Sunday, August 06, 2006

IBM compromising its partner strategy with bid for MRO Software

IBM has reached agreement with MRO Software to acquire this vendor of enterprise asset management systems. The deal is for $740 million. IBM plans to incorporate MRO's products into its Tivoli systems management software.

While IBM's Tivoli products current provide asset management functionality for IT assets, MRO's functionality embraces all assets of the enterprise, including IT. In fact, MRO could be considered one of the leaders in EAM systems, if not the leader.
Its Maximo product line targets manufacturers, utilities, government, universities, and hospitality industries, among others. It is strong in advanced planning and scheduling for maintenance activities, and it accommodates complex condition-based preventative maintenance planning. It even has its own e-procurement solution and plays well with various online marketplaces for maintenance, repair, and operating supplies.

MRO's strategy in the past has been to partner with major ERP vendors to provide integration with financials and other back-office systems. This works well with IBM's strategy of providing consulting and implementation services across a wide range of technology providers.

Still, one must ask, does the acquisition of MRO Software represent a shift in IBM's strategy of not competing with its independent software vendor (ISV) partners? Yes, software sales are the most profitable segment of IBM's business these days. But, over the past decade, IBM's strategy has been to provide infrastructure software, such as databases and development tools to its ISV partners and also to provide implementation and integration services to customers of those ISVs. It avoided competing head-to-head with those ISVs for their core business. IBM has is doing a lot of acquisitions these days, but to my knowledge, this is its first major bid for a true business application vendor.

By own suspicion is that this is not a change of direction for IBM, but an exception. MRO was available, the technology match was good. Unfortunately, however, MRO comes with a lot more than is needed to fill out Tivoli's product lines. I'm guessing that IBM just compromised a bit with its partner strategy.

The test will come when IBM starts going up against SAP or Oracle for major EAM sales.

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