Mobile & Wireless: What’s Next
“No one knows the future.” That was my father’s favorite retort whenever he and I would get into a heated conversation about, well, almost anything.
Yet in business, we are forever asking the question: What’s next? Since the answer to that question is almost always a guess – in truth, my Dad was probably right – the company with the best hunch on where things are going next often takes market share until the competition catches up; the company that guesses wrong often winds up on the short end of the stick.
I’ve had two “What’s next” conversations over the last couple of weeks. The first was with Greg Cronin, an executive vice president with Intelligrated . The other was with Bob Kennedy and Tom Lee, two supply chain software veterans who are behind DMLogic, a company with a different take on warehouse management systems. I’ll write about DM Logic next week.
The predicate for the conversation with Cronin was Intelligrated’s acquisition of Datria Systems, a provider of Voice over IP voice recognition solutions. We talked about the mechanics of the acquisition as well as the reason Intelligrated was interested in owning its own voice solution.
First, the mechanics of the deal. Last December, Intelligrated completed its acquisition of Knighted, a provider of cloud-based warehouse management and warehouse control software systems. Prior to the Intelligrated deal, Knighted had largely flown under the radar, concentrating on a handful of large, high-profile customers with complex efulfillment operations. Those included companies such as Barnes & Noble and the Gilt Groupe. According to Cronin, Datria will become part of the Knighted subsidiary and the technology will be integrated into the Knighted platform. Similarly, Cronin added that Intelligrated’s pick-to-light solution will also be integrated into this platform.
The more interesting question to me is why Intelligrated wants to own a voice technology company. According to Cronin, the genesis of the deal was a survey of Intelligrated’s customers by Bain Consulting about two years ago. “One of the things we heard is that our customers wanted us to provided expanded WMS and WCS technology and they wanted us to offer voice to go with our pick-to-light offering,” Cronin said. That same survey was one of the factors that led to the Knighted acquisition.
As a cloud-based solution, Datria was a good fit with Knighted, which is also in the cloud. “The cloud is our technology platform,” Cronin said. He also believes in Datria’s hardware model, which involves off-the-shelf phones rather than purpose-built voice headsets.
Intelligrated wanted to own the voice IT because “we want to build products and solutions that we believe will be unique,” Cronin added. “We see voice integrating with automation, such as robotics. We see opportunities for creating a cart-based picking solution that uses voice and lights for picking ecommerce orders in a store. And, we see opportunities outside the four walls in the broader supply chain.” Intelligrated believes there is a competitive advantage to owning the technologies that will come together to create those solutions, rather than bringing together equipment and software from a variety of vendors.
Cronin acknowledged that established hardware providers like Vocollect and Motorola have the lion’s share of the market. Many customers may be more comfortable dealing with the conventional technology. “If our customer prefers that equipment, we’ll do that,” Cronin said. “But we think Datria’s solution is the next generation of voice technology. We’re not trying to catch up. We’re trying to get ahead of everyone.”
Is Intelligrated right? As my father might say, no one knows the future. But after I hung up, I realized what Intelligrated is doing with its acquisition of Knighted, Datria and whatever comes next is trying to answer the question of What’s next?