Dell-EMC closes, but there’s still dealing to be done

Contact: Brenon Daly

Whenever a newly joined couple move in together, there are always a few items that just don’t fit as the two houses are merged into one. These things can range from minor overlapping bits (dishes that don’t quite match) to bulky odd-lot items (that rather ugly plaid couch that was hidden away in a corner of the basement). Invariably, the domestically blissed couple has to sort through their stuff to figure out what’s coming and what’s going.

As Dell and EMC officially close their union today, the process of sorting out their combined house assumes a new urgency. (See our full coverage of the transaction.) Of course, the two companies have already begun rationalizing their holdings in anticipation of coming together, most notably with Dell raising more than $5bn over the past half-year by shedding ill-fitting divisions. These divestitures have essentially involved Dell unwinding earlier acquisitions that didn’t deliver promised returns, notably Perot Systems, as well as Quest Software and SonicWALL.

We suspect the next bit of unwinding will likely come from Dell reversing EMC’s previous acquisition of Documentum. (This move has been mulled for several years, but now seems more likely as Dell takes on tens of billions of dollars of debt to pay for the largest-ever acquisition in the tech industry.) Somewhat like Veritas within Symantec, Documentum has never really fit inside EMC. It is even harder to see the strategic rationale for the content management software inside Dell, which has sold off most of its software assets. Dell is (once again) focusing on hardware, with product revenue accounting for roughly three-quarters of the combined company revenue of $74bn.

Documentum serves as the main piece of EMC’s Enterprise Content Division (ECD), a $600m unit that is a bit lost inside a $24bn company. (We would note that ECD accounts for just 2.5% of overall revenue at EMC – exactly the same portion of revenue generated at Dell by its software business, which was divested in June.) ECD would represent less than 1% of the combined company revenue, likely relegating it even further to an ‘afterthought’ sale.

That won’t help ECD, which is already slowly shrinking inside EMC. Unusually for a software company, product sales account for only about one-quarter of the division’s revenue, with the remaining three-quarters coming from maintenance and support. Still, ECD is able to put up very respectable gross margins in the mid-60% range. That financial profile, which represents a mature and somewhat sticky offering, fits well with private equity requirements. So we could see Documentum going to a buyout shop, which is where Veritas landed, as well as Dell’s own software division.

However, if Dell does manage to sell Documentum, it would likely garner only about $1bn for the business. (For the record, EMC paid $1.8bn, mostly in equity, for Documentum in 2003.) That would value ECD at roughly 1.7 times sales, which is exactly the valuation Dell got when it unwound its own software business three months ago.