Flow Platform aims to hook up real-time data streams

Companies are besieged by data. Information flows from internal applications  — accounting, CRM, databases — and from outside social networking sites. Keeping track of those data streams, let alone making sure the right data gets to the right parties, is a big job.
That’s the challenge Flow Corp.’s new platform-as-a-service — available as of Wednesday — attacks. Its goal is to let companies aggregate those flows, do some in-process filtering, then deliver the relevant information to the people — or applications — that need it.
The need to do all that is growing in this era of data proliferation. Companies want to know what’s being said about them on Twitter and Facebook and use that information as a resource in customer support, product design and other decisions. And there’s a rush by both startups and legacy middleware providers to attack these problems.

A mixing board for content

Flow Corp. CEO Eric Alterman said a media company could use the Flow platform-as-a-service to grab data on specific subjects from Twitter, video feeds, websites, etc., and repackage it for targeted users.  “We use the flow as a mixing board, a real-time content management service that can look at maybe 20 streams and filter them for [say] Lindsay Lohan to provide just that relevant information to the user,”  Alterman said in an interview Tuesday.
Companies could also use it to stream data that is now stove-piped in different internal applications, taking a complaint from customer service, funneling that to the right support person but also copying it to fulfillment if there was a shipping problem, as well as to the right sales person. And, if the order was big enough, the data might also go to the CFO, he said. Developers can download the companies’ REST, API and other APIs from its website.
The 18-month-old company was co-founded by Tom Luczak and Alterman, who has started several companies, including MeshNetworks, which sold to Motorola in 2005 for $230 million. When Flow Corp. made its public debut last November, it had raised about $3.5 million.

Battle of legacy players vs. startups

In some respects, Flow is tackling problems that Tibco(s tbx) and Informatica(s infa) have long attacked in the on-premise world, albeit with a modern twist that puts the Twitter firehose and other social media data sources in the mix, said analyst Paul Burns, president of research firm Neovise,
Flow is one of several companies working to recreate the enterprise integration that is available in the on-premises software world.  There it will compete with the incumbents, like the aforementioned Informatica and Tibco. Berkeley, Calif.-based startup Flotype is attacking another part of the data integration problem by fostering interoperability between different servers and devices.
This is a big problem, so expect a lot of activity — from startups and legacy data integration players — here.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user psyberartist.