Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in the web content management (WCM) space have been so common that more than one-third of all leading vendors now own their WCM products through acquisition. Some acquisitions were successful for customers and shareholders alike. Day Software, acquired by Adobe in 2010, is now a widely recognized leader in WCM as Adobe Experience Manager. But other acquisitions failed to deliver on their promises and proved to be customers’ worst nightmares. Collage CMS didn’t just fall behind the competition after its purchase by Serena Software in 2004-it was discontinued.

The lack of clear, meaningful information about acquisitions when they happen makes decision making difficult for customers. Press releases are not usually helpful–they make vague claims about cutting-edge solutions and operational synergies. They are written to please and protect the companies involved, not to help customers decide what they need to do when their WCM vendor is acquired. One way to be more savvy about M&A in WCM is to look back at what worked in the past and what didn’t–and why.

Back in 2003, I worked on the user interface of a WCM system at a digital agency in the U.K. RedDot was our point of reference and our biggest source of inspiration. We kept on top of the new releases and learned from what we considered the most feature-rich CMS available.

RedDot was acquired by Hummingbird in 2005, which was then bought by OpenText in 2006. The transition from a pure-play, privately owned software vendor to a large, publicly traded company did not go smoothly for everyone. Many experienced employees jumped ship. Some RedDot partners reviewed their strategic partnerships and decided to go with other vendors. Prospects worried about the future of RedDot, and selling the solution to new customers became difficult.

In 2009, OpenText caused further confusion by acquiring Vignette. Analysts expressed concerns about the product overlap and advised new prospects considering OpenText content management products to proceed with caution. Fast-forward to 2016, and despite gloomy predictions, OpenText continues to support both OpenText Web Site Management (formerly RedDot) and OpenText Web Experience Management (formerly Vignette). Some of RedDot’s biggest customers still use OpenText Web Site Management, including Transport for London, the British Army, and the University of Aberdeen.

In April 2016, OpenText added a third WCM solution to the mix: HP TeamSite, previously known as Interwoven TeamSite and Autonomy TeamSite. Interwoven TeamSite was the first true enterprise WCM system; in many ways, Interwoven was the firm that established this market. In 2009, Interwoven was acquired by Autonomy, but it didn’t thrive under Autonomy’s ownership. Autonomy, including Interwoven TeamSite as part of the deal, was sold to HP in 2011 in probably the most controversial deal in software history.

Shortly after OpenText acquired Hummingbird/RedDot in 2006, Oracle acquired Stellent-a CMS with deep roots in document management. Oracle retained most of the development team, but strategic goals for Stellent shifted from pure-play content management to being part of Oracle’s single-vendor enterprise content management (ECM) suite offering. In cases in which Oracle’s single-vendor ECM pitch matched customers’ requirements, Stellent (then rebranded as Oracle UCM) stacked up well against competition, but as a best-of-breed WCM product, it was difficult to sell. In 2011, Oracle acquired FatWire for its web experience features, and it remains at the core of Oracle’s WCM offering today.

From the customers’ point of view, the most unsettling of all was the acquisition of Collage CMS by Serena Software in 2004. Merant Software released Collage CMS in 2002, and it showed promise: an easy-to-use, simple-to-set-up, de-coupled solution with enough flexibility to allow for significant template modifications using Collage’s own tag library. The system got traction in the higher education sector and, to a degree, outside higher ed too. But following the Serena acquisition, product development and releases noticeably slowed down. The system capabilities fell behind the competition, marketing was insufficient, and positioning was unclear. In 2008, Serena officially discontinued the product.

On the one hand, this put Collage’s customers out of their misery. Collage was officially and irreversibly pronounced dead, so customers had no choice but to start a selection process for a new CMS. On the other hand, replacing a CMS is a special kind of pain that no customer wants to endure. Migration to a different platform can be a 3-6 month effort (sometimes more) just to get to where the organization was on the old platform. And unless the business case includes exciting new developments, CMS migration runs a risk of losing out to other initiatives that deliver immediate business value. In the end, it took years for some Serena Collage customers to migrate their websites away from the discontinued, unsupported product. If they could go back to 2004 to look again at that press release and the acquisition rationale-and seek expert advice to avoid the drama-they certainly would.

Time will tell how more recent acquisitions will play out, such as Sitecore by EQT or Episerver by Accel-KKR. The fact that EQT and Accel-KKR are private equity firms, rather than direct competitors, means that they are more likely to invest in product development, marketing, and leadership in helpful ways. Their assumptions and projections may still prove wrong, but their intentions are more in tune with customer needs than competitors’ motives would be.

In summary, the acquisition of a CMS can lead to three possible outcomes. One is success, as in the case of Adobe acquiring Day Software, in which the acquired product fit well-both technically and culturally-and got the investment it needed to become a true industry leader. A second is survival, as in RedDot. OpenText Web Site Management (formerly RedDot) continues to be well-supported, but it doesn’t compete at the highest level as an innovative solution. The third possible outcome, although exceptionally rare, is demise. An end-of-life CMS, such as Serena Collage or Immediacy, puts customers under immense pressure to invest in a new platform quickly.

To predict how an acquisition will turn out, customers need to look beyond the press releases and seek advice from a range of sources, including the vendor, their service provider partners, other customers, and industry analysts.   

Aquisitions in the WCM Marketplace

2003        IBM -> Presence Online?   EMC -> Documentum?        FatWire -> Divine

2004        Serena Software -> Merant Software

2005        Hummingbird -> RedDot

2005        Mediasurface -> Silverbullet/Pepperio

2006        Oracle -> Stellent?               OpenText -> Hummingbird?               IBM -> FileNet

2007        SDL -> Tridion

2007        Mediasurface -> Immediacy

2008        Alterian -> Mediasurface

2008        Atex -> Polopoly

2009        OpenText -> Vignette?        Autonomy -> Interwoven

2010        Adobe -> Day Software

2011        Oracle -> FatWire?              HP -> Autonomy

2012        SDL -> Alterian

2013        Upland Software -> Clickability

2014        Progress Software -> Telerik/Sitefinity

2015        Accel-KKR -> Ektron and Episerver

2016        EQT -> Sitecore? OpenText -> HP TeamSite

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)