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: 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.
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.