Hicks on Biz: Viewtrak - Making lemonade from lemons BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2017
One door closes. Another opens.
Every cloud has its silver lining.
Should life hand you lemons, make lemonade.
Ted Power and Hubert Lau, co-presidents of Edmonton-based Viewtrak Technologies, specialize in making lemonade out of lemons.
In 2012, the two businessmen were asked by a group of Alberta investors to manage Viewtrak, a livestock tracing company created in the aftermath of the mad cow disease crisis internationally and then in Canada in 2003. Viewtrak had since run into financial difficulty.
Last year, Viewtrak was named Exporter of the Year by the Alberta Business Awards of Distinction for its PG-207 pork grader probe – a best-seller in China. The company is a finalist for the 2017 Small Business of the Year in the same awards, and was just named Innovator of the Year at the Canada-wide 2017 Air Miles Small Business Achievement Awards.
Before Viewtrak, Power’s business expertise was in traceability. His Trace Applications company is a leading supplier of traceability programs for metal products, i.e. verifying the origin and composition of the metal used to construct a new bridge or building. Lau bought in IT expertise from his IT consulting company, Ekota Central.
When Power and Lau started with Viewtrak, they discovered the company was not, as they had thought, a “farm to fork” meat product tracing company. Such a tracing system was beyond the capability of any one company. It would require the involvement of the entire Canadian livestock industry.
Making lemonade: What they did find was valuable. Over the years, Viewtrak had acquired other companies, each with agricultural IT applications. “Each application (software programs for particular tasks) worked well,” says Lau. “But they weren’t integrated. They were silos, functioning on their own.”
Customers for the various Viewtrak products were pleased with the software. But they weren’t happy with Viewtrak’s service. Customer relations were at the root of the problem.
Making lemonade: “We did a public relations blitz with our customers, let them know who we were and our intentions,” says Lau. “Internally, we saw no reason to integrate the various products. We improved the software, and settled on four product lines – auction management programs (Viewtrak Market Master), cattle management (Viewtrak Bovitrak/Beeftrak), feedlot management (Viewtrak Feedlot Solutions) and a pork grading system using our Viewtrak-manufactured probe and its software.”
Power and Lau had seen the original assignment as short term: Coming in on behalf of ownership, cleaning up and turning around Viewtrak, then moving on.
“But the more we saw, the more excited we became,” says Lau. “Viewtrak is a technology leader in livestock information. Plus we really liked Viewtrak’s customers. They are down-to-earth agricultural people.“
The pork probe and its accompanying software have become industry leaders in China.
“We were puzzled,” says Lau. “We had a great salesperson in China. But that didn’t explain why our grading/probe system was selling so well. It turned out the Chinese packing plants prefer a ‘trusted neutral party’ for grading objectivity.”
The pork probe is being used for grading at hog packing plants throughout Canada, Mexico and Brazil. The next big market being targeted is Vietnam. A Viewtrak lamb grading probe is in development.
Making lemonade: Out of the blue, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association approached Viewtrak for assistance in creating a comprehensive beef tracking program throughout Canada. Impending free-trade deals to Europe and the Far East will require verifiable “certificates of origin” for Canadian beef exports.
A new company, BIXS (Beef Information Exchange System) has been set up with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, Viewtrak being the majority shareholder. BIXS is mandated to create a comprehensive beef industry data exchange system, with a business model based on data sales and information services.
As seems to be the norm with IT-based companies, Viewtrak’s web of intertwined software products, services and associated companies is run from a small head office in Edmonton. At its core is an experienced team of specialized software programmers.
As a private company, Viewtrak does not release financial statements, but certainly has every appearance of becoming a leading agricultural software/data-gathering service, not only in Canada but world-wide.
Such is the nature of finding lemons, then making lemonade.