The European launch of Piranha, a new financial information and analytical tool from Primark, took place at the company's annual reception in London last week. Fittingly, the chosen venue was the London Aquarium, and the new product was demonstrated beside a tank of circling piranhas, in the gloomy depths of the aquarium's lower floor.
The novelty of Piranha, states Primark, is that it "integrates the very best financial databases into a single delivery platform, and uses state-of-the-art yet familiar technologies." Specifically, it is the first product to offer a single interface to the Worldscope, Datastream, and I/B/E/S databases. In addition, users can import non-proprietary data into the product—be it an analyst's own data, or data from third-party providers—integrate it, and then manipulate the results using a range of sophisticated analytical tools.
Piranha is also the first financial research tool, says Primark, to utilize Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), which it describes as "a Microsoft programming language that allows greater control over operations and facilitates data sharing." Among other things, this enables users to automate everyday information tasks, including screening for specific companies, applying customized formulae and ratios, and automatically updating charts and graphs without re-keying. Another advantage is that analysts can seamlessly integrate data, reports, and charts into Microsoft Office 97 applications.
To assist users in exploiting the power of the reporting and charting features, Piranha comes with a portfolio of canned reports pre-designed by Primark. Additionally, custom reports can be written for Piranha, either by customers themselves, or by Primark—to user specifications.
So, for example, Joseph E. Kasputys, Primark CEO, told us: "A firm of investment analysts could take their own earnings estimates, or projections, for an industry or company, import them into Piranha, and then combine them with historical information from Primark, current I/B/E/S projections, or maybe some broker research. Likewise, they could bring their portfolio up in Piranha, get some basic data about each of their companies, or each of their industries, bring all that data together, and then link into Word or Excel in order to produce a complete report."
With the exception of Datastream, the full content set of all three databases is available in Piranha. From Datastream, users can access historical financial data, including a 10-year rolling history, on 38,000 global companies, 42,000 equity issues, 50,000 quotes, 12,000 global market equity indices, and 298 currencies.
Worldscope offers annual and interim data from 1980 to present day—with over 1,000 searchable fields—on companies in 52 established and emerging markets.
I/B/E/S provides company earnings information, including actuals, forecasts, and revisions, including 5 years and 8 quarters forward, plus a rolling 3-month history covering 19,000 companies from 52 established and emerging markets. Annual and quarterly data is available (1976 onwards for U.S. companies and from 1987 for companies outside the U.S.) covering 28,000 companies.
Users of Piranha can also connect to Primark's Global Access Web product, which offers real-time supporting information, including company filings, broker research, and private company reports, as well as up-to-date archival information on over 50,000 public companies worldwide. Connection to Global Access is undertaken using a simple right click on the mouse. The system then reaches out to the Web product and pulls back the required data.
Piranha is hosted on a locally held server, which can be networked around the company. While this necessitates storing 24 gigabits of data in-house, Primark provides the server, and data is regularly updated using ftp. Individual users also require proprietary client software on their desktop PC.
Who Needs HTML?
It is an odd experience nowadays to attend the launch of a new information product that is not browser-based. Although Primark stresses that Piranha can be used as a Web application, and in linking to Global Access it is connecting to a Web product, Piranha is built around proprietary Microsoft technology, not Web technology.
It does not, therefore, utilize HTML for any of its data presentation, explained Primark's U.K. regional sales manager Martin Johnson. Even when a company report is pulled down from Global Access, the data is delivered in Adobe Acrobat format, not HTML. In fact, it is anticipated that many analysts will use Excel as their front end to the service, added Johnson. Piranha can, however, export data in HTML, so users can forward on downloaded data by e-mail.
The product has been designed this way, said Johnson, because that is what users have asked for—a timely reminder that Web browsers, and HTML, remain too primitive for power information users, particularly when handling complex financial data.
It is also worth noting that the first release of Piranha in Europe is Version 3.0. Although Version 2.0 has been available in North America for around a year, and around 30 investment firms are already using it, Primark appears not to have marketed it very aggressively. "There have of course been versions 1.0 and 2.0 of Piranha, offering North American data, which has allowed us to test it," explained Kasputys. "But version 3.0 is the one everybody has been waiting for, and the one that offers a full range of both international and North American data."
From Gas to Data
Primark is a late-comer to the information business. Ten years ago it was an industrial holding company operating in industries as diverse as gas and aircraft maintenance. At that time the board decided to re-focus on information services, which it believed would offer better future growth.
To that end, the company has divested itself of all its previous businesses, and replaced them with a string of widely respected information brands, including Disclosure, EDGAR Direct, Worldscope, Datastream/ICV and, most recently, Extel. And today Primark is a major international business and financial information provider.
In an interview in the April 1999 issue of Information Today, Kasputys commented that the company's future focus would be on continuously adding value to its products, both by acquiring additional proprietary content, but also "through analytics and forecasts, and [by providing] new tools to manipulate the data."
With its heavy emphasis on data manipulation and report automation, Piranha looks set to become Primark's flagship offering to the investment analysis community. "Piranha is a critical product for us because it puts a database engine on the user's desktop, and combines that with powerful analytic tools," said Kasputys.