I was just talking to Financial Times journalist Ross Tieman – who is writing an article on partnerships and collaboration between IT companies – and we came back to the old conclusion that there are many examples in biology of successful splitting strategies (cell multiplication to begin with, mammals giving birth, reproduction strategies of plants and many other organisms, rabbit and ant colonies that expand through new subsidiaries, etc.) but only very few of merging strategies.
Think about it. What are successful mergers in nature? A small fish being swallowed by a shark? Hardly a friendly acquisition strategy. Bacteria or viruses invading a body? Destruction intended only. Ivy covering a tree? May lead to suffocation.
Mergers still happen all the time though in IT. Just recently, Oracle acquired Hyperion and did a first attempt to merge with BEA, SAP acquired Business Objects and this week IBM finally took over Cognos (we didn’t need Nostradamus to predict that last one, admitted).
Mergers obviously can provide missing capabilities and markets to the acquiring party and can offer protection and continuity to the other. And obviously, there are the economies of scale, although in surprisingly many cases the acquired parties stay autonomous for a prolonged time.
But do we really benefit from mergers and acquisitions? Even if we consider the pain and obstruction we have to face when we go through such an unnatural motion? Or would we benefit just as much from a deep collaborative approach, in which we rely on the advantages of splitting strategies and our capabilities to quickly sense opportunities and effectively work together, while maintaining our uniqueness, autonomy and agility?
To a certain extent, this is an old theme. But in the era of social, mesh-style networks and open standards there are new, yet unexplored dimensions. It is for example revealing that IBM – in one prosaic paragraph in the same press release – claims that ‘customers are demanding complete solutions, not piece parts’ but also suggests that Cognos was chosen for its ‘industry-leading technology based on open standards’.
Think about it.
Certainly a subject we intend to elaborate on in future blog topics.
In the meantime, please help us out. Are you aware of any successful merging strategies in nature? And if so, what is the secret behind the success? Share your ideas and suggestions with us and let’s see what we can learn.