A wireless productivity software provider said Tuesday it would acquire Canada’s MDSI in an $86 million deal aimed at enhancing its product portfolio for mobile workforces.

Fremont, Calif.-based @Road said it would maintain MDSI’s Vancouver-based headquarters and operate the firm as a wholly-owned subsidiary following the transaction, which combines cash and stock. The two firms will have a combined workforce of 650 employees.

Krish Panu, @Road’s president, said MDSI will complement his firm’s quest to develop what he called the mobile workforce management market. As more enterprises arm their employees with cell phones, personal digital assistants or laptops, they find it more difficult to keep tabs on their productivity, he said.

“”The challenge of mobile workers of course, is that as soon as they start their day, they get into their vehicles and they disappear over the horizon,”” he said.

While @Road provides location-based services through global positioning system software, MDSI’s Advantex uses complex business rules to schedule work requests and assign them to best worker. The software suite dispatches work orders to employees who then send status updates back to their head office. Advantex also recommends the best routes to travel between assignments.

“”We take for granted that the work in a shop or an office is assigned in a way that maximizes efficiency — that the maximum number of jobs are completed,”” he said. “”You could not imagine how many mobile workforce environments where half the workforce is busy and productive, and the other half doesn’t have enough to do.””

MDSI spokesperson Rick Wadsworth said the company was attracted to @Road’s financial resources, which he said could help MDSI accelerate some of its product development plans. There are also a number of business development opportunities, he said.

“”@Road’s in more vertical markets than we are,”” he said. “”They have some very meaningful customers in the telecommunications market — Verizon and Qwest — and those are customers our company would love to have.””

While MDSI has focused on the mid to large-sized customer segment and has won more than 70 clients in electric, gas and water utilities, Panu said @Road has sold approximately 80,000 licences worldwide. Several users have asked @Road about the kind of capabilities MDSI’s products offer, and the two firms have previously worked together on customer implementations, he added.

“”They’re very good at assigning work requests in an optimal way — dispatching, monitoring progress, responding to changing conditions and checking the performance,”” he said. “”Otherwise, jobs take too long to complete, or you have excessive driving time.””

Panu said @Road would be sending its COO to Vancouver to oversee the integration process at MDSI, which he said should be complete by the end of this year. The company also plans to develop a hosted version of MDSI’s product line for the small and medium business market.

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