How HelpSystems Became Fortra
November 9, 2022 Alex Woodie
HelpSystems, a longtime provider of utilities for IBM i servers and their predecessors, has been on the security warpath of late, using private equity funding to acquire dozens of security software and services firms. The Eden Prairie, Minnesota, company officially completed its pivot to security last week by changing its name to Fortra.
HelpSystems started life back in 1982 when it was founded by Dick Jacobson, who created the first Robot/38 product. Over the years, the company (then called “Help/Systems”) would expand its well-respected suite of general-purpose Robot utilities, such as job scheduling, backup and recovery, and system monitoring, for the IBM midrange lines, including the S/38, AS/400, iSeries, System i, and ultimately IBM i after its big debut back in the spring of 2008.
HelpSystems’ foray into security started just a few months later, in August 2008 to be exact, with its acquisition of PowerTech, a respected provider of network security and auditing tools for the IBM i server. It followed that up a few months later by acquiring Bytware, which offered the only anti-virus software for the IBM i platform.
Buoyed by private equity money (it had been acquired by Audax Group just as it acquired PowerTech), HelpSystems continued to scoop up IBM i software vendors, including security-focused vendors like Safestone Technologies and Skyview Partners, but also business intelligence tools and vendors, such as Coglin Mill and the ShowCase product line acquired from IBM. It carefully tucked respected IBM i utility developers like CCSS, RJS, and Halcyon Software into the growing arena of tools.
At some point, HelpSystems realized the security threat posed to customers was bigger than previously thought, which mean the opportunity to sell them software and services was also bigger than previously thought. That spurred a string of acquisitions of firms outside of the IBM i realm.
By 2016, HelpSystems had completed 15 acquisitions, mostly within the IBM i space. But the company was just getting started. Since 2018, the company has completed at least 17 acquisitions, almost all of which are in security. The list includes:
- Outflank (September 2022)
- Terranova Security (April 2022)
- Alert Logic (March 2022)
- Tripwire (February 2022)
- PhishLabs (October 2021)
- Digital Guardian (October 2021)
- Agari (June 2021)
- Beyond Security (June 2021)
- Digital Defense (February 2021)
- File Catalyst (January 2021)
- Vera (December 2020)
- GlobalSCAPE (August 2020)
- Titus (June 2020)
- Boldon James (June 2020)
- Cobalt Strike (March 2020)
- Strategic Cyber (March 2020)
- Clearswift (December 2019)
- SecureAuth (February 2019)
- Fox Technologies (January 2018)
Clearly, HelpSystems has changed considerably over the years. Thanks to growth through acquisition, the company had transformed itself from a sleepy provider of tools for an obscure and proprietary server into a tier-one supplier of security software and services for companies around the world. Along the way, it has grown its annual revenues to a figure that’s reportedly near $800 million, with more than 3,000 employees and over 30,000 global customers.
“The cybersecurity industry is always changing, and we’re evolving along with it,” said Kate Bolseth, who was the CEO for HelpSystems and is now the CEO of Fortra. “This is a pivotal, exciting moment for us as we’re defining a new, bold path forward that will bring positive change to the industry and our customers.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include Fortra’s 2020 acquisitions of Cobalt Strike and GlobalSCAPE.