Provia Software Rises To The Challenge

  • Written By: Steve McVey
  • Published On: October 11 2000



Provia Software Rises To The Challenge
S. McVey - October 11, 2000

Vendor Genesis

Provia Software began life as Haushahn Systems & Engineers, a subsidiary of German elevator system manufacturer Haushahn GmbH. Haushahn's elevator technology led it to develop material handling and automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS). The need for and growing interest in software to manage automation in North America led to the formation of Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Haushahn Systems & Engineers in 1988. Under the leadership of CEO Ken Lewis, HS&E established its business in software and material handling and AS/RS for large warehouse distribution and logistics operations.

Though AS/RS remained an important offering, HS&E began to evolve into a full-fledged supply chain execution vendor, complementing its WMS with acquisitions like Pinnacle Distribution's transportation management software in May 1999. In an effort to disencumber its diverging businesses, Haushahn GmbH divided the AS/RS and supply chain execution software sides of HS&E into separate entities, Viastore Systems and Provia Software, respectively. Today, Provia offers capabilities for AS/RS the result of the company's continued evolution as a global provider of supply chain execution software.

Warehouse management system vendors typically derive a larger portion of revenue from implementation services than other software companies due to the complexity of the applications and integration involved in uniting the WMS with hardware like conveyors, bucket elevators, and other material handling equipment. Though Provia claims to have offered one of the first packaged WMS applications, its revenue mix has reflected an emphasis on services until the last few years. License revenues continue to increase as a percentage of total revenue and are currently at about 27%, a little over one quarter of total. Service and support revenues make up around 43% and hardware resale revenues constitute the remainder. Provia plans to phase out hardware sales over the next two years as it fully transforms into a software company. Overall, Provia's revenues grew by over 100% during the two years prior to Y2K but flattened out in recent quarters in response to delayed purchasing among its core customers.

The VIAWARE suite of applications for fulfillment is Provia's response to a clear trend among many warehouse management software vendors to round out their product offerings by including adjacent functionality. Key components of VIAWARE are Provia's flagship warehouse management system (WMS) and yard management system (YMS), an order management system (OMS) acquired in 1999 from Logistics Concepts, a transportation management system (TMS) acquired earlier this year from Pinnacle Distribution Concepts, and its new visibility tool ViaView, developed in-house, among other applications (see table under "Product Info").

Vendor Strategy and Trajectory

Like many other SCE vendors, Provia is retooling its strategy to attack the lucrative business-to-business fulfillment software market. On a vertical front, third party logistics and wholesale distribution continue to be hot areas for Provia, though its solutions are finding increasing favor among makers of consumer goods and to a lesser extent process manufacturers and retailers. As a WMS vendor, Provia risked the same fate as other small, best-of-breed vendors, that is, becoming dependent upon larger ERP and SCM companies for survival.

The suite that Provia has built through acquisition and internal development over the past several months allows it to pursue larger, longer-term contracts, an ability that will ensure its success as an independent company provided it continues to execute well and leverage its highly referenceable client base. Provia stands apart from its peers in the enterprise software industry by claiming that behind every one of its installations is a satisfied client. In August 2000, Provia celebrated the 500th implementation of VIAWARE. Aiding Provia on the implementation front are several integration partners, including general consulting houses like PricewaterhouseCoopers, Andersen Consulting, and Internet services firms like E-Sync, Q4 Logistics, and marchFIRST (formerly Whittman-Hart).

ANALYSIS

Vendor Strengths

Provia is distinguished from other vendors by its unique approach to implementation services. Its Knowledge Exchange Methodology allows clients to learn the nuts and bolts of VIAWARE in a two-week course before the start of the implementation. Use of internal resources can bring clients great cost savings in addition to building expertise for ongoing maintenance. Client ownership is facilitated by Provia's emphasis on the packaged aspects of the VIAWARE suite and its stance against customizations that can quickly ensnare project timelines. While a packaged approach is not for all clients, those who have chosen the methodology have good things to say.

Another important strength for Provia is its enviable foothold in the third party logistics market, achieved during its twelve years as HS&E. VIAWARE can be found in the IT infrastructures of blue-chip providers like: Fedex Logistics, Menlo Logistics, Total Logistic Control, Emery Worldwide, and Ryder. New products ViaView and 3pl2deliver.com show that Provia is adept at leveraging this position to generate new forms of revenue.

Vendor Challenges

Provia's primary challenge is overcoming its lack of market visibility. During the twelve years that it operated as Haushahn Systems & Engineers, the company established a reputation among a select group of 3rd party logistics providers and distributors. But Provia will need to broaden its appeal if it hopes to fend off competition from other WMS and SCE vendors. Companies such as EXE Technologies, Manhattan Associates and HK Systems are following similar strategies and benefit from higher market profiles. In addition, Provia does not have a substantial number of alliances with complementary software providers, such as ERP, CRM, and Enterprise Application Integration vendors. Predictably, SAP is the only major enterprise application vendor for which Provia has coded a certified interface. Provia does integrate to other ERP products through a standard host interface, VIAWARE Gateway.

BOTTOM LINE

Vendor Predictions

Provia has successfully transitioned from a material handling systems vendor into a world class order fulfillment application vendor, a fact reinforced by its proven ability to win and keep clients. Provided it completes the integration of acquired products of its VIAWARE suite over the next six months, we expect Provia to register a minimum 20-25% CAGR over the next two years.

Vendor Recommendations

Provia should follow up its new name and image with further marketing initiatives to penetrate mid tier distributors and Internet retail companies. Top tier clients can contribute to growth by replicating single site implementations to other parts of the organization, but the mid market is growing faster and offers great rewards for vendors that stake an early claim. In addition, Internet retailers habitually underestimate the demands of managing a fulfillment network, a failure that Provia can rectify with VIAWARE by targeting its message appropriately. Functionally, Provia should consider acquiring or allying with a software vendor that offers full support for ocean, air, and rail transportation modes to broaden the scope of its TMS.

User Recommendations

Provia has a strong value proposition for companies in third party logistics, consumer packaged goods, high tech electronics, industrial distribution, and retail. VIAWARE components are supported on Unix-based application servers, Windows NT clients, and Informix and Oracle database platforms.

Internet front-ends for its products are being developed but users should expect to wait another six months (first quarter 2001) before all of VIAWARE can be accessed through a thin client. FreightLogic, the product acquired from Pinnacle that ultimately became VIAWARE TMS was built originally for the Web. Provia is replicating its technology to make the rest of its suite Internet-compliant with plans to have VIAWARE OMS enabled next.

Prospective clients should keep in mind the packaged nature of VIAWARE and understand that customizations will cost more. Users who want to host their applications internally or "rent" them from Provia via a partner ASP can sign up for VIAWARE TMS and ViaView immediately. Provia offers extremely flexible subscription terms including low startup fees (two month's rent in advance) and 30-day cancellation.

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