Fixing a problem that vexes other businesses isn’t sexy but it sure can be profitable
There’s an old saying in business that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and Brent Halverson admits that the industry his company’s product, Conexiom, serves thought that way for a long time.
Then it broke, and now Halverson’s software fixes it.
Halverson, CEO of Vancouver-based ecmarket, admits Conexiom, his business-to-business software for automated order and invoice processing isn’t sexy.
Unlike many technology companies, Conexiom doesn’t have fancy offices filled with über-hip employees; there are no mountain-top staff retreats involving “team-building” contests; no grand software launches in super cool settings; no breathless articles in tech magazines.
Halverson, who evolved the business from a small online-auction technology provider to a supply-chain technical partner for distributors and manufacturers, admits his software would likely be viewed as dull as dirt by many consumer-tech stars. Yet, it’s becoming a very successful small business because it does what every business should do — it fixes a problem that vexes many other businesses.
Conexiom automates sales orders, processing and, most recently, invoicing for manufacturers and distributors around the world, many of which still use old-fashioned manual data entry. These are often businesses that have had systems in place for some time and haven’t bothered changing until they had to.
Now the system’s broken and they have to. As the world has become more connected, manufacturing and distribution has grown into a network of many large and small companies that process thousands of orders a day — filing, fulfilling, shipping and invoicing for them. Much of the data involved in these processes were entered into computers by salespeople.
But Conexiom automates all this data entry with software that connects suppliers’ and buyers’ computers to create orders, send them to manufacturing, then issue invoices for them, thus freeing up salespeople to do what they should be doing — selling.
The common technical term for these processes is Electronic Data Exchange, or EDI, which is more than 20 years old and has been recognized by the world’s mega-businesses as an efficient, more accurate, and often more cost-effective method of interchange between business and customers.
Trumpeted in the business and technology press, EDI was at first primarily used by companies for only the most critical processes. But since then, it has been quietly filtering down to what were considered “less vital” business operations such as order processing and invoicing.
As Halverson describes it, “technology is like the Olympics — everyone knows the winners of the gold, or first, but not many people know those who came in third or fourth.”
In that sense ecmarket is also a picture of the development of technology in Vancouver, and in Canada in general, which for the most part emerged after the early large technology companies appeared in the United States.
Beginning in the late 1990s with its business creating online-auctions sites, which were all the rage in the early tech days, ecmarket eventually moved into developing supply-chain solutions for companies that needed to modernize their order-processing methodology.
“In 2005, 3M Canada came to us with a challenge: Could we help them create an automated solution to make their ordering system more efficient?” Halverson explained. “We were always looking for problems to solve and so created a working system by the next year. Then a year after that, we were introduced to 3M in the U.S. and that led to other companies and other countries.”
At first, the software was just for manufacturers, then distributors noticed it, and came calling. More business in these verticals led the company to direct business-to-business service through the creation of an online system that companies could use as a tool to manage their orders and invoices.
Halverson calls this process “going out on your own,” which means the Conexiom system no longer just creates software for individual companies, but now also lets them integrate their own systems into Conexiom online.
Simple, but also expansionary. With its own online portal, Conexiom targets a huge vertical market within the worldwide manufacturing and distribution space — from small businesses that earn around $10 million a year to big ones that bring in $50 billion.
Now that’s sexy.