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  • Thierry Spanjaard

Atos saga to reach a conclusion with Airbus?

Atos, a major French IT firm is under the lights again, as its cybersecurity unit is in the process of being sold to Airbus. But the road has been long, winding, and bumpy, and the end of it is still not in sight.


Now, the company announced that it has received a letter of interest from Airbus for its BDS Big Data and Security business. Airbus would acquire the entire business at a valuation between EUR 1.5 and 1.8 billion. In March 2022, Airbus already made an offer for a 30% stake in Evidian, an Atos branch that later became Eviden. Airbus is already a significant player in cybersecurity and has repeatedly published its interest in growing these activities. "The acquisition of BDS could significantly accelerate the digital transformation of Airbus, enhance the Company's defense and security portfolio with strong capabilities in cyber, advanced computing, and artificial intelligence, and support Airbus' decarbonization roadmap," an Airbus spokesperson said, according to The Register.


Atos is also in a process of selling other business assets, as it is in talks with EP Equity Investment (EPEI), run by Czech energy billionaire Daniel Křetínský, over the sale of its Tech Foundations perimeter, the part of Atos that includes its legacy businesses, after the spin-off of Worldline and Eviden.


Atos is also under scrutiny from French officials as they are a major provider of strategically sensitive elements such as the French army's telephone system and various communications and combat software, encryption technology for the Scorpion Combat System, software for urban surveillance projects, emergency services and domestic intelligence research, among others. In October 2023, French representatives from both the leftist and rightist parties suggested a temporary nationalization of Atos to support national sovereignty and control over security items.


Rumor had it for years that Atos was in difficulty and might be for sale. The Atos group will face a series of maturing debts totaling EUR 4.8 billion between 2024 and 2029.

What is happening now, may be the end of the story, if due diligences reach their conclusions.


One may remember that Atos CEO for the 2009 to 2019 period was Thierry Breton, before he became European Commissioner for Internal Market. Earlier in his life, Thierry Breton had also been CEO of Bull (1996-1997), chairman and CEO of Thomson-RCA (1997–2002) and chairman and CEO of France Telecom (2002–2005). 


Atos has been part of our industry since its inception and has had many interactions with other players. In 2017, Atos made a proposal to acquire Gemalto, just before it was surpassed by Thales, which finally acquired Gemalto turning it into its DIS (Digital Identity and Security) division. In turn, in 2022, Thales made a proposal to acquire Atos cybersecurity activities, but this did not reach a conclusion.


Atos had been formed through a series of mergers and acquisitions over the last thirty years. In 1996, the name Atos was created as the result of the merger of French IT companies Axime and Sligos, a payment specialist, created in the 1970's as a subsidiary of Credit Lyonnais. In 2000, the company became Atos-Origin, when it merged with Dutch group Origin, in which BSO/Origin had already acquired Philips C&P (Communications & Processing). Then, in 2002, the group, renamed Atos, acquired KPMG Consulting, based in the UK and the Netherlands, and in 2004, they added Schlumberger-Sema, IT service division of Schlumberger, to reinforce their consulting activities. At that stage, Atos employed about 26 500 people and made EUR 3 billion of annual revenue. At this time, Atos created its Atos Worldline division specializing in payment processing and solutions. The growth continued in 2011, when Atos acquired SIS (Siemens IT Solutions and Services) from Siemens, a 32 000 people unit. Later, in 2014, Atos acquired Bull, a pioneer of French IT, resulting from government plans of the 1960's, which also played a major role in the inception of smart cards. In 2014, Atos acquired Xerox’s IT Outsourcing business. The group then included several units including Consulting and Worldline, specializing in payment processing and solutions.

In 2015, Worldline, then a branch of Atos, merged with Equens, changing the name into equensWorldline. In 2017, Worldline acquired First Data Baltics, and in 2018 SIX Payment Services (Europe), from Switzerland. In 2019, Worldline was carved out as an independent company from Atos. In 2020, Worldline acquired Ingenico, the world leader in the payment terminal market.


In April 2023, Atos launched Eviden to include its activities in cybersecurity, cloud, digital security, advanced computing and generative AI. Eviden employs 53,000 people and announces EUR 5 billion in revenue in 2022. When Eviden was set up, the rest of Atos activities, including datacenter and hosting, digital workplace, business process outsourcing, consulting and generative AI, were grouped under the name Atos Tech Foundations (ATF).

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