by Thomas Wailgum

Just Forget About Yahoo, Microsoft, and Go After SAP

May 05, 20084 mins
IT Leadership

Microsoft spent three months officially wooing Yahoo and ended up with nothing but a big, fat rejection for all its overtures, financial enticements and grand plans. In fact, one news account of the saga termed the negotiation process between Yahoo and Microsoft, when there actually were talks between the two, as “bizarre.”

So, I say this to you, Microsoft: Shed no tears over what could have been with that Yahoo girl. Leave her behind and let her figure out her business future on her own. (And if you want, enjoy some measure of schadenfreude as Yahoo’s share price heads downward, as it did on Monday, May 5, after Microsoft withdrew its bid over the weekend.)

Sure, it would have created a sexy and cool brand and given you credibility and new opportunities in the online advertising and Web 2.0 markets. But what’s done is done. The pretty girl at the dance turned you down, despite the $47.5 billion dowry you dangled in front of her.

So, let’s get “unsexy” for a moment, Microsoft.

Standing off in the corner, seemingly half a world away, is a very mature, very confident and very robust German girl named “SAP.”

That’s right, SAP. Combining SAP’s breadth of software suites and depth of industry-specific applications with Microsoft’s near ubiquity on the desktop (as well as its more recent forays into enterprise offerings), would make one killer technology vendor. A one-stop-shop, if you will, for businesses and IT managers who long for consolidated and harmonious systems.

A recent article on praised a long-despised rival of Microsoft’s and how it went about its acquisitions: Oracle. In fact, Oracle’s M&A strategy over the years has drawn some acclaim for the decidedly unsexy acquisitions it has made—and, more importantly, the impressive returns derived from those investments.

Quoted in the article were a couple of professors who noted that Oracle executives have displayed remarkable consistency in their M&A approach and rate of success. Namely, that Oracle seems to avoid costly mistakes and never strays from its product lines. And unlike Microsoft in its pursuit of Yahoo, Oracle always gets its prey.

“With impressive regularity…Oracle has picked up key products and customers while avoiding an ‘oops’ slip, venturing too far away from its core business, or paying too much,” wrote Randall Stross, a professor of business at San Jose State University, in the March article. “At no point along the way has it acted in a fit of desperation.”

A fit of desperation was what Stross and Michael Cusumano, a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management who is quoted in Stross’s article, implied Microsoft was doing in going after Yahoo. Both Stross and Cusumano noted in the article that Microsoft should go after SAP instead, which is a move, they contend, that would be more in line with Oracle’s M&A strategy.

“A few dozen well-paying Fortune 500 customers may actually be more valuable than tens of millions of Web e-mail ‘customers’ who pay nothing for the service and whose attention is not highly valued by online advertisers,” Stross wrote in the article.

With a suggestion that could send Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and President Steve Ballmer into fits of rage, Stross suggested that Microsoft execs should ask themselves “What would Larry do?” (as in, Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison) to determine the best acquisition strategy.

“You have to admire Oracle’s ability to remain focused on the business that serves business,” Stross concluded, “and to not be distracted by

the buzz of the Web crowd gathered across the street.”

Microsoft surely doesn’t want to get left out of the business applications market, however uncool that is. And right now, IBM, Oracle, SAP and other players are going after that “biz apps” segment hard.

With SAP at its side, in a union of equals or through one massive acquisition, Microsoft, or perhaps MicroSAP, would be a formidable technological superpower.