Bull is planning to recruit a technology company as a key shareholder to boost its emerging smartcard and software businesses, as speculation grew that the French government was close to selling its stake in the vendor.
The French state, which still owns 17 per cent of Bull, will sell its share to an unnamed partner. Bull already has a clutch of other industrial shareholders - NEC, Motorola and France Telecom together own 52 per cent of the company.
Guy de Panafieu, chief executive of Bull, indicated last week that Bull wanted to find a partner to support Bull's fast-growing, but still small, smartcard and software business. He reaffirmed the company's commitment to its strategy of servers, services and leading edge technologies such as smartcards
Despite developing the first smartcard in the 1970s, Bull's current position at 'number three or four' in the market represents a 'missed opportunity', said de Panafieu. He expected the additional lines of business to account for 20 per cent of revenue in 2002 - double the current proportion - while the server business will drop from 45 per cent to 30 per cent.
Bull saw a decline in market share last year, in both European server sales and UK software and services. Investment in its proprietary platform will continue and version 7 will be ported to Intel's 64-bit architecture in 2001, but the customer base will not develop.
Figures from analyst Dataquest suggest Bull is losing ground in the European market. Its 1998 server market share was 2.6 per cent, down from 3.5 per cent in 1996, placing it sixth overall. Services, targeted to form 50 per cent of revenue by 2002, will become the most significant portion of the business.
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