Continuing the series of Computer Business Review’s profiles of European high flyers we look at a UK-based data cleansing specialist, Constellar – formerly the SQL Group.
Back in 1993/4, British Telecommunications Plc was attempting the mother of all migrations. It wanted to switch much of its vast legacy of mainframe data to the new world of client/server computing centered around the Oracle relational database system – rdbms. Hoping to bring consistency to the multiple migration projects, British Telecom went looking for a software platform that would help automate at least some of the process. When it drew a blank, it turned to SQL Group, a small UK-based consultancy with a proposal for the development of a package that could do the job. SQL Group jumped at the chance. Not only would British Telecom pay for the full development of what later became known as the Information Junction, but the SQL Group would walk away with the full rights to resell the product elsewhere. Three years on, having built a solid base of 20 blue chip users in the UK that includes British Airports Authority, Scottish Power and BarclayCard, the SQL Group is going through a rapid metamorphosis that it hopes will take its technology onto the world software stage. Propelled by two quick-fire rounds of US venture capital, the company has changed its name to Constellar – SQL Group sounded too much like a user organization – and the product name to Constellar Hub – Information Junction was deemed too generic to copyright.
It has grafted on experienced management, mostly from the database industry, and switched headquarters from London, where a team of 35 research and development specialists is overseen by founder, chief executive and product visionary Brian Donnelly, to Silicon Valley. Most importantly, Constellar has re-positioned its technology to fit the booming data warehousing market, addressing an area of warehousing that analysts suggest is the primary cause of failed projects in this area. The hub acts as a staging post for the collation and cleansing of data prior to its use in a warehouse. Data can be fed into the hub from almost any database or data source where it is stored in an Oracle rdbms. And after duplicate, erroneous or incomplete records are dealt with, the data is ready for users to interrogate. Nic Birtles, chief operating officer and previously a top executive at Pilot Software Inc, Gupta Corp and Ingres Corp, maintains that the competitive products in this area, tools from Prism Solutions Inc, Carleton Corp, Evolutionary Technologies Inc and Vmark Software Inc, are more suited to the data mart market than the ‘enterprise data warehousing’ market. After an initial round of venture capital totaling $3m from Brentwood Associates, Constellar is now about to secure a second cash injection of $5.7 million from a venture capitalist group led by Technology Crossover Ventures. Those two rounds, each of which involved the selling off of 20% of its equity, put the value of the company at $42m. The new money will go mostly to establishing the company in the US. It has already signed two big US deals – First USA Bank and pharmaceuticals group Hoffman La-Roche. With US market penetration underway, Birtles believes the company will report revenues of around $12m this year, up from $3m in 1996. And along with chief executive Donnelly, Birtles has his eye on taking the company public late next year when its sales should be heading close to $30m. Its proximity to Oracle will certainly help its 100-strong sales force get there. Half of Constellar’s leads are passed on by Oracle’s data warehousing team.