RSA Treks to Sherwood Forest and Buys the ArcherBy Mike Rothman
EMC/RSA announced the acquisition of Archer Technologies for an undisclosed price. The move adds an IT GRC tool to EMC/RSA’s existing technologies for configuration management (Ionix) and SIEM/Log Management (EnVision).
Though EMC/RSA’s overall security strategy remains a mystery, they claim to be driving towards packaging technologies to solve specific customer use cases – such as security operations, compliance, and cloud security. This kind of packaging makes a lot of sense, since customers don’t wake up and say “I want to buy widget X today” – instead they focus on solving specific problems. The rubber meets the road based on how the vendor has ‘defined’ the use case to suit what its product does.
Archer as an IT GRC platform fills in the highest level of the visualization by mapping IT data to business processes. The rationale for EMC/RSA is clear. Buying Archer allows existing RSA security and compliance tools, as well as some other EMC tools, to pump data into Archer via its SmartSuite set of interfaces. This data maps to business processes enumerated within Archer (through a ton of professional services) to visualize process and report on metrics for those processes. This addresses one of the key issues security managers (and technology companies) grapple with: showing relevance. It’s hard to take security data and make it relevant to business leaders. A tool like Archer, properly implemented and maintained, can do that.
The rationale for Archer doing the deal now is not as clear. By all outward indications, the company had increasing momentum. They brought on Bain Capital as an investor in late 2008, and always claimed profitability. So this wasn’t a sale under duress. The Archer folks paid lip service to investing more in sales and marketing and obviously leveraging the EMC/RSA sales force to accelerate growth. The vendor ranking exercises done by big research also drove this outcome, as Archer faced an uphill battle competing against bigger players in IT GRC (like Oracle) for a position in the leader area. And we all know that you need to be in the leader area to sell to large enterprises.
Ultimately it was likely a deal Archer couldn’t refuse, and that means a higher multiple (as opposed to lower). The deal size was not mentioned, though 451 Group estimates the deal was north of $100 million (about 3x bookings) – which seems too low.
IT GRC remains a large enterprise technology, with success requiring a significant amount of integration within the customer environment. This deal doesn’t change that because success of GRC depends more on the customer getting their processes in place than the technology itself working. Being affiliated with EMC/RSA doesn’t help the customer get their own politics and internal processes in line to leverage a process visualization platform.
Archer customers see little value in the deal, and perhaps some negative value since they now have to deal with EMC/RSA and inevitably the bigger organization will slow innovation. But Archer customers aren’t going anywhere, since their organizations have already bet the ranch and put in the resources to presumably make the tool work.
More benefit accrues to companies looking at Archer, since any corporate viability concerns are now off the table. Users should expect better integration between the RSA security tools, the EMC process automation tools, and Archer – especially since the companies have been working together for years, and there is already a middleware/abstraction layer in the works to facilitate integration. In concept anyway, since EMC/RSA don’t really have a sterling track record of clean and timely technology integration.
As with every big company acquisition, issues emerge around organizational headwinds and channel conflict. Archer was bought by the RSA division, which focuses on security and sells to the technology user. But by definition Archer’s value is to visualize across not just technology, but other business processes as well. The success of this deal will literally hing on whether Archer can “break out” of the RSA silo and go to market as part of EMC’s larger bag of tricks.
Interestingly enough, back in May ConfigureSoft was bought by the Ionix group, which focuses on automating IT operations and seemed like a more logical fit with Archer. As a reminder to the hazards of organizational headwinds, just think back to ISS ending up within the IBM Global Services Group. We’ll be keeping an eye on this.
Issues also inevitably surface around channel conflict, especially relative to professional services. Archer is a services-heavy platform (more like a toolkit) that requires a significant amount of integration for any chance of success. To date, the Big 4 integrators have driven a lot of Archer deployments, but historically EMC likes to take the revenue for themselves over time. How well the EMC field team understands and can discuss GRC’s value will also determine ongoing success.
IT GRC is not really a market – it’s the highest layer in a company’s IT management stack and only really applicable to the largest enterprises. Archer was one of the leading vendors and EMC/RSA needed to own real estate in that sector sooner or later. This deal does not have a lot of impact on customers, as this is not going to miraculously result in IT GRC breaking out as a market category. The constraint isn’t technology – it’s internal politics and process.
We also can’t shake the nagging feeling that shifting large amounts of resources away from security and into compliance documentation may not be a good idea. Customers need to ensure that any investment in a tool like Archer (and the large services costs to use it) will really save money and effort within the first 3 years of the project, and is not being done to the exclusion of security blocking and tackling. The truth is it’s all too easy for projects like this to under-deliver or potentially explode – adding complexity instead of reducing it – no matter how good the tool.