Now On the Map And The Radar Screen

June 13, 2002
| By Kathy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — A recent listing on Software Magazine’s Software 500 list has brought one local company out from under the radar and onto the map.

Provia Software, named to the magazine’s 19th Annual Software 500 list, ranks as one of the world’s largest software companies, and proves it with last year’s earnings topping out at $25 million.

Provia, headquartered in Grand Rapids, is in the business of logistics software, including warehouse management, transportation management, yard management, small parcel and supply chain execution.

“We kind of jump to the point where the order is taken,” said John Clark, manager of corporate communications for Provia. “So if you have placed an order, we take the order from there and do all of the maximizing and processing that is involved to get it to its end destination — whether it be the consumer or the store.”

All software the company develops is not custom designed for each client, however.

Clark stated that Provia’s software is a standard package, highly configurable so that clients can use the same software, just in different ways. “For example, you can configure it to work in Spanish or English; it is just a matter of flipping a switch in the software,” said Clark.

The software works in a way that Provia claims will save clients time and money. Clark gave the example of Duracell, owned by Gillette, one of Provia’s clients.

“You go to buy your batteries, and the process from where those batteries were made in the manufacturing plant to the end store is our world,” he said. “We make sure that our software allows them to keep track of where their product is in the warehouse — accurately — and optimize how it gets shipped to its end destination.”

Because Provia’s software deals with getting a product from warehouse to store shelves, it can hardly be described as having high visibility. However, as Clark said, it’s “on the map, just below the radar. It is not on the forefront, and not very highly visible. It’s in the warehouse — so it isn’t very glamorous.”

However, it did attract the attention of Software Magazine where Provia was ranked 344th on the Software 500 list.

“Despite all the dot com casualties, the Internet continues to change the way we do business, and software plays a critical role,” said John Desmond, Software Magazine’s editorial director.

“The CIOs, senior IT and e-business managers who read Software Magazine value this yearly benchmark of the standing of their product and service partners. Each year as suppliers consolidate and new markets emerge, the composition of the Software 500 ranking reflects those changes.”

For Provia, which does business throughout North America as well as in Latin America, the Philippines and Australia, the ranking brings logistics software to the forefront and demonstrates the role it plays in the overall software industry.

“With the current economic conditions, companies are looking for increasing ways to reduce costs and increase efficiencies,” said Ken Lewis, president and CEO of Provia.

“Our suite of supply chain execution solutions assists companies in reducing inventory turns, improves worker productivity and increases client satisfaction, all of which have a direct bottom-line effect for our clients. As one of the leading software companies in West Michigan, we are proud to have made the list.”

While the listing is a great achievement, work does not stop there. Provia has rolled out several new products. The company recently introduced an upgraded version of software for its third-party logistics clients.

ViaWare was also recently introduced. ViaWare includes a function called “kitting,” something many stores perform in-house. Kitting is described by Clark as a process where products are wrapped together with a coupon or a store brand name. Historically, store workers performed this function, but ViaWare software has pushed the process back to the distribution point, giving store staff more time in front of customers.

“For example, one of our biggest clients is Timex and three of their biggest distributors are Target, Wal-Mart and Kmart.

“What used to happen was Timex used to have to have 3,000 watches ready to go — 1,000 to Target, 1,000 to Wal-Mart and 1,000 to Kmart,” said Clark, “because each had to (have) specific pricing and each store label had to go on, (so that) when those stores got those watches they didn’t want to have to do anything except put them on the shelf and sell (them).”

So, all 3,000 watches had to sit in a warehouse somewhere, priced and labeled for the specific distributor. But with ViaWare’s kitting function, a warehouse can have just 1,000 watches ready for quick last-minute pricing and labeling for the appropriate store. Thus each chain doesn’t need to have so much product gathering dust in warehouses.

“Imagine the cost dollar value of having to have thousands of product sitting in a warehouse. So that’s really made a big difference on that side,” Clark said.

Another Provia product is ViaView, a process that allows customers to see the entire ordering process, bringing visibility, event management and decision support to clients.

Currently when customers order products, they receive a confirmation of the order and then notification that the order has been shipped. Clark believes that isn’t good enough, and Provia has gone beyond simple confirmation and shipping notification with ViaView.

ViaView allows clients to inform customers of every step of the order and delivery process.

“If the company doesn’t have enough of what the customer ordered, they can provide them with options: ‘Do you want us to short-ship you? You ordered 100 but we only have 50. Do you want us to send those 50? Do you want us to ship 50 from Chicago and 50 from Detroit? Or do you not want to know and just want your 100?’ Show all of these parameters, and you see that the visibility you have to all of these options can have tremendous value,” Clark said.

In the beginning, Provia partnered with Sagestone to develop ViaView.

“They helped us to develop our ViaView equipment, so it is kind of a team approach to it — they had some of the main expertise there and it was a good opportunity for both of us,” Clark said.

Clark says that while the two companies still maintain a strong relationship, there aren’t any current collaborations in progress. Clark said he is confident about Provia’s ability to turn out quality products on its own in the future.

Provia, which started in 1988 as a warehouse management company and built itself up partner by partner, is functioning just fine on its own and doing it with the idea of keeping itself on the map, and on the radar screen.  

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