Following on from yesterday’s post (CTSpace dissected), the Citadon/BuildOnline merger to form CTSpace has continued to occupy my thoughts. In today’s post, I point out that the merger marks yet another consolidation of the extranet space since the start of the 21st century, have a quick look at what the combined business is offering post-merger, discuss the likely impact on the UK collaboration market, and offer a few thoughts on CTSpace’s branding.
Collaboration consolidation continues
Back in late 1999/early 2000, Joel Orr‘s influential Extranet News carried details of over 200 vendors in the AEC collaboration space, and industry watchers were advising that consolidation in the extranet market was inevitable. Sure enough, when the dot.com bubble burst in mid-2000, numerous vendors disappeared and take-overs and mergers were happening all over the place. The initial surge eventually petered out (the most significant development since then was Autodesk’s $46m acquisition of Constructware in February 2006), but the formation of CTSpace can be viewed as a continuation of that process, bringing together, if my arithmetic is correct, eleven previous brands: BluelineOnline, eBricks, Bidcom, Cubus, Cephren and Bidcom; i-Scraper (mainland Europe), MyBau and Congate(merged with MyBau in January 2001); and now Citadon and BuildOnline.
(Incidentally, I would be interested to know if anyone from, say, BluelineOnline has survived all the mergers to date!)
The CTSpace offering
With the exception of Autodesk’s acquisition of Constructware, all these moves were mergers or takeovers generally undertaken to combine the resources of businesses which might otherwise have stuggled to survive on their own. OK, the press statements may talk about synergies, about better geographic reach, about combining or optimising research and development activities, about offering a wider range of products and services, and so on, but the reality is usually financial. Mergers allow firms to rationalise duplicate resources, keeping the best and discarding the rest. Usually some staff posts will be made redundant, offices may be closed and some products or services may be discontinued. When I wrote about the future of construction collaboration technologies in my book, I anticipated possible mergers between players in the on-demand market.
“… consider what might happen if two ASP-based construction collaboration technology businesses were to merge. On the face of it, one business would potentially be acquiring a whole new mass of customers and end-users, and the combined figures would probably be very impressive (assuming, of course, that the new management team was able to keep ‘churn’ to an acceptable level). However, the managers of the newly merged businesses would face some difficult choices. Do they continue to invest human and technological resources to market, implement and support two different products on two different hosting environments? Do they seek to migrate the users of one system to the other (risking a backlash from users who preferred the discontinued product, and potentially affecting the scalability, speed and reliability of their hosting environment for users of the retained system)? If the discontinued system was cheaper, will the new alternative be offered at the same original (but unviable) rate, or will the management accept that customers may decide to seek an alternative supplier?”
When I first looked at CTSpace’s website, my gut reaction was to note its similarity with BuildOnline’s old website, both in terms of look and feel (if anything, it is even more marketing-oriented than the old BO site) and content. I had hoped to get a clear idea of how the Citadon and BO products complemented each other, but the solutions section is strongly reminiscent of the corresponding BO page, talking about document management and collaboration, tendering, defects management, and programme management ‘heatmaps’. The main contribution from the Citadon stable appeared to be business process management – described in much the same words used for Citadon’s enterprise workflow customisation tool, ‘Velocity’.
22 December 2006 update: A message to customers on BuildOnline’s login page says:
“CTSpace is steadfastly committed to further developing and enhancing our ability to meet your business and technical requirements.
- All of the current BuildOnline and Citadon solutions will continue to be sold, supported, and enhanced as planned.
- No products will be discontinued as a result of the merger.
- Future releases will benefit from leveraging resources and technology from both companies.
UK market impact
While the merger may buy the two partners a little more time, I doubt that the merger will prompt a dramatic surge in new business for CTSpace in the UK. More likely, most people will simply see it as a re-branding of BuildOnline (or Citadon in a small minority of cases) and continue as before, but perhaps with a few questions about the firm’s financial health and its responsiveness now that it’s based in California.
In an email exchange with the MD of one of CTSpace’s (and BIW’s) competitors, I said my initial feeling was that we will see little UK change – in a still-fragmented marketplace, this was simply two pieces of a big jigsaw being merged into one. His response was a blunt: “Citadon must be doing as poorly as BuildOnline”!
Why ‘CTSpace’? Branding is always difficult, but to me CTSpace tells me nothing about what the business actually does. Citadon was just as vague, I suppose – but at least BuildOnline indicated both the industry it was active in, and its internet basis (I also really liked Constructware – an elegant combination of ‘construction’ and ‘software’).
(Mind you, I can hardly claim the moral high ground working for a company today known simply as BIW Technologies – but BIW was an abbreviation of ‘Building Information Warehouse’ which was/is kind of descriptive. As most customers, users and staff had abbreviated this to BIW, we adopted this when the company rebranded in June 2001, though I still get asked occasionally: “what is BIW short for?”)
Looking at the CTSpace website, the logo has ‘CT‘ in bold type, with ‘Space’ in a normal typeface (perhaps an allusion to ‘workspace’? – a not uncommon term for applications offering online working) and a yellow blob. Underneath ‘CTSpace’ is a subheading: “collaboration | teamwork | success”, but the branding isn’t CTS, so it can’t really be an abbreviation of those words, unless the final word is actually ‘pace’ (suggesting speed, or ‘Velocity’, maybe).
I Googled ‘CTSpace’ yesterday. Top of the search rankings then was a game for mobile telephones from C&T Software (“Defend the earth from attacking aliens while earning money to upgrade your ship”). Not far behind was UK Plumbing and a ceiling tile spacer kit on sale for £47.90 + VAT. Today, though, CTSpace’s website tops the Google rankings.
22 December 2006 update: The message to customers on BuildOnline’s login page offers some enlightenment:
The merged company will now operate under the name of CTSpaceTM – derived from Collaboration Technology WorkSpace.