Andy on Enterprise Software

Psst – Wanna buy a Data Quality Vendor?

June 9, 2016

Founded in 1993, Trillium Software has been the largest independent data quality vendor for some years, nestling since the late 1990s as a subsidiary of US marketing services company Harte Hanks. The latter was once a newspaper company dating back to 1928, but switched to direct marketing in the late 1990s. It had overall revenues of $495 million in 2015. There was clearly a link between data quality and direct marketing, since name and address validation is an important feature of marketing campaigns. However the business model of a software company is different from a marketing firm, so ultimately there was always going to be a certain awkwardness in Trillium living under the Harte Hanks umbrella.

On June 7th 2016 the parent company announced that it had hired an advisor to look at “strategic alternatives” for Trillium, including the possibility of selling the company, though the company’s announcement made clear that a sale was not a certainty. Trillium has around 200 employees and a large existing customer base, so will have a steady income stream from maintenance revenues. The data quality industry is not the fastest growing sector of enterprise software, but is well established and quite fragmented. As well as offerings from Informatica, IBM, SAP and Oracle (all of which were based on acquisitions) there are dozens of smaller data quality vendors, many of them having grown up around the name and address matching issue that is well suited to at least a partially automated solution. While some vendors like Experian have focused traditionally on this problem, other vendors such as Trillium have developed much broader data quality offerings, with functions such as data profiling, cleansing, merge/matching, enrichment and even data governance.

There is a close relationship between data quality and the somewhat faster growing sector of master data management (MDM), so MDM vendors might seem in principle to be natural acquirers of data quality vendors. However MDM itself has somewhat consolidated in recent years, and the big players in it like Informatica, Oracle and IBM all market platforms that combine data integration, MDM and data quality (though in practice the degree of true integration is distinctly more variable than it appears on Powerpoint). Trillium might be too big a company to be swallowed up by the relatively small independents that remain in the MDM space. It will be interesting to see what emerges from this exercise. Certainly it makes sense for Trillium to stand on its own to feet rather than living within a marketing company, but on the other hand Harte Hanks may have missed the boat. A few years ago large vendors were clamouring to acquire MDM and related technologies, but now most companies that need a data quality offering have either built or bought one. The financial adviser in charge of the review may have to be somewhat creative in who it looks at as a possible acquirer.