Yet Another Industry Acquisition – SMART Technologies, With Some Reflections

Hold on to your hats – it’s just happened again…

SMART kapp iQ

First the particulars:

SMART Technologies Inc. and Foxconn Technology Group announced they have entered into an arrangement agreement under which Foxconn has agreed to acquire all of the outstanding common shares of SMART for a cash payment of US$4.50 per Common Share. The US$4.50 per Common Share purchase price represents a premium of approximately 21% to the volume weighted average price over the last 90 trading days prior to announcement of the Arrangement on the NASDAQ Stock Market.

You can read more of the details here on rAVe [Publications].

So – every time lately that we’ve thought we would be able to catch our collective breaths after a major industry acquisition, here we go again. SMART Technologies, long the standard-bearer of interactive whiteboard (IWB) technology – the SMART Board – has now become the next in line.

I have been a part of the AV industry for over twenty years and in talking about InfoComm, for which of course it’s now that time of year, I’ve told people that my real start was at InfoComm ’95 in Dallas when I was in computer and AV rentals. I fully entered the integration space in 1998 and my primary focus after not too long became SMART Technologies and SMART Board sales to K-12 (a story in itself), which soon evolved to higher education. It was a highly successful approach with SMART Technologies, in fact I considered the manufacturer a cornerstone of my own business within the integration company. I mounted SMART Boards on the walls of many K-12 school classrooms in New Jersey as well as my own custom podium and workstation configurations with Sympodium, Extron Medialink, doc cam, PC and more in higher ed classrooms and lecture centers. SMART was truly the winning formula for success in my integration sales business.

A few years later, I was notified that SMART was going to be getting into the commercial business game, and as I had begun building an approach to the business market for integration as well, this became a highly advantageous strategy for me to deploy, as well as I’m sure many SMART dealers in the industry. The game planning began and the marketing was there – however – not too long after that it was decided that the full focus would be back on education (as was told to me by my ASM). OK, I had already built that sales profile for the company so no problem, however I considered this an opportunity missed.

And then it happened again, and again. In essence, never could there be a fully channeled focus to the commercial enterprise market, it was essentially a create-your-own at least for me while I’d say 90% of the attention was still paid to education. Not sure how you really would build a commercial approach off of that although I did try, but the wins were clearly still K-12 and even more so in higher ed. Yes, Meeting Pro was a very good software approach to business, however it just wasn’t enough – there needed to be a full commercial business end built into the company which I had said over and over again if it was to work.

In late 2012 came the change-over at the top and just about every single person who had ever been involved with SMART, whether at the current time or even within the last several years – resellers, former employees, current employees – were impacted by the change and reflected on it in numerous ways on social media and more (I know I was deeply involved in those conversations). The new regime stepped in and immediately claimed a new direction for the company, where executives were brought in from Microsoft as well. Did we all become immediate believers? There was certainly work to do to make that happen, but SMART did have the grand opportunity, with a new and what was believed to be calculated thrust toward the commercial business side now.

SMART kapp

In 2014, SMART, in grandiose fashion, introduced kapp at InfoComm with an interesting acting job performed by an even more interesting actor showing how the kapp dry erase board would replace the standard board and revolutionize collaboration. I was invited to witness the event and had a front-row standing position there, pretty good show I might say and yes, I was convinced this could be a “next thing” in collaboration – runs on an app, cloud, etc.

I told SMART CEO Neil Gaydon that as I met with him for a few minutes after the event. I had dinner with some of the executives from SMART that night as well, it sounded like a tremendously positive forward-focused approach to the commercial space. Maybe, just maybe this would be the full-on commercial approach the company would finally achieve. I was no longer in integration sales being a consultant, writer and handling media for rAVe at that point, however it appeared as a bright beacon for SMART at that junture in terms of commercial AV presence.

In fact, I did this interview with Neil Gaydon and other top executives of the company in July of 2014.

I (and many others) watched as Kapp was marketed, un-boxings shown on You Tube and such, however I was looking for the real business case here as I so often like to see as true evidence for the effectiveness of a product or solution in the market. At SMART, I was hearing from the individuals at the top as well as others in the company of the wonders of kapp, as well as the Lync (now Skype for Business) Room System. I watched some of the top SMART resellers present kapp on social media as well. Of course you also fold in those interactive whiteboards, displays and such that were still being heavily marketed to education.

At InfoComm 2015, SMART brought the new kapp iQ which looked to be a positive addition to the commercial arsenal, however has it been enough to keep SMART relevant in the commercial business space, especially with the plethora of collaboration as well as ideation solutions that entered the market at InfoComm time and beyond?

With the paint fresh on this acquisition, it’s to be seen just where SMART Technologies will exist among the realm of commercial AV. I believe they will likely carry on unfettered in the education space, however what will be the commercial business end focus at InfoComm 2016 in less than two weeks – and beyond?

More to come on that of course – for information on what SMART Technologies currently has to offer go to their website here.


Update 5/26 reported in the Calgary Herald:

On Thursday, SMART announced fourth-quarter 2016 revenues of $68 million, a decline of $17 million year-over-year. For the full fiscal year 2016, SMART’s revenues were $348 million, a decrease of $83 million from 2015. The company said the decrease was due to lower sales of its interactive whiteboards and projectors. It reported an adjusted net loss for the year of $37.4 million.

SMART’s shares closed at $5.77 Thursday, down 11 per cent.

Read the Calgary Herald article here.