Is the time right for Progress Software to be bought?

In the course of my ongoing analysis of software infrastructure vendors I was intrigued by the recent earnings release from Progress Software…

…and it caused me to dig a bit deeper. Basically, Progress is holding its revenue stream although not growing it, and I guess in today’s environment that is OK. But when the performance of the company over the last few years is considered, a different picture starts to build up.

Basically, Progress made a lot of money from its OpenEdge database product, and this business is still providing a rich ‘cash-cow’ revenue stream. However, not only has this stagnated but it is starting to decay, with Q109 showing a sharp drop. Admittedly this is probably in part due to currency movements, but the trend is clear – this is not a growing business ans the writing is on the wall, at least in the longer term. Progress knows this, and so over the past few years it has been on the acquisition trail, trying desperately to find a new business that can grow sufficiently to become the new OpenEdge. It has tried the area of Data, with its DataDirect division growing through acquisition, but this business has reached a steady state with little or no growth. It tried the area of messaging, being the company that brought the term ESB (Enterprise Service Bus) to the world through its SONIC line of business, but having got a great mindshare and market position it lost focus and this business is now fatally damaged, with others such as IBM, Oracle andMicrosoft taking up the mantle. Recently it acquired the APAMA complex event processing business, Actional (SOA management) and IONA (a datedintegration business based in Ireland). It has since found some success with the excellent APAMA offering in the heartland of financial market data processing, but has struggled to replicate this success in other industries and use cases. Actional has also had some success but it is immutably tied to the SOA star which is having its own problems. And IONA, similarly to Progress, has a nice legacy integration business based around Orbix but has failed utterly over the years to create anything else worthwhile.

The result is that although the IONA purchase has increased revenues in the Progress ‘integration infrastructure’ business unit, this is likely to be a one-off improvement and once again Progress is going to be stuck with an aging cash-cow and no clear rising star to take over responsibility for driving growth.

This might seem a recipe for Progress itself to be acquired. Up to now, this has been unattractive due to the share price, but in thecurrent climate the acquisition looks a lot more interesting. My view is that there are probably two strong candidate acquirers for Progress:

  • Companies looking for attractive maintenance businesses where profit can be maximized by cutting expenses and taking the money until the product line sunsets
  • Companies not currently in the integration space but wanting to get into this lucrative area and looking for a ready-made product set (perhaps to underpin a professional services business)

Who knows what will happen in the current turmoil? I may be way off the mark, but if I was a company fitting either of these two categories, and I had the money, I think now would be a good time to strike. After so many false dawns, I suspect the Progress management team might not resist too hard….

Steve