It seems almost every week in cybersecurity and IAM we read of a large company buying a smaller one. Many times, it is a big stack vendor adding something that may be missing to their catalog, or buying a regional competitor. Sometimes it’s a medium-sized technology vendor picking up a promising start-up. In the olden days (15+ years ago), start-ups hoped for going IPO. IPOs are far less common today. Why? Mostly because it’s an expensive, time-consuming process that doesn’t achieve the returns it once did. Many times, going IPO was an interim step to getting acquired by a large vendor, so why not just skip ahead?
Mergers are not common for a few reasons. Merger implies a coming together of near-equals, and executives and boards of directors don’t usually see it this way. So even when mergers happen, they’re often spun as simply acquisitions, and one brand survives while the other fades away. Mergers also mean de-duplication of products, services, and downsizing of the workforces. Mergers can be difficult for customers of both former brands to endure as well.
In the last few years, we’ve increasingly seen equity firms purchase mature start-ups and assemble portfolios of tech vendors. I say “mature start-up” because, instead of the “3 years and out” that occasionally worked in the early 2000s, now vendors are often taking investment (Series A, B, C, D, etc.) 5-7 years or more after founding. When equity firms pick up such companies, the purchased vendor generally retains their brand in the marketplace. The equity firms typically have 3-5 year plans to streamline the operations of the components in their portfolios, make each company profitable, build value, and then sell again.
Other times large companies spin off divisions that are “not part of their core competencies”. Maybe those divisions are not doing well under current management and might fare better in the market where they can have some brand separation and autonomy.
What motivates acquisitions? There are four major reasons companies merge with or buy others:
- To acquire technology
- To acquire customers
- To acquire territory
Getting a new technology to integrate into an existing suite is very straightforward. Picking up a smaller competitor to access their customer base is also a common strategy, provided it doesn’t run afoul of anti-trust laws. Large regional vendors will sometimes buy or merge with similar companies in other regions to gain overall market share. These can often be smart strategies toward building a global footprint in the market.
Every now and then, however, we read about deals that don’t make sense in the industry. This is the unknown category. Sometimes big companies do acquire smaller competition, but do not integrate, extend, or service the purchased product. Dissatisfied customers leave. Overall brand reputation suffers. These deals turn out to be mistakes in the long run, only benefitting the owners of the purchased company. A better plan is to out-compete rather than buy-out the competition.
Customers of vendors that are being bought or divested have questions: what will happen to the product I use? Will it be supported? Will it go away? Will I have to migrate to combined offering? If so, is now the time to do an RFP to replace it?
IT executives in end-user organizations may hold conflicting views about M&A activities. On the one hand, consolidation in the market can make vendor and service management easier: fewer products to support and fewer support contracts to administer. On the other hand, innovation in large companies tends to be slower than in smaller companies. It’s a momentum thing. As an IT manager, you need your vendor to support your use cases. Use cases evolve. New technical capabilities are needed. Depending on your business requirements and risk tolerance, you may occasionally have to look for new vendors to meet those needs, which means more products to support and more contracts to manage. Beware the shiny, bright thing!
Recommendation: executives in companies that are acquiring others or are being divested need to
- Quickly develop, or at least sketch, roadmaps of the product/services that are being acquired or divested. Sometimes plans change months or years after the event. When they do, let customers know.
- Communicate those roadmaps as well as known at the time of acquisition or divestiture. Explain the expected benefits of the M&A activity and the new value proposition. This will help reduce uncertainty in the market and perhaps prevent premature customer attrition.
In summary: there will always be mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures in the security and identity market. Consolidation happens, but new startups emerge every quarter in every year with new products and services to address unmet business requirements. IT managers and personnel in end-user organizations need to be aware of the changes in the market and how it may impact their businesses.
Likewise, executives in vendor companies, investors, VCs, and equity firms need to be cognizant of current market trends as well as make predictions about the impact and success of proposed ventures. This can help to avoid those deals that leave everyone scratching their heads wondering why did they do that? At KuppingerCole, we understand the cyber and IAM markets, and know the products and services in those fields. Stay on top of the latest security and identity product evaluations at www.kuppingercole.com.