An injection of new blood

Established companies are looking to plunder the technologies of failed dotcoms, hoping to meld innovation with traditional...

Established companies are looking to plunder the technologies of failed dotcoms, hoping to meld innovation with traditional values

A feeding frenzy has been evident since dotcom bubble burst, and the principal scavengers feature heavily in the list of blue chip retailers. Companies previously criticised for their sloth in responding to the Internet boom are now being applauded for their caution.

What has attracted the attention of established companies to the struggling remains of the wired world hype?

Perhaps the possibility of learning from others' mistakes, of fast-tracking their own moves into the new markets, and of saving themselves a fortune.

For established companies moving into this arena for the first time, picking up a company that has spent millions of pounds building brands and technical platforms for a fraction of the original cost has got to be worth considering. The experience of the key personnel may be even more valuable.

But can such acquisitions be made to work?

Well yes, but only if a company can see beyond the hype and focus on the traditional business values that support and enhance a company's strategy. Many of the dotcoms closed because they ignored the traditional business disciplines, particularly financial management.

Despite great promise, many acquisitions and mergers fail because of an inability to properly address some very basic (although not necessarily easy to deliver) issues. In PricewaterhouseCooper's experience, of those companies reporting success, 76% cited speed of implementation, 76% cited clarity of purpose, 59% cited good cultural fit, and 47% cited a high degree of partner co-operation as a key factor.

Of those reporting failure, 85% cited differing management attitudes, 76% cited lack of integration planning, 47% cited lack of experience and 30% cited poor cultural fit as a reason for their demise.

These problems tend to feature even more strongly when looking at the acquisition of dotcom companies. The very existence of such companies is usually because of a different management approach and a very different culture. Their people usually have very different experience to those from traditional companies and tend to be less averse to risk.

Often the greatest value in the purchase of a dotcom is to challenge the status quo within a company, to bring in new ways of thinking and inject the existing business with new approaches - an injection of new blood.

The technologies acquired, and the business processes that surround them, are likely to differ so greatly from those of the acquirer that the chances of great synergies are slight. However, if the approach is appropriate for the larger company, the acquisition can provide both a test-bed and practical experience of a better way. Most companies are already migrating internal systems to Internet-type technologies, benefiting from the experience of the Internet boom.

For this to work, however, there has to be a tremendous focus on staff issues and communication between all parties. It calls for a balancing act between stifling what made the dotcom different while addressing what made it vulnerable. Integration of an acquisition should be quick and goals and targets very clear with the full support of senior management.

If a company gets the acquisition wrong, it ends up with a Mongolian barbecue of a business formed from a random selection of ingredients cooked to irrelevance. Done right, a veritable Chinese banquet can be achieved, bringing new textures and flavours to an existing business.

Stuart Moore is principal consultant at Pricewaterhouse-Coopers' Management Consulting Service

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