Roambi CEO Says SAP Purchase a Good Fit for Data Visualization App

As part of a new push to offer predictive analytics as a cloud-based service to its big business customers, the German multinational software giant SAP has acquired Roambi, the suburban San Diego creator of mobile apps that convert business data into compelling graphic displays.

Financial terms were not disclosed. SAP described the deal as an asset purchase when it disclosed the transaction a couple of weeks ago at separate SAP conferences in Las Vegas and New York.

Last week, Roambi co-founder and CEO Quinton Alsbury told Xconomy the purchase was a good fit because Roambi’s data visualization technology dovetails with Hana, SAP’s cloud-based application server and relational database management system. The Solana Beach, CA-based company has been working closely with SAP as “a go-to-market partner,” he added.

“They really have a very aggressive push into the cloud and analytics, and we felt that aligned very well with where Roambi is, and where we’re headed,” Alsbury said.

Roambi had about 50 staffers before the SAP deal closed, Alsbury said. That’s down from the 90 employees he told me Roambi had at the end of 2013, and a substantial decrease from the headcount of 140 I was given at the end of 2012.

In the eight years since it was founded, Roambi has raised about $20 million from individual investors to develop its technology—and landed $30 million from Sequoia Capital in 2011 to fuel its expansion into Boston, New York City, San Francisco, London, and Shanghai.

Growing Roambi to scale, though, proved to be a challenge, Alsbury said. While Roambi was “an incredibly strong product,” the company’s business strategy amounted to a plunge into uncharted territory because most of the early iPhone apps targeted consumers. As one of the first iPhone apps to target big business customers, Alsbury said, Roambi’s strategy “revealed a limit in our ability to develop global reach and to scale.”

Alsbury noted that Roambi was founded in early 2008, before Apple had officially launched its online App Store for the iPhone, or even released its iPhone software development kit for independent developers. At that time, Roambi’s co-founders set out to develop visualization software and a mobile user interface that would display business data on an iPhone as easy-to-understand charts and other graphics.

Over time, the Roambi team enabled the mobile app to tap into various types of back-end business software, including Excel, SQL Server, Cognos, Box, Salesforce, and SAP.

“We were one of the first business-centric and enterprise-centric mobile apps in the world,” Alsbury said.

Instead of first developing a desktop application, Alsbury said, Roambi also was among the first business software developers to create its mobile app first. Roambi did not launch a desktop version of its mobile application until this January, he said.

“We found that Roambi’s market in the early years really followed the trend of mobile device adoption in the enterprise,” Alsbury said, referring to the software classification used by big companies, government agencies, and other large organizations. Because many big businesses did not buy Apple iPhones for their employees, Alsbury said it left Roambi in a position where the startup could only deliver Roambi where enterprises had made bulk iPhone purchases for their employees.

Roambi, Mobile App, Data Visualization

Roambi graphics display on an iPad

“The tipping point was the iPad” that Apple introduced in 2010, Alsbury said. Companies began making bulk iPad purchases for their sales teams in the field—especially in the pharmaceutical industry. On its website, Roambi says its technology is now used by all top 10 pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer and Novartis.

In October 2012, Roambi said it had added 132 enterprise customers, including such global brands as Chicken of the Sea, Siemens, Telefónica, Telstra, Henkel, and the global credit ratings agency DBRS.

Roambi’s website currently says it has a worldwide customer base of Global 500 companies and small-to-medium businesses across industries that include telecommunications, biotechnology, consumer technology, packaged goods, and even sports teams like the Dallas Cowboys and Phoenix Suns.

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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