SmartForce said Thursday it plans to buy e-learning company Centra Software in a stock deal worth an estimated $284 million.
The deal adds live e-learning talents to SmartForce's portfolio of offerings, observers said.
Centra, founded in 1997 by Lotus Development veteran Leon Navickas, helped pioneer distance-learning and collaboration applications. Navickas will stay on as CTO of the combined company, according to Centra, Lexington, Mass.
"The combination [of the two companies is truly a watershed event for the e-learning industry," said Greg Priest, chairman and CEO of SmartForce, in a statement.
SmartForce has its roots in CBT Technology, a company that specialized in providing online training and content for software applications such as Lotus Notes or Microsoft Excel.
SmartForce also released its earnings for its fourth quarter ended Dec. 31. For that period, revenue was $65.3 million, up 13 percent from $57.7 million for the year-ago period. Net income was $2.6 million, or 4 cents per share, excluding amortization of tangible assets, in line with estimates, the company said.
MaryAlice Colen, chief evangelist at Interwise, which competes in e-learning with Centra, said the buyout makes sense for SmartForce.
"This moves SmartForce into live e-learning, which is evidence that it's a hot market," she said.
Interwise, Santa Clara, Calif., offers similar capabilities but is broadening its reach into i-seminars, i-meetings and i-conferences, she added.
Navickas said the new technology unit he will head up "has a budget larger in size than all the public e-learning companies combined."
Centra employs about 300 people; SmartForce employs about 1,500.