Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The LMS M&A Drag Factor

We all know there has been (and still is) a lot of mergers & acquisition activity in the LMS market, with plenty of consolidation going on. But although we've seen a lot of vendor consolidation, how much consolidation of products have we actually been.

Whilst some of the vendors have been very focused on trying to consolidate market share, they seem to be struggling to actually consolidate the customer bases underneath them. For example, Click2Learn and Docent merged to form SumTotal Systems. SumTotal then buys Pathlore, who itself had fairly recently bought DK Systems, and Pathlore still had quite a lot of old Registrar customers that still hadn't moved off that platform. Now SumTotal may have a large user base, but user base for what? Certainly not the current SumTotal platform - yet. And SumTotal is not unique by any stretch of imagination. We even see this is smaller regional providers that have been playing the M&A game. Most of the LMS vendors have at least some of this kind of historical consolidation challenge.

One key reason for this is because many of the major customers just upgrade to the latest release of their old product to maximise their support window. They then sit and wait to see how things evolve with the new company. So it takes a while, often more than two years plus to see how a given customer base will react to the acquisition of its vendor, sometimes longer. We're also seeing the same thing happening (but with even longer timescales) in the HR systems space following Oracle's acquisition of PeopleSoft. This isn't so much a function of size, but of perceived effort versus value to move sooner.

Elearnity has been tracking and analysing these vendors for many years. But one new strategic consideration that we're now factoring in is what I call the "LMS M&A Drag Factor". Its all full well and good having a large user base, but you have to be able to service it and move it forward. That's tough to do in the LMS world with multiple platforms and technology bases. The more diverse this is, the more effort needed to leverage it yourself, and the bigger your investment sometimes needed to create something more compelling to move everyone forward with you, rather than jumping ship with someone else. I think the LMS M&A Drag Factor will have quite an influence on individual companies performances in 2007/8.


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