The CSC Split: More than What Meets the Eye | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Yesterday, Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) announced that it was splitting the company into two independent, publicly-traded entities – U.S. Public Sector and Global Commercial. The split, expected to be completed by October 2015, will be accompanied by a special cash dividend of US$10.5 per share. After the bifurcation, the U.S. Public Sector business will focus on federal, state, and defense customers within the country, and employ 14,000 people. The remaining 51,000 employees will be a part of its Global Commercial business that will focus on commercial customers, and public sector organizations outside the United States. The two businesses generated US$4.1 billion and US$8.1 billion, respectively, in annual revenue during FY2015. Everest Group’s CEO Peter Bendor-Samuel shared his top-level insights shortly after the announcement. Following is our evaluation of the different potential scenarios arising out of the split.

Last attempt to avoid a buyout?

The announcement comes after the latest set of rumors about CSC’s potential sale. In February 2015, Carlyle Group and Capgemini were reported to be in talks to jointly acquire the company. Around the same time, CSC was said to be working with Royal Bank of Canada to review buyout options. Similar reports emerged in September last year with CSC exploring leveraged buyout via multiple private equity firms, including Bain Capital and Blackstone Group. CSC’s buyout (if it had materialized) would have been the largest leveraged buyout since Dell went private for US$16 billion in 2013. However, the talks over the year fizzled out as buyers baulked at CSC’s expected valuation.

If this move is a precursor to a possible sale, the question comes around to the identity of the suitor. Rumors have floated about interest from HCL and Accenture, but things don’t add up with those two suggestions for a number of reasons. HCL already has what it needed from CSC through its alliance, and Accenture already enjoys pole positon in the consulting markets, so they would have to radically depart from their infrastructure strategy to take on the CSC asset base. Given that Accenture is integrating infrastructure with operations as part of its GTM (go-to-market) strategy, we do not see the change in strategic direction that would indicate acquisition of an asset like CSC. A more plausible candidate would be someone looking for scale in the North American enterprise market with allied economic models creating scale and IP synergies.

Driving rationale 

The decision to split can be viewed as the culmination of CEO Mike Lawrie’s efforts to revitalize this ailing company. Since his inception in 2012, CSC has witnessed firm-wide cost takeout measures as a part of the “Get Fit” phase of its turnaround efforts. Attributable to these efforts, the company managed slight melioration in its operating margins during FY2014 and FY2015. Recognizing the fact that the cost takeout measures have already liquidated as enhanced bottom-line, and in the absence of a successful buyout, the management has settled on forming two separate business entities catering to different customer segments. Increasing profitability and value for shareholders could also shore up CSC’s valuation.

Apart from catering to different customer segments, the two entities have inherently exhibited great divergence in terms of their growth profiles and cash flow dynamics. The Global Commercial business has faced strong tailwinds, with revenue in FY2015 declining due to contract completions and lack of new opportunities. On the other hand, the Public Sector business managed to maintain the figures, backed by demand for next-gen IT solutions such as cloud. As it gears up for a potential sale, the government business is potentially value dilutive, and may not find many takers. There’s also an aspect around risk compartmentalization – troubled contracts in the federal marketplace can get service providers stuck in long-drawn out lawsuits and punitive damages.

The future

Keeping this context in mind, splitting the overall businesses can play out in a number of different ways for CSC. It can help offload the new entities of assets not core to their business, enabling them to be more strategic in serving clients and pursuing new opportunities. The new entities will be in a better situation to position themselves as specialists in their respective markets. While this may not be a pivotal factor for the Global Commercial business, it could be a turning point for the Public Sector business, wherein, organizations increasingly seek to engage with specialized technology partners. Despite the split, both entities stay as multi-billion dollar businesses, thus, ensuring that none of the two entities face any scalability issues in the market.

With its decision to split, CSC joins the league of technology companies that have lagged in adapting to the changing market dynamics (shift to mobile, cloud computing, and the As-a-Service economy), and are splitting up in response to market pressure. Last year, HP, another service provider plagued by similar challenges, announced a similar split. Two years ago Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) went down the same path and spun off its government technology services business as SAIC and rebranded itself as national security and engineering company Leidos Holdings Inc.

While the ultimate success or failure of such a strategic move is murky at best, it is beyond doubt that a rapidly disruptive and evolving services landscape will lead providers to ponder hard choices. In the last year we have seen multiple instances of this realization translating into different maneuvers – movement towards an integrated value proposition (Cognizant-TriZetto), geographic/vertical expansion (Atos-Xerox and Capgemini-IGATE), and focus on next-generation tenets (Apple-IBM). As this continues to happen, expect more industry churn, realignment, and consolidation.

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