Most analysts have hailed Google’s recent acquisition of Waze for $ 1.3 billion a masterstroke (a minority thinks that this is going to be a botched overstretch, a la Motorola). [See some nice reports here, here and here and the Waze blog announcement here.] However, there seems to be no agreement on whether this is a strategic M&A, a pure technology acquisition or an acqui-hire. Different folks have differing opinions; IMHO, this acquisition offers Google a few advantages of each of these.
A Pre-emptive strategic move: It was reported that there were several suitors for Waze, including Facebook and Apple. By spending a small part of its $50 billion plus cash pile, Google has managed to keep a key technological advancement out of the hands of the competition and this been able to maintain its pre-eminent position in the Maps market.
A technology acquisition: By definition, a technology acquisition provides the acquiring firm with a technology or technological knowhow. Waze will enable Google to add a critical element to its Maps technology – real-time, crowdsourced updates. A weakness of all the major players in the Maps market has been the need to spend millions of dollars to periodically update the maps for accuracy in a rapidly changing world (cue the Apple Maps disaster). Waze will augment Google’s efforts by providing a cheaper option for map updates as well potential future monetization through location based advertising.
An acqui-hire: While the technology artefact represented by Waze is impressive indeed, Google will also benefit from the knowledge residing within the employees of Waze. Google has committed to maintaining the Waze R&D team in an ‘as is’, independent state, thus ensuring continuity of tacit forms of individual and group level knowledge. This will maximize the potential innovation outcomes from the Waze R&D team, and Google will be able to benefit from potential knowledge spillovers to its own R&D centres (some of which are located relatively nearby). [It is reported that Waze employees have been offered nice retention bonuses to stay for 4-5 year post-acquisition, thus maximizing the time for spillovers, knowledge transfer, and innovation.]
Overall, the Waze acquisition provides Google with several benefits which will enable it to possibly dominate the ‘Lo’ portion of the next big battlefield – The SoMoLo Convergence.