AT&T’s Tarnished $1.4B Sterling Sale

AT&T (s T) said today it’s agreed to sell its Sterling Commerce software division to IBM (s ibm) for $1.4 billion. The deal will let AT&T offload a business unit that SBC Communications bought for $3.9 billion at the height of the dot-com boom (SBC went on to buy AT&T in 2005 but kept the iconic telecom name). Sterling offers pricing and e-commerce software that businesses can use to manage pricing in real time or to get an entire view of their inventory, from marketing to fulfillment.

However, AT&T isn’t a software company, and the original rationale behind buying Sterling — namely that the phone company could become an exchange for online pricing — never panned out. So even though the sale price is much less than what SBC paid back in 2000, the deal is a good way for AT&T (which never integrated Sterling into its business) to get rid of a non-core asset. IBM’s acquisition will pit it against similar software from HP (s hpq) and other large enterprise software providers, which is where Sterling belongs anyhow.

Image courtesy of Flickr user zzzack