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August 31, 2005

Plumtree: a tasty treat for the BEA hive

The last of the pure-play enterprise portal vendors, Plumtree, has been acquired and, unlike its two former rivals, Epicentric and Corechange, the company was not taken by an enterprise content management vendor (Vignette and Open Text in the case of the others). Instead, it has been snapped up by BEA Systems, in a deal which may prove to be the best fit of the lot.

By CBR Staff Writer

BEA Systems has agreed to acquire Plumtree.

BEA is an application infrastructure software company, and that, as IBM realized when it put its portal under the WebSphere brand, is exactly what an enterprise portal is. It is a framework for accessing information and services, the top layer of a web services and service-oriented architecture, not an application in itself. Plumtree recognized this when it first created various ‘out-of-the box’ gadgets (portlets) to connect with popular enterprise applications, and later ran the ‘no more empty portals’ campaign, highlighting the need for content management technologies to deliver information of value into the framework. Since then, Plumtree has enhanced the collaborative tools within what it now calls the ‘Enterprise Web Suite’.

BEA already has a good, although less mature, enterprise portal product, but, more importantly, has some of the best development tools for application development of software infrastructure.

Originally Plumtree Corporate Portal was released in a wholly Microsoft environment, but the decision to offer Corporate Portal as a Java application (sensibly with an identical code base) has made it attractive to those vendors who are agnostic of the .NET framework and roadmap.

If the deal gets shareholder approval, the fun will really begin. BEA will get over 700 customers, many of whom are definitely ‘blue chip’ – Airbus, Ford, the US Army. Of course BEA is also acquiring Plumtree’s always-eager development team, who live for ‘raising the bar’ and beating the likes of IBM and SAP on their ‘home’ territory. The real challenge in the acquisition will be to secure and encapsulate both the spirit and the people.

This acquisition is not just an opportunity to buy market share (BEA has itself also recently been dubbed an acquisition target). Running Plumtree as a business unit, and exploiting its intellectual property (IP), will demonstrate whether BEA has the strength, and the savoir-faire, to go it alone.

At $200 million, with Plumtree’s customer base, staff and IP, BEA has got itself a bargain; the challenge now is not to waste the fruits of the tree.

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