Information technology (IT) services company Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) recently announced it is splitting into two separate companies. One will “focus” on commercial markets, the other will “focus” on government contracts. Ostensibly, as we’ve heard before, leadership would like investors, employees and customers to believe this is the answer for a company that has incurred a number of high profile failed contracts, a turnover in leadership, vast losses and declining revenue.
After years of poor performance, and an investigation by the UK parliament into a failed contract for the National Health Services, in 2012 CSC brought in a new CEO. Like most new CEOs, his first action was to announce a massive cost-cutting program. That primarily meant vast layoffs. So out the door went thousands of people in order to hopefully improve the P&L.
Only a services company doesn’t have any hard assets. The CSC business requires convincing companies, or government agencies, to let them take over their data centers, or PC deployment, or help desk, or IT development, or application implementation – in other words to outsource some part (or all) of the IT work that could be done internally. Winning this work has been an effort to demonstrate you can hire better people, that are more productive, at lower cost than the potential client.
So when CSC undertook a massive layoff, service levels declined. It was unavoidable. Where before CSC had 10 people doing something (or 1,000) now they have 7 (or 700). It’s not hard to imagine what happens next. Morale declines as layoffs ensue, and the overworked remaining employees feel (and perhaps really are) overworked. People leave for better jobs with higher pay and less stress. Yet, the contract requirements remain, so clients often start complaining about performance, leading to more pressure on the remaining employees. A vicious whirlpool of destruction starts, as things just keep getting worse.
Immediately after taking the CEO job in 2012 Mike Lawrie declared a massive $4.3B loss. This allowed him to “bring forward” anticipated costs of the anticipated layoffs, cancelled contracts, etc. Most importantly, it allowed him to “cost shift” future costs into his first year in the job – the year in which he would not be fired, regardless how much he wrote off. This is a classic financial machination applied by “turnaround CEOs” in order to blame the last guy for not being truthful about how badly things were, while guaranteeing the end of the new guy’s first year would show a profit due to the huge cost shift.
True to expectations, after one year with Lawrie as CEO, CSC declared a $1B profit for fyscal 2013 (about 20% of the previous write-off.) But then fyscal 2014 returned to the previous norm, as profits shrunk to just $674M on about $12B revenues (~5% net margin.) For 4th quarter of fyscal 2015 revenues dropped another 12.6% – not hard to imagine given the layoffs and ensuing customer dissatisfaction. Most troubling, the commercial part of CSC, which represents 75% of revenue, saw all parts of the business decline between 15-20%, while the federal contracting (much harder to cancel) remained flat. This is not the trajectory of a turnaround.
CEO Lawrie blames the deteriorating performance on execution missteps. And he has promised to keep his eyes carefully on the numbers. Although he has admitted that he doesn’t really know when, or if, CSC will return to any sort of growth.
No wonder that for more than a year prior to this split CSC was unable to sell itself. Despite a lot of hard effort, no banker was able to put together a deal for CSC to be purchased by a competitor or a private banking (hedge fund) operation.
If none of the professionals in making splits and turnarounds were willing to take on this deal, why should individual investors? In this case, watching people walk away should be a clear indicator of how bad things are, and how clueless leadership is regarding a fix for the problems.
The real problem at CSC isn’t “execution.” The real problem is that the market has shifted substantially. For decades CSC’s outsourcing business was the norm. But today companies don’t need a lot of what CSC outsources. They are closing down those costly operations and replacing them with cloud services, cloud application development and implementation, mobile deployments and significant big data analytics. Or looking for new services to solve problems like cybersecurity threats. CSC quite simply hasn’t done anything in those markets, and it is far, far behind. It is a big dinosaur rapidly being overtaken by competitors moving more quickly to new solutions.
One of CSC’s biggest competitors is IBM, which itself has had a series of woes. However, IBM has very publicly set up a partnership with Apple and is moving rapidly to develop industry-specific software as a service (SaaS) offerings that are mobile and operate in the cloud. These targeted enterprise solutions in health care, finance and other industries are designed to make the services offered by CSC obsolete.
Although it may have had a huge client base of 1,000 customers. And CSC brags that 175 of the Fortune 500 buy some services from it, exactly what does CSC bring to the table to keep these customers? Years of cost cutting means the company has not invested in the kinds of solutions being offered by IBM and competitors such as Accenture, HP and Dell domestically – and WiPro, TCS (Tata Consulting Services,) Infosys and Cognizant offshore. Not to mention dozens of up-and-coming small competiters who are right on the market for targeted solutions with the latest technology such as 6D Gobal Technologies. CSC is still stuck in its 1980s consulting model, and skill set, in a world that is vastly different today.
CSC has no idea how to “focus” on clients. That would mean investing in modern solutions to rapidly changing client needs. CSC failed to do that 15 years ago when most outsourcing involved heavy use of offshore resources. And CSC has never caught up. Leadership overly relied on selling old services, and discounting. It’s model caused it to underbid projects, until the UK government almost shut the company down for its inability to deliver, and constantly hiding actual results.
Now CSC lacks any of the capabilities, people or skills to offer clients what they want. Its diffuse customer base is more a liability than a benefit, because these customers are “end of life” for the services CSC offers. Years of declining revenues demonstrate that as value declines, contracts are either allowed to go to very cheap offshore providers, lapse completely or cancelled early in order to shift client resources to more important projects where CSC cannot compete.
This split is just an admission that leadership has no idea what to do next. Customers are leaving, and revenues are declining. Margins, at 5%, are terrible and there is no money to invest in anything new. Some of the world’s best investors have looked at CSC deeply and chosen to walk away. For employees and individual investors it is time to admit that CSC has a limited future, and it is time to find far greener pastures.