In a telephone interview earlier this week with Satyen Sangani, Alation's CEO, and Stephanie McReynolds, the company's VP of Marketing, I got some insight into how Alation's business has been evolving. We also got a chance to discuss the data discovery versus regulatory compliance side of data cataloging and the way they mix together in Alation's deal flow and customer implementations.
Over the top
To begin with, Alation stressed the product expansion potential for this funding round, explaining that 80% of its $23M Series B round is still "in the bank." Meanwhile, by the company's own admission, it's in a noisy market and feels the new money will accelerate R&D, allowing for innovation it can use to differentiate itself and, ostensibly, be heard above that noise.
Meanwhile, Alation has been getting more high-profile customers. Among the company's lighthouse customers these days are big household names, including Daimler, Fox Networks, Hilton Hotels, eBay, Pfizer, GoDaddy, and Albertsons. Many of these customers are new or have become bigger accounts. Trend-wise, Sangani says Alation's annual revenue growth has been at the "triple-digit" level for four years running, and that the annual net expansion rate of customer spend is 47%.
Alation attributes the latter to its user-based pricing model and the growth patterns of internal adoption at existing customers. In the past, Sangani says, the growth has been fairly organic, and not driven through customer service or professional services efforts, but that those figure increasingly in newer deals.
Alation says that, in most cases, customers' initial buys are driven by initiatives around data discovery and building data-driven culture -- the '"offensive" side of data catalog work. Use cases around the "defensive" side, i.e. regulatory compliance, especially with respect to GDPR (the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation), are for the most part follow-on use cases for the product. So it seems compliance may be driving revenue growth but it's Enterprise accounts' zeal to become data-driven that drives the pipeline for first-time sales.
But the defensive side of the data catalog space can't be ignored. In addition to GDPR, there's the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) which was passed last year and came into effect on January 1st of this year. And, just yesterday, Florida Senator Marco Rubio introduced a bill, the American Data Dissemination Act (known by its less-than-elegant acronym, ADD), to create national privacy protection standards that would apply to major Internet companies. So, compliance is clearly a force that will raise all boats in the catalog and governance space.
Alation describes itself as a machine learning (ML) data catalog. Most of its ML has focused on behavior I/O, driving smart recommendations for users based on their past usage. One manifestation of this is the product's SmartSuggest feature, which surfaces in its Compose query tool, pictured at the top of this post.
Other vendors have applied machine learning to data classification and identification of PII (personally identifiable information). Alation hasn't focused on this area, though it may use some of the Series C funds to add some of these capabilities. Even there, though, given its discovery leanings, Alation will likely focus more on data classification than PII detection. Time will tell if that compliance/PII abstinence will persist.
What's rather clear is that the data catalog space is big, and growing. In times past, the category may have seemed dull and thus commanded slow growth. But the combination of increasing data complexity and the needs for data protection is creating interest and driving priorities. There's more to come here, not just from the startups but likely from the Enterprise software incumbents and public cloud providers too. Stay tuned.