Oracle's Merger and Acquisition Strategy Gets Some Respect

Oracle, led by CEO Larry Ellison, has famously "bought" new software applications rather than trying to grow them from within. Now, say industry watchers, Oracle's sound strategy is paying off and Microsoft should take heed.

By Thomas Wailgum
Wed, March 12, 2008

CIO — It's no industry secret that Oracle will make a strategic acquisition whenever it feels the need. Since 2005, Oracle had made 39 of them. Some were well-known and divisive (the 18-month hostile takeover of PeopleSoft), while most of the others were less rancorous deals that filled out Oracle's war chest of applications: Siebel (CRM), J.D. Edwards (ERP), Retek (retail management applications), Hyperion (business intelligence) and most recently BEA Systems (middleware).

Oracle's M&A strategy has been relatively simple and straightforward over the last four years: "By combining with strategic companies, Oracle strengthens its product offerings, accelerates innovation, meets customer demand more rapidly, and expands partner opportunity," states its Strategic Acquisitions webpage.

Today, Oracle brazenly acknowledges that it creates innovation and innovative products by buying them from others. This thinking, of course, is at odds with the long-held and romanticized view of innovation in Silicon Valley, which is that it should spring from within your four walls (or ideally someone's parents' garage).

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Oracle's Larry Ellison: Right on Mergers?

Oracle did not make an executive available for an interview, in spite of repeated requests. But Oracle senior executives have argued publicly that their competitors are just plain wrong. "It's crazy to say you will only grow through innovation," said Oracle CEO Larry Ellison a couple of weeks ago in a New York Times article. "It's bizarre that there's a stigma to buying something rather than building it yourself."

"At this point in our history, acquisition makes a lot more sense," said President Charles Phillips at Oracle's OpenWorld convention last November. "Companies are cheaper than in the Internet bubble. We can bring in innovation outside of Oracle. Anyone remotely thinking about selling their company is going to come to us. We've become the IPO market for the enterprise software industry."

Enterprise Software Industry in Flux

Mergers and acquisitions have been a critical part of the enterprise software market for the past 60 years, write Ray Wang and Andy Bartels, analysts at Forrester Research, in a recent report on M&As and software acquisitions.

For enterprise software vendors, the rationale behind acquisitions can be broken down into three types, according to the report:

1. Obtain a customer base that increases market share and revenue. Oracle’s purchases of PeopleSoft, Siebel and BEA Systems are illustrative of acquisitions driven by financial imperatives and intended to increase recurring revenues and profits.

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