Firm hopes new path leads to growth

Columbia company owner has bought back business, set sights on expanding

Small Business

February 10, 2003|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

As a rising star in the mid-'90s, RABA Technologies Inc. took the path of many technology startups of the time - quick growth, prestigious awards and a merger with a large, international firm. But as the technology market cooled and the new economy unraveled, RABA has altered course and returned to expansion plans that founder Robert A. Baruch hopes will lead to further growth for his Columbia-based company.

Less than a year after buying the company back from a subsidiary of advertising and marketing giant Interpublic Group of Companies Inc., RABA hasn't lost a step. The company has seen a double-digit increase in revenue and profit, along with a steady flow of contracts, especially from federal clients, Baruch said.

The company also recently announced it was working with America Online's MapQuest. com Inc. on a multimedia project for educational publisher Harcourt School Publishers - a new area of business for the 75-person company. And, if the company wins a few key contracts, Baruch said he will be able to expand, opening offices in northern Virginia; San Antonio, Texas; and possibly San Diego.

"We're continuing on expansion - new geographies for new customers," Baruch said. "We want to continue to trade on our brand being a differentiated technology house."

RABA is a technology consulting firm that specializes in developing custom products for its customers. The firm focuses on systems integration, such as large capacity storage and networking, and software development. Its largest clients are Sun Microsystems Inc. and the U.S. Department of Defense, Baruch said.

Founded in 1993, the company has defined itself by its staff, most of whom hold advanced degrees in computer science, math and design, Baruch said.

"They have a lot of depth for different skills for [information technology]," said Cary Shaffer, director of information technology at Consortium Health Plans in Columbia, who has used the company for about four years to help fill in on projects and handle tasks her staff cannot.

"One of the reasons I consistently go to RABA is I know they have a very serious screening process," she said. "When we have a special skill we're looking for, we don't want to worry about bringing someone up to speed. We need someone who can dive in and get it in a short amount of time. My experience has been that their people can deliver."

The depth of knowledge among the staff was a strength that helped RABA grow as an independent firm, but a factor apparently lost in the shuffle when it became part of Capita Technologies.

Although the systems integration market is "robust and steady," and expected to grow from $72 billion in 2000 to $142 billion by 2005, according to a report by Massachusetts-based information technology research firm IDC, business declined after RABA's 2000 acquisition, Baruch said.

Baruch bought back the company in July because his staff was never fully integrated into the parent company, and worse, it did not gain access to the global clients it had hoped to win with the merger, he said.

Since then, the company has returned to the expansion plans it had before the merger. Last year, RABA added eight people, and this year it expects to hire up to 30 more, primarily computer science and computer engineering consultants, Baruch said. He hopes to open two new offices this year, and another next year.

RABA also has entered new markets, such as education, with a contract from Harcourt to produce GeoSkills, an interactive CD-ROM to help children learn geography. It was one of the larger projects RABA's interactive media group has handled, according to Peter Kilpe, director of the group. He said they expect to complete the product this year.

The product, designed to go along with the publisher's social studies textbooks, combines the extensive mapping database and resources of MapQuest with educational content from Harcourt. The rest was RABA.

"We brought it to life through graphic design, animation, creative direction and software engineering," Kilpe said.

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