Why would you want to split a company with +/- 11 bn Euro revenue and +/- 112.000 employees? It is not a small undertaking and for sure not a decision a leadership team would take lightly. What are, in my opinion, the key reasons behind this decision?
As a regular analyst and commentator on Atos’ strategy, and the IT Services industry in general, I speak often with 3rd party advisors, investment firms and other interested parties. These conversations address a wide spectrum of topics, ranging from financials, competitors, and unique selling points, all the way to how to build the right sales or delivery teams.
There are however some questions that frequently pop-up in these conversations. So, I thought I might spend some time answering them in a new series of blog posts.
Today we will look at 5 reasons why Atos is going to split the company in 2 new public companies.
On June 14, 2022 Atos announced a plan to study “a possible separation into two publicly listed companies to unlock value and implement an ambitious transformation plan“. And in the communications on the third quarter results, confirmed that “The separation project is well on track to be completed in H2 2023 as initially planned“.
1. Declining revenue and margins in IT infrastructure services
Mostly due to the rise of public cloud providers such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google, a lot of software is moving to the cloud. This results in a steep decline in the cost of running these applications. In the public cloud the infrastructure can be shared. Management can be highly automated. And locations can be transparent allowing for even more flexibility in costs. Cloud computing also takes away the need for local, privately owned, data centers. And companies are embracing cloud computing en masse. In 2018 Gartner predicted that “Around 10% of enterprise-generated data is created and processed outside a traditional centralized data center or cloud. By 2025, Gartner predicts this figure will reach 75%”.
Atos’ problem is that a significant portion of their IT services revenue and assets are still not cloud-based. Atos owns and operates still many datacenters and needs customers to fill those with hardware and software.
This “move to the cloud” is not only a problem for Atos. In recent history also IBM decided to split off their IT Infrastructure Services in a newly formed company Kyndryl. And in April 2017, HP performed a similar action when it split-merged their infrastructure services with CSC.
2. Create a clearer strategy
The one company that Atos is today is a bit of a collection of IT topics that not necessarily work together. In some cases, they might even be competitive. This makes it harder to create a single strategy across all offerings of the company. By splitting the company in two, the two components can focus on their respective strengths without (negatively) impact the other. E.g., the part that offers infrastructure services can focus on customers that have a need for local and/or physical datacenters.
3. Workforce challenges
There is a very big difference between the attributes of a workforce oriented on traditional Infrastructure Outsourcing Business, versus the more innovative oriented business of Digital and Data Analytic services. While the workforce for the services provided in infrastructure come most of the time from the customers of Atos that outsource their business to Atos, the growth business in Digital is dependent on recruiting new talents.
When the traditional outsourcing services are dwindling, and the Digital Services are growing, Atos’ needs to hire and/or educate more and more people in a market that is already short on potential candidates. At the same time a growing part of the workforce, that is most of the time local (meaning ‘not in off-shore countries’), is generally not immediately fit to move into this new technical territory.
Recruiting new staff, both off-shore and local, will be easier if the profile of the company is not about traditional services, but instead radiates innovation and ‘cool’ technologies.
… and why should Atos not split the company?
Ever since I have been made aware of the strategy of Tesla, I believe firmly that ‘verticalization’ is a very strong asset for any company. If Atos can bring in verticalization in its offerings, it could build some very strong offerings.
Atos can combine their scale, their own hardware, software, services, and consulting skills into a mix that allows customers to work with them, instead of Atos being a contractor if separate IT services. Today Atos has all these assets under one roof and that sets the company apart even from their biggest competitors. I consider this to be a huge opportunity. And it can be implemented gradually, with a focus on the most profitable business topics first. And I think that such a program would cost less that the investment that Atos is currently raising to pay for the split.
It seems to me that previous Atos leadership teams, most notably their former CEO Thierry Breton, understood this. And it is a shame that recent leadership by Elie Girard and later Rodolphe Belmer, were unable to build on his legacy and vision.
Disclaimer: Paul, who is the author of this blog post, holds at time of writing a small amount of stocks in Atos SE. All information in this blog post is believed to be public information, enriched with the authors personal opinion. No confidential information is being shared.