IBM’s journey to rebalance its enterprise software portfolio around areas such as AI, hybrid cloud, and supply chain shifted into high gear with an agreement to sell a group of its collaboration and experience products to HCL Technologies for $1.8 billion, as announced on December 6. The products involved in the deal are: Notes, Domino, and Connections for collaboration, Appscan and BigFix in the security arena, plus several experience products including Unica (marketing automation), and on-premises versions of Commerce and Portal.

This portfolio will test HCL’s product management and integration chops. Blending ecosystems is not a short-term task. But we also think HCL has shown that it is committed to being a better caretaker for the products it has previously taken over from IBM, especially given its strength in technology-driven transformation and desire to aggressively invest in and foster new IP. And readers shouldn’t forget that this acquisition is just the latest in a long line of HCL and IBM activity that may not be over quite yet. Here’s a partial list:

  • November 2015 — HCL and IBM commit to develop on IBM PaaS.
  • September 2016 — HCL and IBM sign a 15-year partnership around Tivoli and Rational.
  • February 2017 — HCL licenses IBM application security products.
  • October 2017 — HCL takes over Notes and Domino development.
  • August 2018 — HCL takes over development and release support for IBM WebSphere Portal (Portal), IBM Web Content Manager (WCM), and IBM Web Experience Factory (WEF).

For products that were already supported by HCL, we’ve heard from their customers that they have seen a positive impact, specifically around improved feature backlogs and road maps. We expect that story to continue for other IBM customers who are now part of the expanded HCL portfolio.

Here are some specifics for different audiences:

  • For commerce customers. WebSphere Commerce, including the recently released V9 and IBM Digital Commerce, are both moving to HCL. This means, after the deal closes, that IBM will no longer have a commerce platform. All related IBM commerce contracts will transition to HCL, and HCL will own the forward road map and any decisions about long-term support and end of life.
  • For order management and B2B clients. OMS products will stay with IBM, with both the on-prem and cloud OMS platform remaining with the Sterling Commerce products in the supply chain portfolio. With Watson, we see a way for IBM to focus more on B2B scenarios and play up its “smarts” around OMS-centric use cases.
  • For content management and portal customers. IBM’s DX Portal and web CMS products (formerly WebSphere; now DX portfolio) were already part of the August 2018 partnership to transfer support to HCL. This sale solidifies the agreement. The cloud-native Watson Content Hub, which launched in late 2016 but is still gaining wide-scale enterprise adoption, will remain with IBM.
  • For marketing leaders. The customer experience analytics products (Tealeaf, Coremetrics, and Customer Journey Analytics) all remain with IBM, as does the SaaS Watson Marketing portfolio, while IBM Campaign (Unica) moves to HCL. But note that IBM’s latest DX cloud software offerings are still finding their legs, and by selling Unica, the company gives up a beachhead in many enterprise marketing organizations.
  • For enterprise security professionals. IBM has been divesting out of Appscan since its 2016 agreement with HCL and out of security aspects of BigFix since last December, even as other platform providers have been investing in this sector. Look for HCL to build new services and add-ons around this acquired IP to keep up with other services firms that are providing similar offerings. IBM will face scrutiny in the future about whether it is a good long-term steward of security products and will likely need to dip its toe in the acquisition market again to fill out its cybersecurity aspirations.

Overall, IBM is continuing to reformulate its strategy as an end-to-end enterprise solutions provider, even as it doubles down on open source and cloud development tools and technologies such as AI and blockchain. Selling off these collaboration and experience assets should help to clear out space for investing further in these areas and more rapidly executing its SaaS vision.

For HCL this is a big move that accelerates its “Mode 1-2-3” strategy and provides more capabilities in its digital experience stack (Mode 2), even if many of the technologies here are 20-plus years old and will certainly provide additional maintenance revenues, as well (Mode 1). But most importantly for clients, it presents an opportunity to demonstrate that it is ready to put its product and platform aspirations into action on a much larger stage.

(Several analysts and researchers contributed to this blog, including Amy DeMartine, Brendan Witcher, Bruce Eppinger, George Lawrie, Liz Herbert, Luis Deyá, Mark Grannan, and Rusty Warner.)