Normally the same topics and trends are discussed every year. Cloud grows explosively, software is booming, hosting, that’s where it will happen and Microsoft dominates the market as a brand. Will it be the same in 2021? These above topics are still popular with private equity, while COVID-19 has turned the entire financial playing field in IT.
In the annual interview with CFI, which compiles the financial list for the annual magazine of Computable, the same topics are often discussed. Certain developments in the market can be predicted based on financial figures and M&A activity. However, abrupt impulses have less effect on the financial list because the data is calculated over three years averages. Last year, when COVID-19 had broken out in full force, CFI made the prediction: next year ‘COVID-19 topics’ will dictate the list.
Ramon Schuitevoerder, Partner and Managing Director and his colleague Rand de Visser, Associate at CFI: ‘It was and is a difficult year because of COVID-19’. De Visser starts: ‘It brings many new parties to the list, but there are also many IT companies that have not submitted or published any figures’. The top ten has six new entrants and the unassailable number one AFAS Software of the last years suddenly drops to position three. Is AFAS doing badly then? No, not exactly. They are doing even better than last year, but COVID-19 is simply bringing in some new, dominant players.
The first newcomer in the financial list is at pole position, Anywhere365, a company that has shown enormous growth in times of COVID-19 but not through an acquisition or financial transaction. Schuitevoerder notes: “They specialize in e.g. Microsoft Teams, which grew exponentially due to the Working From Home policies. Anywhere365, backed by a British investment company, had the perfect solutions offering and strategy at the right time.”
The CFI list is compiled based on four financial indicators, measured over a three-year period average. CFI works with the revenue figures to determine the revenue growth, EBITDA (the gross profit/income of a company before deduction of interest, taxes, depreciation, etc.) to calculate the EBITDA margin, the balance sheet totals and equity to determine solvency (the financial health of a company in the longer term) and the number of employees to calculate revenue per employee.
That we were dealing with COVID-19 is already a known fact, but Ramon Schuitevoerder and Randy de Visser see another interesting trend, partly prompted by this. The list is strongly influenced by several PE-back companies. ‘At place five, for example, there are Xperi and Serac’, explains Ramon Schuitevoerder. ‘They merged in 2021 and then acquired three other SAP specialists. The five companies now operate under the name Aiden’.
Randy de Visser sees similar situations and mentions among others the acquisition of Frontmen by Intracto. The latter has changed its name to IO in 2021. ‘IO has grown rapidly through active buy-and-build strategy’. This also applies to more organisations that adopt such strategy, for example Cloud Security Group and Interstellar, both backed by a financial investor. ‘Another example is Odin Group, that is a consortium of multiple companies and they are still growing rapidly through acquisitions. Odin acquired Unified in 2021, which will be included in the Computable100 of 2022’.
Ramon Schuitevoerder sees that IT and software as a sector has become much more resilient. ‘It is increasingly seen as an interesting sector to invest in. Private equity parties raise more capital from the market and a large part of that capital is allocated to investments in IT. COVID-19 can therefore be seen as an accelerator of consolidation due to the increase in adoption rate of new technology. Finally, there is more willingness to invest in the IT and software sector, as investors expect more sustainable returns’.
Randy de Visser agrees with Ramon. ‘The numbers show us: more money goes to private equity, and more money goes to IT. In fact, within Europe more capital is allocated by financial investors to the IT and software sector, where IT allocation has grown to c. 25% of the invested capital in 2021. COVID-19 is an accelerator of investments in IT causing number of acquisitions to spike, closely interlinked with higher transaction multiples. The capital raised should be invested more aggressively resulting in more competitive auctions. However, investors are still willing to make those investments due to sustainable business models with recurring revenues (Saas, cloud of managed services).
The Computable100 2021 is shaped by the strategic game that is playing in the background, where a capital flows into it the IT sector. Many companies are going to make even more acquisitions and the Computable100 will be more formed by the growth through acquisitions in the coming years and almost without exception, all backed by private equity. Despite COVID-19, 2020 was an excellent year for these companies and will continue to do so in 2021 and 2022.