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S.L. firm putting Net tools into hands of manufacturers

The distance between raw materials and the checkout stand is much farther than most consumers realize. And the supply chain is fraught with logistical problems for manufacturers — especially in an online world.

Salt Lake-based SBI, a consulting and solutions company, believes that many manufacturers have a hard time seeing the power of tools like the Internet to improve their own businesses.

Since it was founded in 1997, SBI has acquired seven companies, picking up people with enterprise application experience, Web capabilities, technological expertise and business consulting experience. And they are growing because "we're unique in a tightening and more competitive market," said president and chief executive officer Ned Stringham. "We're focused on manufacturing, an area that's a little behind in adopting Internet technologies."

They tie traditional manufacturing accounts and practices into both their supply chain and customers, using the Internet to do it.

The need is great, according to Coleman Barney, senior vice president. Three years ago, the company employed five people in Salt Lake City. Since then, SBI has raised $70 million and will have 425 employees by year's end. They've opened offices in Long Beach, Dallas, Houston, Chicago and Reston, as well. And SBI's an unusual young company in that it turned its first profit in 1998 and hasn't looked back.

As they've become more successful, they've had to develop expertise in other areas, including financial institutions and health companies. It's a big, interconnected world out there, and knowing your way around the manufacturing plant just isn't enough, Barney and Stringham said.

The services are broad range and long-term, starting with technical applications to help customers on the front end, all the way back to automating out inefficiencies and providing customer service after a sale.

It's everything from figuring out how many bags of polymer plastic pellets a company needs on hand to computerizing the ordering process. They also can provide internal tracking of the money that's coming out of the door, Barney said.

Such a system can't be designed without getting to know the manufacturer and its product. But between them, they have decades of experience in manufacturing, according to company spokesman Michael Adams.

First, they figure out what's wrong. For example, what it would take to get order time from 10 weeks down to two weeks. "We will go out, deploy the solution, train the staff, even patch the code," Stringham said.

The goal, for the manufacturer, is to attract new customers and drive the cost out of the supply chain, Adams said.

They also build a company's internal systems, folding those systems into an electronic-business platform and helping different operating programs to work together, using the Internet. It's a soup-to-nuts shop, carrying a client from the Web page design stage through implementation of all the changes.

And they think the future's pretty unlimited. Business-to-business aspects of manufacturing have been estimated to be a $5 trillion arena.

More information about SBI is available online at