Enterprise mobile's moment passes

The surge of smartphones over the past decade delivered a shock to businesses, changing everything from how they manage employees to how they engage with customers. Such sudden transformation leads to confusion, and confusion often leads to big acquisitions at salacious multiples. It appears that mobile enterprise technology vendors are no longer benefiting from that disorientation as deals dwindle and buyers look for tuck-ins and consolidation plays rather than strategic gambles.

Case in point: VMware's purchase of Apteligent earlier this week. In the startup's early days, it appeared to be defining a new category of mobile application performance monitoring. Instead, it's folding into VMware's workforce management tools at a price that's likely short of the $50m that venture capitalists plunked into it.

Or take Tangoe. At just $305m, the sale of the device management firm leads the pack of enterprise mobile tech deals in 2017. It sold to Marlin Equity Partners for 1.6x trailing revenue and about one-quarter of its market cap at its zenith. Last year's largest mobile enterprise transactions – a pair of telematics providers picked up by Verizon and Microsoft's reach for app developer tools specialist Xamarin – all went off at above-market multiples.

The pace of deals – not just the type – is also shaping up differently from last year. Acquirers spent $6.4bn on enterprise mobility vendors in 2016, according to 451 Research's M&A KnowledgeBase. This year, just $510m has been spent on 42 transactions, on track for less than half of last year's volume. Investors are matching the drooping appetites of acquirers. By our reckoning, there has been just $112m of fresh venture capital poured into these businesses. That's about the same rate as last year, when these companies drew about one-quarter the amount of funding that they did in 2013 and 2014.

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @451TechMnA.

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