Integrating the Integrators: So Far, So Good for VIA International
After successfully melding company cultures and establishing best practices, VIA International touts 22 locations in 8 states with $69.8 million in revenue for 2013.
Jason Knott · June 13, 2014
U.S. BUILDING THE CENTER OF EXCELLENCE
One of the biggest achievements from VIA has been the creation of its first Center of Excellence, a 15,000-square-foot warehouse and production facility in Salt Lake City. This new state-of-the-art facility is fully equipped to enable VIA to fabricate complete home technology systems before they are shipped to clients’ homes across the U.S.
The facility was carefully designed to manage the flow of VIA projects through the production process — system design, engineering and project documentation, rack assembly, programming, testing and burn-in, packaging and shipping. The custom- designed test bays allow VIA’s quality assurance (QA) team to quickly connect equipment racks to a large wall full of displays and speakers to test the routing and control of multiple audio and video sources to dozens of zones, including surround sound zones.
In order for VIA project managers to verify system functionality for their projects and schedule project completion with confidence, the company has the ability to remotely test, or view the testing of, completed systems through remote access privileges and cameras focused on the equipment racks and testing bays. VIA soon plans to extend the capability for its clients to monitor the progress of their system being built.
The facility enables the company to deliver 100-percent completed projects at the time of move-in, according to Arthur Mayo, a founding partner of VIA, who states, “Salt Lake City is the first of many Centers of Excellence. Part of the founding members’ vision was to introduce innovation to every part of the process. This is one of the first demonstrable examples of how VIA intends to change the industry. We expect that this center creates over 50 new jobs in Utah in the next 12 months with a goal of reaching into the hundreds.”
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Using a common scheduling system, project managers in all districts can schedule a rack for assembly, programming, testing, burn-in and delivery. Once scheduled, milestone deadline dates are automatically populated into the schedule that guides the process.
“Frankly, we will continually refine the production and QA process for some time to come, but even at this early stage district offices are reporting drastically better results than they were able to achieve at a local level historically,” says Stearns.
Utah was selected for VIA’s first Center of Excellence due to its central location within the western U.S. as it relates to trucking routes, the low cost of skilled labor and the low cost of real estate. It is anticipated that VIA will need to add another Center of Excellence or two as it expands eastward, notes Stearns.
ASSIMILATING COMPANY CULTURES
But what about the egos of the group? How difficult has it been to combine various company cultures led by a bunch of Type A entrepreneurs? Apparently, it hasn’t been a problem.
“All the smart people in my life who are entrepreneurs told me that culture was going to be the killer,” says Thies. “They said that if it didn’t work, it was because you could not merge these cultures. But at all levels of each organization there is a very high level of commitment to being the best. So there was already a common culture in all of our organizations — we all thought we were the best.”
That attitude translated to things like pride of workmanship, top-level service, and high-touch personalized service that was consistent throughout every company. From a technical standpoint, Thies says everyone was different in their approach to solutions, but they all had the same goal of perfection.
“Of course, we are all very different personalities in the management team. It is a little bit too good to be true — almost too good to believe — that it has gone as smoothly as it has, because the more I get to know these guys, I realize, wow, we are very, very different people,” he adds.
“The truth is at the ownership level we all get along really well,” agrees Whitehead. “We reach consensus very quickly. We have not had an argument that has lasted more than five minutes. There have been people with spirited sides of that and we have come to a consensus very quickly and it hasn’t been a 4-3 vote, it has always been unanimous.”
Thies says even at the middle management and staff levels the transition has been smooth. It was something both Thies and Whitehead admit they lost sleep needlessly worrying about. Whitehead says the biggest challenge was combining the business models.
“Several of our companies were focused on very high-end, large-scale systems on major estate properties/million-dollar projects, and then several were focused on a repetitive production-style $150,000 to $200,000 projects. We are merging that into a single process, but can’t ever be completely a single business model because there are clients that really want extensive design and extensive customization, and then there are clients who just want the same thing as the guy next door.”
Already, VIA districts have shared an estimated 50 to 100 projects from clients based in areas like Los Angeles and Texas with second homes in places like Aspen, Park City and Hawaii.
Thies concludes: “The reality is what we are trying to do is enormously difficult. Taking all of those cultures and processes and trying to create something new and even better than what you had before it is really, really hard. We have not had any serious hiccups. We have had no crucial staff defections. We have every vendor we want to be in business with, doing business with, so we have a great relationship. We are keeping our clients; we are improving our processes. Essentially what we have gotten accomplished so far is pretty remarkable to me.”
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Jason Knott is Chief Content Officer for Emerald Expositions Connected Brands. Jason has covered low-voltage electronics as an editor since 1990, serving as editor and publisher of Security Sales & Integration. He joined CE Pro in 2000 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of that brand. He served as chairman of the Security Industry Association’s Education Committee from 2000-2004 and sat on the board of that association from 1998-2002. He is also a former board member of the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation. He has been a member of the CEDIA Business Working Group since 2010. Jason graduated from the University of Southern California. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org
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