Business Management

Concur and Tibco Star in Sale Season

The summer is traditionally a quiet time for news, hence the term “silly season”, and for technology where IPOs go quiet and product launches are scarce. But this summer has been marked by a quite extraordinary spell of rolling, roiling, global geopolitical turmoil, and technology has not stood still either as we await the results of floatations at Alibaba, Rocket Internet, Box and others.

A recent sideshow to this has been two sizeable business software companies that have been the subject of talk that they will be merged or acquired. Both cases merit attention.

Concur, the leader in expense management in the cloud, has played a straight ‘no comment’ bat to reports that it might sell out. The outstanding likely purchaser here is SAP, which has been quietly collecting cloud business process services, including SuccessFactors for HR and Ariba for spend management and Fieldglass for workforce management, in recognition that browser-based services are becoming preferred to client/server for many enterprise tasks.   

Many cloud watchers feel that the triumvirate of Salesforce.com, NetSuite and Workday have emerged to be the default choice in CRM, SME ERP and HR/HCM respectively. But if that is the case, Concur can be thought of as a strong number four. It provides a secure, convenient way to handle business and travel expenses: a small but important aspect of managing any business from both the point of view of employee and employer.

That formula has led to significant success, including a $6.3bn valuation, not far short of the market cap of NetSuite, and annual revenues that have scaled solidly to over $500m.

Now over to Tibco which has said it is reviewing “strategic and financial options”, a phrase that usually results in an eventual sale to a fellow software company or private-equity outfit.

You could almost forgive Tibco for selling just to kill off the perpetual, tiresome questions from journalists and analysts asking when it will be acquired. Dwarfed by its outstanding rival IBM in middleware, Tibco is also a middleweight, surrounded as it is by the superheavyweights of enterprise software. Tibco is a sound company, raking in over $1bn in annual revenues, but growth opportunities are restricted and competition could hardly be tougher.

Ironically, the company has just made its most impressive play in years with the release of the subscription-based Engage platform for marketers. As Tibco’s Leandro Perez told me earlier this week, Engage is an attempt to help its users “convert customers to be loyal, understand customers and keep them… all in real time.” And a component offering in Engage, the Twitter-like micro-messaging tool Tibbr, is also making inroads.

Tibco’s solidity might make it attractive for a PE firm and that route would be welcomed by CIOs who appreciate a competitive marketplace rather than one where the largest Pac-Man eats anything in its sights.

Both Concur and Tibco are good companies that provide important services to happy customers. But they may be victims of a ‘stack’ approach to IT that sees the big get bigger in order to provide increasingly comprehensive technology sets to customer – ‘one-stop shops’ to win bigger ’share of wallet’ in the industry jargon.   

However, the notion that innovation is somehow on its way out is surely wrong. The history of IT is one of convulsive change and positive disruption. What happens to companies when they become mature but not mega-scale is, however, in question.  


Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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