Posted by Matt Walker on October 23, 2017
Cisco Systems is one of the largest suppliers to network operators worldwide, including telcos. Its growth strategy from the start has been reliant heavily on acquisitions, and 2017 has been no exception.
Today the vendor announced it would buy Gaithersburg, Maryland-based BroadSoft for $1.9B. BroadSoft’s software & services help telcos deliver hosted, cloud-based Unified Communications to their enterprise customers. This plays into Cisco’s collaboration offerings.
A mature target for Cisco
BroadSoft’s revenues for the last 4 quarters were $355M. That’s less than 1% of Cisco’s corporate revenues, or about 8% of the division it will be rolled into (see first figure, below). But Cisco often buys companies with no revenues, just a promising technology and/or team. BroadSoft is a relatively mature target for Cisco: it was founded in 1998, and reached its 100th customer milestone over a decade ago (May 2005). The deal size is also manageable for Cisco. Totaling $1.9B, the offer is $55/share, all-cash. Cisco had over $70B in cash & short-term investments at the end of July, so the company’s coffers will be just fine after this transaction.
This is Cisco’s eighth acquisition in 2017. That sounds like a lot, and is, but integrating acquired products & teams effectively is one of Cisco’s core strengths.
Cisco’s margins still high, but revenues are falling
Cisco remains loaded with cash, but growth is another issue. Despite heavy R&D spending ($6.1B in FY2017) and an aggressive M&A strategy, Cisco’s revenues have declined for 7 straight quarters, on a year-over-year (YoY) basis. The company’s saving grace are its reliably high margins. Gross margin dropped below 60% in FY2013, but it has averaged over 62% for the last three years. It generates healthy free cash flow each quarter, over $22B for the first two quarters of 2017.
During the late 1990s tech bubble, Cisco was one of the hot stocks in the new “Internet” market – and the company billed itself as “empowering the Internet generation”. That tagline has changed multiple times, but Cisco still sits in a sweet spot of the infrastructure market: its routers & switches retain high market share with some of the largest network builders around. The market is more competitive now, though, and much “softer” in its technology demands.
Established companies with high share have to scurry to adapt to these shifts: they need to be ready for the next big thing, but also want to leverage their established markets – and extend technology life cycles when possible. With the growth of the cloud, vendors like Cisco have a larger role to play in enabling services, not just building networks. That’s one reason why some key Cisco rivals, e.g. IBM, HPE, SAP, and now Huawei, are investing heavily in cloud networks. It also is a factor in Cisco’s interest in BroadSoft’s capabilities.
What does this deal bring to Cisco?
BroadSoft’s focus is helping telcos roll out & manage new “unified communications” services for their enterprise customers. With 1,720 employees worldwide, BroadSoft claims 25 of the top 30 global “telecommunications service providers” (telcos) as customers. That doesn’t imply global coverage for each of the 25, just 1 (at a minimum) country deployment, but it is impressive scope.
Collectively the vendor is in a total of 80 countries, and its (service provider) customers have deployed 13 million UC subscriber lines over its software. Verizon & Telstra are both major customers, accounting for over 10% of BroadSoft’s revenues recently (Verizon in 2016; Telstra in 2014). Other announced customers include AT&T, BT, Orange Business Services, and Vonage. Overall, revenue from customers outside the US accounted for 48% of sales in 2016, so it has good geographic diversity for a small supplier.
Upon close of this deal in around 1Q18, Broadsoft’s employees will join Cisco’s Unified Communications Technology group, which appears in the vendor’s “Collaboration” segment in financial reporting. Cisco’s collaboration revenues were $4.3B for the FY ended July 2017, down 2% YoY. The BroadSoft deal should help that segment’s near term prospects, mildly. If BroadSoft’s revenues are added to Cisco’s for both the FY17 and FY16 periods, though, Cisco’s Collaboration revenues would still have fallen last year, by a slighter 0.7%. Clearly the hope is that Cisco’s corporate umbrella (and sales organization) will accelerate combined growth.
There’s likely to be some benefit on the cost side. BroadSoft’s gross margins are actually higher than Cisco, but the former has high selling costs. BroadSoft sells through its own sales force in part, not just distributors, VARs, and other partners – as some similar sized companies do rely more heavily on. BroadSoft’s SG&A expenses have averaged over 45% of revenues for the last two years. Cisco’s comparable ratio is about 23% (figure, above). Scale clearly has some benefits.
(Photo credit: James Padolsey)