If something cannot go on forever, it will stop
IT & Corporate Future
As the computer revolution progresses company’s are less dependent on the quality of their personal and more dependent on the quality of their systems. As we move toward automating information workers, this will become more apparent. Companies won’t be nearly as dependent on people doing mistake free, thoughtful work. A bank won’t make a bad loan because a loan officer wasn’t really paying attention and approved a loan they should’ve denied. Instead, the bank will rely on a system to make most decisions, if the system isn’t very good the company won’t be very competitive.
When we deal with a company we are not really dealing with a group of people and a product, but an IT system. Buying products and services also means you are buying an IT service, you just don’t realize it. When you buy something for Amazon you are also buying their entire IT system, from logistics to online storefront. Their value as a retailer is not just in the products they sell, and they don’t have any people that you interact with. The reason we buy from Amazon is because their IT systems are so good at letting us get what we want.
Machine learning and the automation it will create it the natural evolution of this. Automation really began in the Industrial Revolution, when you were buying a product you were also buying into their mechanical system for the production of that product, this sounds pretty Rule 11. Simply put, automation will simply accelerate what we have been seeing for hundreds of years.
Every old idea will be proposed again with a different name and a different presentation, regardless of whether it works.
In case you haven’t noticed, there has been a lot of companies buying each other. There are a lot of reasons for this, low interest rates, SOX, exchange rules, etc. One other reason for the high level of consolidation is thanks to IT systems. Combining the resources of two companies may make sense from a bottom line, but I doubt this could be done at the scale we see today without IT systems to help facilitate.
(If you want to read more on corporate consolidation here is a good article)
IT & Corporate Scale
In nature, when an organism gets larger, it takes on more complexity. Some organizations fit small niches where they have advantages by being simple (single cell organisms), well others benefit from a very complex arrangements of interdependent groups of cells. Companies work on similar principles, some work best when small (restaurants), well others require a massive organization of people, capital and geography to be successful (automotive industry).
Much like animals, companies need a connective tissue to organize their various functions, people and locations. In nature it is the nervous system, in the corporate world it is IT systems.
Then & Now
Lets take the example of calculating profit for an enterprise. Executives must collect information about expenses, sales, assets, taxation, etc to come to a final number. This information may be spread across hundreds of employees, datasets and multiple locations. Without IT systems this may be done by creating paper based book keeping, invoices, etc, collecting them all and sending them to a head office to make sense of and produce one final report. Obviously this would require significant manpower and time. In this system, you can imagine that a company can only grow so much before the administrative burden would diminish any real grow in the company.
Now fast forward this system to the modern day. Computers can handle much of the administrative work that would require large teams of people to do. Invoices created and paid automatically by computers, balance sheets generated in real time, forecasting done in seconds and more. If you want to grow your business you just need to modify your systems.
Buying a business just means integrating their systems with yours. Personal changes are inevitable, but taking two payroll departments and combining their efforts is more of a systems challenge now, rather than a people issue. Due diligence is a lot simpler as more data is available, and in the future will likely be done mostly automatically. In the end buying a company is a lot simpler and costs much less than in the past.
M&A In The Future
Companies generally buy other companies in order to grow, enter new markets or stifle competitors. What you end up with is people, processes, locations and IT systems. For Walmart to buy Target, that would mean a lot of people and places. What about when Facebook bought Instagram? They really bought a IT system for images and video. The developers were valuable, but it wasn’t like they got 1000 new employees. This is really a sneak peak at most future M&A deals, it will be about systems!
We are really seeing a big change in the corporate world. The world may very well look like a dystopian scifi novel, where only a few massive corporations exist. Computers may be a means of disruption, but they are also a means to consolidation.