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Provia Tackles RFID in a Twofold Manner Part Three: Provia and Viastore Systems Alignment

Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: August 13 2004

Provia and Viastore Systems Alignment

These days when radio frequency identification (RFID) is constantly on everyone's lips, and when every relevant enterprise application vendor is hedging its bets towards becoming RFID-ready or is even convincing the market that its RFID-compliant solution is exactly what the doctor (in this case, Wal-Mart, Target, Albertsons, and the US Department of Defense [DoD]) ordered, the typically quiet Provia Software (www.provia.com), a privately-held provider of supply chain execution (SCE) software solutions, naturally feels the time has come for it to be more vocal about its RFID endeavors, albeit after it has already put so much effort in terms of the proof of concept in the field.

At the end of May, Provia announced at the Distribution/Computer Expo 2004 in Chicago, Illinois (US) that its ViaView event/alert management and decision support product plays a key role in offering visibility to supply chain data for companies supplying RFID-tagged products to Wal-Mart and other retailers.

Further, at the end of March, Provia announced that it has aligned itself more closely with its parent company of over fifteen years, Viastore Systems, a leading provider of automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), and material handling control systems, with over 3,000 cranes installed worldwide. Bringing the two companies together was consistent with the increasingly shared research, development, and sales opportunities the two companies have been working on over the past several years, while the decision might have also been enticed by the recent acquisition of a direct competitor HighJump by 3M (see 3M Wraps Up HighJump, While Retalix Shops OMI International), and by increased appetites of RedPrairie and Optum competitors (see RedPrairie to Spread Across Europe through LIS Acquisition). The announcement was made at a press conference at the 2004 North American Material Handling Show in Cleveland, Ohio (US).

This way, Provia and Viastore represent over $100 million (USD) in revenues, global SCE, material handling automation, and as a RFID provider, with over $45 million (USD) in software revenue, 400 employees, over 1,000 customers, and more than 2,000 installations worldwide.

This is Part Three of an eight-part note.

Parts One through Five detail recent announcements.

Parts Six and Seven will discuss the market impact.

Part Eight will note challenges and make user recommendations.

Parts One through Four will be published between August 11 and 14.

Part Five to Eight will be published August 18 to 21.

Provia Background

Provia was established in North America in Grand Rapids, Michigan (US), first as Haushahn Systems & Engineers (HS&E) 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 SCE vendor.

Today the company offers a tier one WMS and integrated software modules for yard management (YMS), transportation management (TMS), small parcel shipping management (SPS), and order management system (OMS) for third party logistics (3PL) customers. Additionally, as mentioned previously, Provia has meanwhile added a web-based visibility, event/alert management and performance analysis product called ViaView. In July 1999, HS&E became Provia Software, and according to the company, the name "Provia" was chosen because of the word's combined Latin roots—the word Provenio means "proven", whereas the word Via means "a way". The combination of the two reflects the notion of a "proven way to success".

In 2002, Viastore expanded its US operations by deploying a sales, research, deployment, and support organization at Provia's Grand Rapids headquarters. Its US subsidiary, Viastore Systems, Inc. provides "Warehousing Efficiency Through Automation" and is a leading global supplier of automated warehouses. North American customers include Continental Teves, L'Oreal USA, Ford Motor Company, Frito Lay Corporation, Robert Bosch Corporation, and Wilsonart International. Viastore is an international corporation with an assembly plant in Germany and branches and subsidiaries in Germany, France, the Netherlands, the UK, Spain, the US, Israel, and Malaysia. Also, the company has sales offices in seventeen countries, and has implemented systems in twenty countries worldwide. On its hand, Provia's renowned customers are Gillette, Menlo Worldwide, Graybar Electric, US Freightways, Spencer Gifts, Lanier Worldwide, and Owens Corning, and 3PL customers like, Menlo Worldwide, Total Logistic Control, and Conestoga Cold Storage.

Bringing both entities closer together should create many more joint software development opportunities in Europe and the US, where they can leverage development for both markets and have a shared focus on SCE and ability to offer solutions for such new technologies as RFID. The strategic alignment of resources within the company has reportedly already shown results such as two combined software and material handling projects in the US with total projected revenue of over $13 million (USD) were recently awarded, while several more are in the pipeline. In addition to the joint software development around RFID, an expansion of Provia's sales organization in Europe is in progress that will immediately open new sales channels for Provia utilizing Viastore's existing branches and subsidiaries in Germany, France, the Netherlands, the UK, Spain, Israel, and Malaysia.

RFID Is Both Hardware and Software

The recent growth of RFID has further stimulated the increasing alignment, and Provia and Viastore are well positioned to provide a single-source software and hardware RFID compliance solution for Wal-Mart, Target, DoD and other retail labeling mandates. This solution combines RFID compliance software with an integrated material handling control system to form a complete integrated material handling solution including RFID de-palletizing, re-palletizing, and automatic EPC compliance labeling for suppliers and 3PLs.

Although the initial attention in RFID compliance has focused more on software-only solutions, that is only part of what companies need in a compliance offering. Namely, often the trickiest part of using RFID at the case and pallet level is to position the readers and other RFID gear correctly to obtain accurate reads, which takes significant testing and tweaking till the human intervention (verification, overriding, etc.) is not necessary any more. Also, as to safeguard against occurrences such as forklift or crane driver backing up and rescanning the same load, one has to put a certain time delay on the recording of the data and build in verification routines into the WMS' business logic, so that the system can react to a double read.

Provia and Viastore believe the ability to offer a complete RFID compliance solution, with the software, hardware and automation equipment needed to minimize investment, while maximizing results, is what companies needing RFID compliance truly desire. Being able to get it from a single company makes it even more attractive, which as Provia touts, should especially be appealing to its 3PL customers as they can offer it as a value-added solution to their clients. As also partly shown by the Gillette's project (for details see RFID Case Study: Gillette and Provia), this RFID solution can be incorporated at numerous points in the supply chain, from manufacturing, to receiving, picking or shipping. Initially, many companies will naturally look at addressing RFID at outbound shipping in a "slap-and-ship" manner, but to achieve full benefits beyond RFID compliance, companies will have to utilize RFID further back (upstream) in their supply chain. Provia believes this way its solution allows for and is designed for incremental adoption throughout a supply chain.

This concludes Part Three of an eight-part note.

Parts One through Five detail recent announcements.

Parts Six and Seven will discuss the market impact.

Part Eight will note challenges and make user recommendations.

Parts One through Four will be published between August 11 and 14.

Part Five to Eight will be published August 18 to 21.

 
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