Data buyouts: the big fish buying up small companies

29 Sep 2015

Data Science Week is taking place on right now. We believe data science is a growing area that is set to become even more important in the science and technology space – and in the economy in general – in the near future.

Ireland is on the edge of a data science wave, with projections suggesting that we could create as many as 21,000 jobs in the data science area by 2020.

Already this year, 200 data science and engineering jobs have been created at Zalando and 80 new jobs at data visualisation firm Tableau Software, with predictions abounding that data scientist could be one of the hottest jobs of the 21st century.

And it’s not just tech companies that are surfing the data science wave, with Glanbia and Dairygold last year teaming up with researchers to use data analytics and big data to help boost milk production.

So it is clear that data science is having a real effect on business, jobs and the economy, and the extent of its influence – and its importance – is demonstrated by the fact that big tech companies have been quietly buying up companies that specialise in data.

Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, Amazon and Yahoo have all purchased companies in the data science space in recent times.

Mapping people’s tastes

In its continuing efforts to improve its much-maligned Maps offering, Apple recently purchased mapping data analytics company Mapsense.

Mapsense’s software was built using maps obtained through the OpenStreetMap project and, using this information, it creates datavis maps that turn raw data into trends and locations, and presents them in a visible and digestible form.

The company’s developer platform launched in May, and the company was snapped up by Apple just a few months later, in September.

The Mapsense acquisition followed Apple’s purchase last year of Coherent Navigation, a start-up that develops technology for better GPS accuracy.

Coherent Navigation was set-up in 2008 and works by combining traditional satellite GPS signals with low-Earth satellites provided by Iridium, a provider of data and voice communication. According to Coherent Navigation developers, the system could be accurate enough to pinpoint your location down to a few centimetres.

Accuracy and ensuring you have high-quality data are key when it comes to Maps – as Apple discovered when outcry over initial inaccuracies in Maps’ first iteration meant that the company had to allow its iPhone customers to download Google Maps again.

Maps aren’t the only area where Apple has shown an interest in data analytics recently – it purchased music analytics start-up Semetric in January, mere months before the launch of Apple Music.

Semetric developed the Musicmetric analytics that help everyone from emerging artists to record label executives gather intelligence about their brand.

The platform trawls a variety of platforms – from BitTorrent downloads to YouTube views and social media statistics – to give artists and labels a realistic view of their digital and cultural impact, with its purchase helping Apple to compete with rivals like Spotify.

Creating opportunities

Twitter took advantage of the ‘creator’ economy with its purchase of social media talent start-up Niche in a US$30m deal in February.

Niche matches advertisers with creatives on platforms like Vine and helps them to make money through the use of analytics. Creators on platforms like Vine, Snapchat and YouTube are big business now, with many having millions of fans and the ability to make serious money through deals with advertisers.

Down to business

Microsoft has also acquired a couple of data analytics companies: the computer giant purchased Equivio at the start of this year, with the aim of including it in its Office 365 program and using it to sift through data.

Equivio’s software uses advanced text analytics to put reams of data through multi-dimensional analysis and group it into relevant categories, reducing sorting time significantly and allowing a company to find what would be most relevant to it from a legal or compliance perspective.

The company also acquired mobile crash analytics and app distribution service HockeyApp for an undisclosed sum at the end of last year.

Yahoo also made a purchase in the mobile analytics area last year, purchasing mobile analytics company Flurry in July 2014 in a deal that was estimated to be worth more than US$200m.

At the time, Scott Burke, Yahoo’s senior vice-president of advertising technology, spoke of the importance of analytics.

“Analytics are critical for all mobile developers to understand and optimise their applications,” he said.

IoT and data – an important intersection

We will have an IoT Makers Week on next week, but a company where IoT and data science meet is 2lemetery, which was bought by Amazon in March this year.

2lemetery’s platforms provide the ability to transfer vast amounts of data between multiple devices, and can transform raw data obtained from devices into actionable information.

What these purchases show is that not only has the importance of data science and analytics been acknowledged by the world’s largest companies, but that data science — in the form of data collection and how companies use the knowledge acquired through that – will soon impact on all areas of our lives.’s Data Science Week brings you special coverage of this rapidly growing field from 28 September to 2 October 2015. Don’t miss an entry worth your analysis by subscribing to our news alerts or following @siliconrepublic and the hashtag #DataScienceWeek on Twitter.

Main image via Shutterstock


Brigid O Gorman is a former sub-editor of Silicon Republic.