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Summary:

Dell has bought a statistical analysis vendor called StatSoft that makes software akin to that of SAS and IBM’s SPSS business. It seems like an uninspired buy for a company trying to forge a new direction since going private.

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Dell has acquired StatSoft, a Tulsa, Okla.-based software vendor specializing in data mining and text analysis software. Dell is trying to remake itself as more of a software company since going private in late 2013, but unless there’s something big hiding under the surface, it’s hard to see how much an acquisition like StatSoft can really help further that goal.

StatSoft’s flagship Statistica software appears to be a well-respected product and predictive analytics is a hot space, but it was first released in 1992 (the company was founded in the 1980s) before the web really existed and well before Hadoop was conceived. If the newly shareholder-free Dell wants to reinvent itself as a company trying to sell analytics software against established vendors such as SAS and IBM — and with none of the latter’s other Hadoop, cognitive computing, stream processing or other big data technologies — buying StatSoft is one way to do it.

However, none of these companies — StatSoft, SAS or IBM with SPSS — are very likely to appeal to today’s new breed of statisticians and data scientists, who are increasingly using the open source R software package, as well as newer tools designed with big data in mind.

A screenshot of the Statistica Data Miner product.

A screenshot of the Statistica Data Miner product.

That being said, the StatSoft deal does fill a void for Dell — the handful of other products currently under the company’s “big data analytics” and business intelligence banners are the result of Dell’s Quest Software acquisition in 2012.

Dell can try to hang around as primarily a hardware vendor and fight an uphill battle against an increasingly commoditized market on the enterprise front, and one dominated by mobile on the consumer front. Or it can try to exist as an enterprise software vendor with a portfolio that’s not very different, although much narrower, than what HP, Oracle and IBM are selling. Neither strategy seems too promising.

An alternative approach for Dell to get into the big data and predictive analytics space would be to buy companies founded and launched during the new millenium — companies such as Skytree or Platfora, for example. Maybe even a company like Tableau. Yes, they’re new, relatively unproven over time and probably more expensive from an M&A standpoint (Tableau would cost billions), but they’d also help Dell establish itself as the next-generation mega vendor.

It should do the same thing in cloud computing, systems management and servers, too.

Dell should look to the future and try to sell easy-to-use, next-generation software products that run on low-margin, webscale-inspired servers. Someone is going to buy up the all the companies pushing new ways to do data analysis, so Dell might as well kick off the party. Even if it goes down, at least it will go down swinging.

  1. Revolution Analytics’ master instructor, Bob Muenchen said in 2012 that if current trends continued, the use of the R software would exceed that of SAS for scholarly applications in 2015.

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