Rampant M&A Does Not Indicate the Demise of Best-of-Breed

On the contrary, it symbolizes the emergence.

But let’s back up. A few months ago, Supply Chain Digest, with a piece on the Consumer Goods Supply Chain Landscape asked if Best of Breed [is] a Dying Breed. Noting an increasingly accelerated accelerated spate of mergers and acquisitions among leading supply chain best-of-breed solution providers, they called into question the long-term efficacy of some of these solutions, as well as the viability of these software companies themselves on the premise that there would soon be no best-of-breed vendors left for a consumer goods manufacturer to choose from.

If there were only N vendors, and the rate of M&A kept increasing, then, yes, we would reach an end-state where there were no best-of-breed vendors left. But this reasoning ignores one very important reality — most startups chase the biggest opportunity, which is typically where they perceive the most action to be. If the most action is in the M&A of best-of-breed, then new companies will see the most value in being best-of-breed and, as a result, we will soon see the emergence of a whole new slate of best-of-breed vendors. And while it’s true some won’t be sufficiently capitalized while others won’t hit upon the right technology, leading to their untimely demise, the reality is that a fair number will make it and that some of these, by the law of large numbers, will be even stronger than the remaining best-of-breed players today.

So, while the choices may be limited for the next year or two, the reality is that the number of options available to your average CPG manufacturer will soon explode. As for the other concerns, they’re not too worrisome either. Let’s take ’em one-by-one:

  • vendor future uncertainty
    Manugistics and i2 were considered market leaders and potential acquirers, not acquirees but were still acquired. The reality is that even a billion dollar enterprise can be swallowed up by a larger company, or, as a few spectacular acquisitions have evidenced, go from market leader to an almost forgotten business unit (like Netscape and Lucent) so this is not a concern restricted to best-of-breed.
  • ongoing support
    As most best-of-breed players have moved to (multi-tenant) SaaS or update subscriptions, which keep a customer on the current version, support is not the issue it once was. Plus, most will agree to code escrow, so, even if the vendor went away, the product could still be supported. Plus, once a best-of-breed vendor reaches a certain size, a number of consultancies acquire a competency and while resources might be expensive, support resources are not unattainable.
  • risks
    No solution is without risk. And a small best-of-breed vendor can be more financially stable than a large aggregator leveraged to the max and highly dependent on aggressive sales targets to meet payroll.

So don’t lament the recent M&A binge of best-of-breed players. It only means that new ones will arise and that more innovation is, eventually, on the way.