hit in the general cutbacks in business corporate investment in 2009, as panicked companies scrambled to conserve cash and avoid having to borrow from shut-down financial markets. However, I think there's more to the recovery than rebound from depressed levels a year ago.
Forrester's surveys of companies about why they don't like software-as-a-service consistently turn up five reasons: 1) inability to customize; 2) difficulty in integration to other systems; 3) security of data and information; 4) worries about pricing models that put clients on a constantly rising escalator; and 5) lack of SaaS products. SaaS vendors are addressing all of these, and there is no question that these barriers are eroding. But they still persist, and mean that the license software model has a high degree of persistence in software categories like core ERP systems (integration and security of core data), industry-focused applications (need for customization), eProcurement products (integration to ERP systems), and contract life cycle management products (security of contract data).
TECH DEVELOPMENTS: Like half a dozen Forrester colleagues, I have been stuck in London since last week due to the Icelandic volcano's disruption of air travel. So, this allows me a UK perspective on IBM's results for Q1 2010. These turned out to be very much what I expected (see "US And Global IT Market Outlook: Q1 2010 -- The Tech Market Recovery Has Begun"). I thought IBM's revenues would grow by mid-single digits; in fact, they grew by 5%. I expected its software revenue growth to be in low double-digits; its hardware revenues to be around 3%-5%; its outsourcing revenues up about the same; and its consulting and SI revenues down by 5% to 10%. Again, actual results came in pretty close: software revenues were up 10.6%; systems and technology revenues up 4.9%; outsourcing (GTS outsourcing) up 6%; and IT consulting and systems integration services (Integrated Technology Services and Global Businesses Services) flat with the year before.
Based on the results we have seen so far from IBM, Oracle (quarter ending February 28), Accenture (quarter ending February 28), and Atos Origin, here's what I think we will see for vendors for the rest of the quarter:
Software will be strong, up 10% or more growth in US dollar revenues for most vendors. Microsoft will do better than this, thanks to strong sales from Windows 7.
Hardware will also be strong, with PC vendors posting 15% growth and server/storage vendors coming in around 5% to 8%.
IT consulting and systems integrations servies will still be down, lagging the upturn in software investment.
As I predicted in January 2010 (see January 11, 2010, "US and Global IT Market Outlook: Q4 2009"), a tech recovery has started in the US and around the world. In my updated IT market forecast (see April 8, 2010, "US and Global IT Market Outlook: Q1 2010"), I point out that IT market indicators from Q4 2009 showed an end to declines, setting the stage for stronger growth in 2010. Since IT market trends are playing out as I expected, I have made only modest changes to my 2010 IT market forecasts. I now expect the US IT market to grow by 8.4%, a bit higher than my earlier forecast, because of better-than-expected performance in communications equipment. My forecast for the global IT market in US dollars is a bit lower at 7.7%, with the unexpected strength in the US dollar (due to the weaker Euro after the Greek debt crisis) dampening dollar-denominated growth. I continue to see computer equipment and software as the strongest product categories in 2010, with PCs, peripherals, and storage equipment leading the computer category and operating system software and applications setting the pace for software. Communications equipment purchases are looking up, especially for enterprise and SMB buying. IT services will lag a bit, with systems integration project work waiting for licensed software purchases to rise.
In this report, I provide our first look at 2010 IT purchases on an industry basis in the US. Confirming past research, the largest US industry market for tech products and services is the professional services industry ($103 billion), followed by financial services ($81 billion), and government ($71 billion). In terms of 2010 growth prospects, US manufacturers, financial services firms, utilities, and health care will see the strongest growth in 2010.
With Forrester’s new blogging platform in place, I have the opportunity to launch a series of blogs about tech economics. What do I mean by tech economics? To me, tech economics first means how the larger economy and the tech sector interact. I am interested both in how economic conditions impact the demand for technology goods and services and how business and government purchases of these tech goods and services affect the economy as a whole and the industries and firms in the economy. Second, tech economics is about the revenue of tech vendors, both what they are reporting in the present and past and what we expect those revenues will be based on future purchases by their business and government customers.
My published research on the US and global IT market outlook, industry, regional, and country IT purchase trends, big trends like Smart Computing, and the ePurchasing software market (which I also cover) will continue to be my platform for addressing tech economics. However, I want to use this blog to talk about four focused aspects of the tech market: 1) tech data sources; 2) tech industry definitions; 3) tech market developments; and 4) tech market dynamics. Let’s call these the 4Ds of tech economics, and each will have its own strand of comments and observations.
D1: Tech data sources will be of most use to the data geeks like me in tech vendors. These are folks who use my numbers in their own forecasts of the market for their firm and its products. These blogs will talk about the data sources that I use in building my tech market sizing and forecasts, issues and questions about these data sources, and how the data geeks can leverage them. I will share some (but not all!) of our secret sauce for our forecasts, and I hope you will share some of yours so we can all get better.