Enterprise

IBM plans to spin off infrastructure services as a separate $19B business

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IBM, a company that originally made its name out of its leadership in building myriad enterprise hardware (quite literally: its name is an abbreviation for International Business Machines), is taking one more step away from that legacy and deeper into the world of cloud services. The company today announced that it plans to spin off its managed infrastructure services unit as a separate public company, a $19 billion business in annual revenues, to help it focus more squarely on newer opportunities in hybrid cloud applications and artificial intelligence.

Infrastructure services include a range of managed services based around legacy infrastructure and digital transformation related to it. It includes things like testing and assembly, but also product engineering and lab services, among other things. A spokesperson confirmed to me that the deal will not include the company’s servers business, only infrastructure services.

IBM said it expects to complete the process — a tax-free spin-off for shareholders — by the end of 2021. It has not yet given a name to “NewCo” but it said that out of the gate the spun-off company will have 90,000 employees, 4,600 big enterprise clients in 115 countries, a backlog of $60 billion in business “and more than twice the scale of its nearest competitor” in the area of infrastructure services.

Others that compete against it include the likes of BMC and Microsoft. The remaining IBM business is about three times as big: it currently generates some $59 billion in annual revenues.

At the same time that IBM announced the news, it also gave some updated guidance for Q3, which it plans to report officially later this month. It said it expects revenues of $17.6 billion, with GAAP diluted earnings per share from continuing operations of $1.89, and operating (non-GAAP) earnings per share of $2.58. As a point of comparison, in Q3 2019 it reported revenues of $18 billion. And last quarter IBM reported revenues of $18.1 billion. Tellingly, the division that contains infrastructure services saw declines last quarter.

The market seems to like the news: IBM shares are trading up some 10% ahead of the market opening.

The move is a significant shift for the company and underscores a bigger sea change in how enterprise IT has evolved and looks to continue changing in the future.

IBM is betting that legacy infrastructure and the servicing of it, while continuing to net revenues, will not grow as it has in the past, and as companies continue with their modernization (or “digital transformation,” as consultants like to refer to it today), they will turn increasingly to outsourced infrastructure and using cloud services, both to run their businesses and to build the services that interface with consumers. IBM, meanwhile, is in a race competing against the likes of Microsoft and Google in cloud services, and so doubling down on that part of the business is another way to focus on it for growth.

Why is cloud revenue growth so slow if the digital transformation is accelerating?

But IBM, often referred to as “Big Blue”, is also using the announcement as the start of an effort to streamline its business to spur growth (maybe we’ll have to rename it “Medium Blue”).

“IBM is laser-focused on the $1 trillion hybrid cloud opportunity,” said Arvind Krishna, IBM CEO, in a statement. “Client buying needs for application and infrastructure services are diverging, while adoption of our hybrid cloud platform is accelerating. Now is the right time to create two market-leading companies focused on what they do best. IBM will focus on its open hybrid cloud platform and AI capabilities. NewCo will have greater agility to design, run and modernize the infrastructure of the world’s most important organizations. Both companies will be on an improved growth trajectory with greater ability to partner and capture new opportunities – creating value for clients and shareholders.”

Its $34 billion purchase of Red Hat in 2019 is perhaps its most notable investment in recent times in IBM’s own transformation.

With the acquisition closed, IBM goes all in on Red Hat

“We have positioned IBM for the new era of hybrid cloud,” said Ginni Rometty, IBM Executive Chairman in a statement. “Our multi-year transformation created the foundation for the open hybrid cloud platform, which we then accelerated with the acquisition of Red Hat. At the same time, our managed infrastructure services business has established itself as the industry leader, with unrivaled expertise in complex and mission-critical infrastructure work. As two independent companies, IBM and NewCo will capitalize on their respective strengths. IBM will accelerate clients’ digital transformation journeys, and NewCo will accelerate clients’ infrastructure modernization efforts. This focus will result in greater value, increased innovation, and faster execution for our clients.”

More to come.

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