A Canadian company that makes software for the beverage industry has swallowed assets from another firm that will increase its ability to automate field sales forces.

Global Beverage Group Monday said it bought

the applications business of Palm Beach, Fla.-based Entrada Technologies Ltd., which specializes in mobile sales force applications. Global Beverage Group (GBG), based in Waterloo, Ont., focuses on the direct-store-delivery industry, providing software to Canadian clients like Pepsi Bottling Group Canada, Humpty Dumpty Snack Foods and Cott Beverages, among others. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Bruce McIntyre, GBG’s vice-president of product management, said the addition of Entrada products will provide customers more tools to help determine product placement on a store shelf, or correlating the results of an advertising campaign to the floor space products take up. While GBG was already providing these sorts of data management features on handheld devices, the Entrada product line will allow data to be displayed on larger devices, like tablet PCs.

“”Clearly you’re not going to manipulate the graphical view of shelf layout on a Pocket PC device with a very small screen,”” he said. “”You need a full-blown slate for that.””

Research firm IDC has said it expects shipments of tablet PCs to grow considerably this year, but one of the company’s Canadian analysts, Eddie Chan, sounded more cautious.

“”There is a sweet spot for certain vertical industries,”” he said. “”Right now it’s pretty much in the evaluation stage. Given life cycles and all, it’s going to be another six months before we see signs of mass deployments.””

McIntyre said he is confident in the long-term outlook, though he admits cost has been an inhibitor among some companies.

“”It will become more popular as things go on,”” he said. “”If you look at a Pocket device which has been ruggedized — not just a Pocket PC but one that’s built for the environment of being tossed around — they’re not that far off in cost.””

Entrada president Larry Brown agreed that the market for full screens is closer to maturity.

“”There were much more white-collar devices than blue collar or grey. You had ot be down the road as a user to be able to add enough value to your buisness process to make that investment clear,”” he said.

As customers look for more graphical tooling, shelf planning and manipulation of layouts, those tools will force the use of a tablet environment, McIntyre added, while Brown said a full screen makes sense whenever the number of SKUs a supplier is trying to manage is significant. “”For supply chains that are really trying to do more than just logistics, the full screen is becoming really viable,”” he said.

GBG’s software is already compatible with business intelligence tools from companies like Cognos, and the company is also investing in native SQL Server and Oracle capabilities to generate analytical information, McIntyre said. “”The BI people tend to live in broader-range analytic area,”” he said. “”They really lack the data infrastructure to manage the complexities of a DSD environment.””

Entrada is expected to maintain its operations in Florida, according to GBG director of Marketing Cara Strohack. The company also has operations in Austin, Tex., Charlotte, NC, Denver, Colo., Durham, NC, Lancaster, Pa. Entrada will continue to manage its patents and technical products, Brown said.

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