A Sector in High Demand
by Mark Edwards
The software sector has been one of the most active and attractive sectors for mergers and acquisitions (M&A), fuelled by its indispensability across industries and regions. The cumulative value and volume of software M&A deals reached record highs in 2020 and 2021 despite the economic uncertainty and disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Has this level of activity been maintained in recent months and what are the important considerations for software development companies today?
According to a report by PwC the software sector had accounted for 31% of the total deal value and 46% of the total deal volume in the technology industry in 2020, with 1,468 deals worth $224 billion. The software sector also saw the most significant year-over-year increase in deal value (38%) and deal volume (17%) among all technology subsectors.
Diverse buyers and strategies
The software sector has seen a variety of buyers, including traditional technology players, non-technology companies, financial sponsors, and private equity firms. These buyers have different motivations and strategies for acquiring software assets, such as expanding their product portfolios, enhancing their capabilities, entering new markets, or creating synergies.
The software sector has also witnessed some of the largest and most notable M&A deals in history, such as Salesforce's acquisitions of Slack and Tableau, Microsoft's acquisition of Nuance, Adobe's acquisition of Frame.io, and Visa's acquisition of Plaid. These deals reflect the high valuations and strong demand for software assets, especially in the areas of cloud computing, artificial intelligence, data analytics, and cybersecurity.
Future outlook and challenges
But what of the possible trends today post COVID? The software sector is expected to continue to see robust M&A activity as the digitisation trend persists and new technologies emerge. However, the software sector faces challenges and risks, such as increasing competition, regulatory scrutiny, integration difficulties, and talent retention.
The software sector is transforming, driven by innovation, disruption, and consolidation. Software M&A is a crucial tool for companies to adapt, compete, and grow in this dynamic environment. Software M&A is not only a sector in high demand but also a sector in high impact.
Recent trends in 2023 and 2024
In 2023 and 2024, the software sector continued to see vigorous M&A activity despite the rising interest rates and inflation that affected the global economy. Several major deals were announced or completed in these years, demonstrating the resilience and attractiveness of the software sector. Some of the recent examples are:
• Synopsys, a leader in electronic design automation and semiconductor IP, acquired Ansys, a provider of engineering simulation software, for $35 billion in January 2024, making it the most prominent tech deal of the year.
• Snyk, a security platform for cloud-native applications, acquired Helios, a startup that helps developers secure their Kubernetes clusters, for an undisclosed amount in January 2024, strengthening its application security capabilities.
• Salesforce, a cloud-based CRM software giant, acquired Slack, a popular workplace communication platform, for $27.7 billion in December 2023, creating a powerful combination of cloud software and collaboration tools.
• Intuit, a financial software company that owns TurboTax and QuickBooks, acquired Mailchimp, an email marketing platform, for $12 billion in December 2023, expanding its offerings for small businesses and entrepreneurs.
• Square, a payments company led by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, acquired Afterpay, an Australian fintech company that offers buy now, pay later services, for $29 billion in November 2023, entering the fast-growing market of alternative payment methods.
These deals show how software companies are pursuing growth opportunities, diversifying their revenue streams, and enhancing their customer value propositions in a competitive and changing market.
In 2023, Generative AI lead the world in the software sector of venture capital, and it's poised to remain a key focus this year. However, expect investments in this field to become more focused and specific.
PitchBook data reveals an impressive £29.1 billion was pumped into 691 Generative AI deals last year alone. This marks a staggering 268.4% surge in deal value compared to 2022's figures.
The importance of innovation and integration
However, in a competitive sector, growth requires capital investment to assist companies in the battle for attention, market share and continuous innovation. Software companies must provide solutions that retain clients with a trajectory of improvement in a world where subscription-based revenue and faster and easier integration allow large and small enterprises to be accessible to move their allegiance to independent software developers. The software giants who provide a comprehensive package of solutions have a greater stickiness. In contrast, the smaller independent software developers do not have such a weapon to bring to bear in gaining market share. Therefore, they are more dependent on attracting clients with innovation using such technologies as improvements in artificial intelligence to increase ease of use and speed and reduce training implementation time for users.
Subscription Software Models: An Established Revenue Model
Subscription-based software models have become increasingly popular for the past two decades. From the software supplier, the driver was the increased valuations due to the promise of long-term recurring revenue. The subscription-based software model began gaining popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s with the emergence of Software as a Service (SaaS) companies like Salesforce.com, which offered their services on a subscription basis. This model represented a departure from traditional software licensing arrangements, where users paid a one-time fee for perpetual access to the software. Instead, subscription-based models offered customers ongoing access to software services for a recurring payment, typically paid monthly or annually. Since then, subscription-based software models have become increasingly prevalent across various industries and sectors as they offer benefits such as lower upfront costs, greater flexibility, and continuous updates.
However, although by no means a recent trend, this change in revenue stream still poses challenges as the sector has not fully embraced or adapted to the realities the revenue stream brings, such as customer churn, pricing pressure, and lack of perceived innovation. Software companies must deliver value and satisfaction to their customers to retain them and increase their lifetime value. Moreover, software companies must ensure their solutions are easily integrated with other applications and platforms, as customers expect seamless and interoperable experiences. Software companies that fail to meet these expectations may lose customers to their competitors.
Embracing AI: Navigating the Future of Software Innovation
The pivotal role of artificial intelligence (AI) in shaping the future of software innovation. AI is a critical source of differentiation and progress for software companies, promising enhanced functionality, performance, and usability for their products.
However, integrating innovative AI that drives competitive space, not just AI decoration, entails substantial investments in research and development, talent acquisition, and infrastructure. Software companies must tread carefully, balancing the costs and genuine practical and innovative benefits of AI.
Yet, amidst these challenges lie immense opportunities. Boss Equity has seen increased activity from investors and buyers considerably higher than we had expected. This may be a skewed vision but is encouraging none the less. It is apparent that companies that adeptly harness AI stand poised to gain a competitive edge, offering unparalleled value to their customers and stakeholders. By embracing AI technologies effectively and responsibly, software firms can drive innovation and shape a future where technology catalyses positive change. As the software landscape evolves, AI remains a guiding beacon, illuminating pathways towards enhanced productivity, efficiency, and customer satisfaction.
In essence, the journey towards AI-driven innovation is not merely a technological endeavour but a strategic imperative, defining the trajectory of software companies in an increasingly digital world. Embracing AI represents more than a choice; it embodies a commitment to shaping a future where technology empowers, enriches, and transforms.