SAP Buys Sybase: A Splish or a Splash?

To help analyze the SAP-Sybase deal, look no further than Anchorman's Ron Burgundy. Hey, When in Rome...

Ladies and gentlemen, can I please have your attention. I've just been handed an urgent news story. I need all of you to stop what you're doing and listen....CANNONBALL!

-Ron Burgundy in Anchorman

My sense is that sentiment is exactly what SAP executives had in mind when they announced the intended acquisition of Sybase on Wednesday: A big, raucous and splashy purchase that would demonstrate to their customers, shareholders and competitors that the new SAP regime was not afraid to acquire technology and talent, like SAP did back in 2008 with its celebrated Business Objects buy.

Ron Burgundy Anchorman Cannonball
 

It's easy to interpret SAP executives' logic behind the move: The buy shores up SAP's future database and mobile strategies, as Chris Kanaracus writes in an article on how the deal will affect Sybase customers. And it also sends a shot across Oracle's bow.

But in my estimation, the Sybase acquisition was no cannonball. It was more like a safe, measured jump into the M&A pool, like kids on a diving board who are unsure about a full-fledged dive and instead do what we used to call a "pencil"—feet first into the water with little risk of bodily harm.

Despite the pronouncements from SAP's leadership, I can't wrap my head around how the acquisition—forking out nearly $6 billion and paying a premium for Sybase which owns just 3 percent marketshare and has $500 million in debt—fundamentally alters the enterprise applications landscape right now.

Is Oracle quaking over this? Are SAP-Sybase customers rejoicing? Is the ERP-on-mobile-devices crowd screaming with delight? Has this solved SAP's on-demand computing woes?

As Enterprise Irregular blogger Chris Selland puts it, there was no "rock star" energy to the deal's announcement. And the "So What?" question that initially surrounds every acquisition—as in: Why should I care about this?—is a message that would only interest or excite the product marketing folks at SAP and Sybase, as Selland contends. He's not being flip; he's being realistic.

SAP, not unlike legendary anchorman Burgundy in the movie, is at a crossroads. It's used to being on top in business software. But it's got legacy, and it's facing new, upstart competitors who are younger and more nimble. It's attempting to adapt to the ever-morphing world of enterprise software, but there are many daunting challenges due to just how entrenched it has become.

In a potent, thought-provoking post on the deal, another Enterprise Irregular blogger Bob Warfield writes: "This deal is a classic example of a wounded elephant crashing through the jungle, wanting to change the past, and having the resources to make a stab at some semblance of that distorted vision through an acquisition."

The joint announcement on the deal uses the word "synergies" six times. That word—to me, anyway—seems like a term the somewhat-vapid Ron Burgundy would definitely not understand but would use in his conversations anyway, because it sounds important.

You stay classy, SAP.

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