Zebra Buys Navis, Proveo

By Beth Bacheldor

The company plans to integrate Navis, Proveo and WhereNet into one business unit that provides software, hardware and services for identifying, locating and managing assets, cargo and inventory.

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Zebra Technologies is continuing efforts to expand its RFID footprint. To that end, the company has announced plans to acquire Navis, which makes software designed to help companies manage logistics, assets, inventory and cargo across the supply chain; and Proveo, which produces a hardware and software system designed primarily to help airports track vehicles and other ground-support equipment in real time. Zebra has agreed to acquire all shares of Navis for approximately $145 million in cash, and all outstanding shares of Proveo for $16.3 million in cash.

Based in Vernon Hills, Ill., Zebra has long been a manufacturer of printer solutions. Several years ago, the firm began offering printer-encoders for passive RFID labels. More recently, the firm has set its sights on becoming a provider of end-to-end solutions—hardware, software and services—that help customers identify, locate and track assets as they traverse the supply chain. In accordance with that plan, in early 2007 Zebra acquired WhereNet, a maker of real-time location systems (RTLS) utilizing active RFID tags (see Zebra Buys WhereNet).

Navis’ software suite includes Navis Edge Manager, a middleware product that collects and manages data culled from RFID and other technologies. Navis Edge Manager passes this information to other Navis applications, such as SPARCS (a core planning and control system for cargo terminals), Express (a system for managing bookings, billing and other transactions) and WebAccess (a Web-based software portal used to check the status of cargo containers, as well as book delivery and pickup appointments).

Navis’ customers include numerous marine terminals. The Georgia Ports Authority (GPA), for instance, is leveraging RFID to track shipments being brought in and out of the Port of Savannah, and is using Navis Edge Manager and other Navis applications to turn the resultant data into intelligence about the port’s operations (see Georgia Ports Authority Hopes RFID Will Boost Efficiency, Throughput).

Proveo, located in Crailsheim, Germany, sells RTLS hardware and software complementary to Zebra’s WhereNet product line. Incorporating GPS, GPRS and Wi-Fi technologies, Proveo’s system is designed to help track assets over airports or other large areas. The company’s products are currently installed at airports in Frankfurt, Munich, London, Singapore, Dubai and other cities.

“I believe Navis makes an excellent addition to our portfolio, adding the ability to identify, locate and track high-value assets,” Zebra’s CEO, Anders Gustafsson, said during a press conference announcing the acquisitions. “Proveo, based in Germany, adds [to our portfolio] industrial vehicle-management abilities used in the management of aviation ground-support systems, but we can expand this to the manufacturing, distribution, retail and aerospace and defense markets.”

According to Gustafsson, Zebra plans to integrate Navis, Proveo and WhereNet into one business unit that sells software, hardware and services. “Integration will be a key part of our next 30 days,” he explained. “We are putting together an integration team to lead this, and how the work structure will look will be one of the aspects. We want to integrate these companies into one business unit that will give us the most synergies and efficiencies.”

With the new business unit, Zebra says it be able to leverage the different supply-chain tracking and management products to sell businesses a more cohesive solution. In particular, the company will seek out opportunities to jointly sell Navis and WhereNet. “Navis and WhereNet have been partners for a number of years, in that they’ve sold complementary solutions,” said Phil Gerskovich, Zebra’s senior VP for corporate development. “Navis is a software company that sells application software, and WhereNet is a hardware company that sells hardware to identify and track assets.” In essence, the WhereNet hardware provides data to the Navis software.

The acquisition of these companies should provide Zebra with opportunities to cross-sell its printers—particularly its RFID printer-encoders—to more companies. “There are opportunities for us to pull in additional printer sales—for example, at dock doors,” Gustafsson said. “There is often a printer at a dock door used to generate some form of label for goods. Also, we can leverage customer segments. Where WhereNet has a very good installed base, such as the automotive industry, we can—and are—strengthening our opportunities. We have already leveraged relationships particularly in the automotive industry. It’s also gone the other way: We’ve pulled WhereNet into traditional Zebra accounts.”