These days, venture capital funds seem to be even more risk averse in the US than they are in the UK – a dramatic turnaround from the early 1980s – and it is becoming very difficult for US computer people who have good business ideas to get adequate funding. But either side of the Atlantic, […]
These days, venture capital funds seem to be even more risk averse in the US than they are in the UK – a dramatic turnaround from the early 1980s – and it is becoming very difficult for US computer people who have good business ideas to get adequate funding. But either side of the Atlantic, funds much prefer to invest in management buyouts than in greenfield start-ups – and the progress so far in less than a year of the intriguingly- named SQL Systems seems to suggest some of the reasons why. Janice McGinn reports.
SQL Systems International BV has not been standing still since it raised UKP2m in venture capital funding from Advent Ltd, Euro-Ventures Benelux and Credit Lyonnais in March last year (CI No 1,142), in return for a mere 16% of its shares. It is now the holding company for several relational database and computer-aided software engineering-oriented companies – SQL Software Ltd in Harlow, Essex; Asystum BV of Rotterdam; and SQL Systems Ltd of Chertsey, Surrey. The company also owns 40% of the Ashford, Kent-based Resource Management Systems which was set up in 1981 to develop a maintenance management system called Rapier. Resource Management took off in 1984 when Oracle Corp advertised for resellers.
It was the only company to respond to the advertisement and subsequently became Oracle’s first value added reseller in the UK. SQL owns the product rights to Rapier Version 4 but has modified the original system, targeted largely at departmental level, to an asset management system aimed at corporations. SQL and Resource Management Systems include household names like Unilever, Marconi, ICI, and British Rail in their client list, and Heineken Breweries in Holland and Singapore have an Ingres version running on a VAX and Hewlett-Packard HP9000. Asystum BV, based in Rotterdam, forms the continental headquarters for the SQL group. Now a wholly owned subsidiary, it was established several years ago, and operated both as a consultancy and distributor for Resource Management’s Rapier product. SQL Software, based in Harlow, describes itself as the technical products division of SQL International. Its primary offering is PCMS, a product configuration management system, and it also develops and sells computer aided software engineering tools. The company was established in 1988 in a management buyout of Alcatel NV’s UK Engineering Support Centre. Alcatel decided to centralise its telecommunications operations in Paris after acquiring the business from ITT Corp, but a number of UK staff declined to cross the Channel. Given the substantial investment that had been made in the division, and efficacy of the configuration management system and development tools, Alcatel and SQL reached an agreement whereby the management team acquired the assets, and Alcatel kept the technology and tools. The main functions of the PCMS include parallel development and active control, control plans, product design, change management, build and release management, and baselining. The first differentiates between the same items and enables project teams to be at work on parallel developments of that suite. Active control is provided via the product manager by assigning and re-assigning roles within the project as the life-cycle progresses, and changes in life cycle are broadcast to users directly affected. Control plans contain rules defining which elements need to be controlled, and how and by which mechanisms control takes place. These mechanisms are embodied in life-cycles, and associated with role titles which the product manager assigns and changes during the life-cycle. The third function is to describe each part within a system until there is a complete catalogue of product design. Design provides the structure against which the fourth and fifth functions are performed, change and release management. Change management provides for the capture of fault reports, change requests, and any other sort of change related information, including those planned for the future. Build and release management breaks down the building of of
product items into a series of operations and constructs a tree relationship, with an item processor applied to each branch. The release management system exports a product configuration from the PCMS en-vironment to user directories. The last function is baselining and it enables specific states of a product to be captured and frozen, or eventually restructured. Chertsey-based SQL Systems has recently been collaborating with British Airways, now one of the top 10 property companies in the UK, on a new property and estate management system. Called PROPS, the system is based on Rapier, and runs on an IBM 3090 processor under VM and Oracle’s relational database. It was developed specifically for British Airways and the first two modules, estate and maintenance, have been installed for the airline’s Property Division.
The next two modules, financial project reporting and personnel management, are being jointly developed by British Airways and SQL, but they will be installed by an in-house technology team. British Airways funded PROPS development work and owns the rights to the software licence. It will market PROPS to other airlines via the Airline Information Systems Marketing division in Hounslow, Middlesex, and SQL is looking to customise the system for industrial and banking applications. Tani Haque, who headed the management buyout from Alcatel and acts as SQL’s group technical director, believes that Advent Ltd was a particularly wise choice of backer since it has strong US connections. He says that once the 100-employee company is firmly established in Europe, he would like to see it gain a foothold in the enticing US market, either by establishing a relationship with a distributor, or by acquisition.