- Genstar Capital acquired IHS Inc.’s Operational Excellence and Risk Management (OERM) business in 2016 and Sphera Solutions was born.
- Since 2017, Sphera has acquired five companies: Rivo Software, sparesFinder, Petrotechnics, SiteHawk and thinkstep.
Sphera has a long, storied and sometimes complicated history. To help explain our origin story, we’ve compiled some highlights from all of the acquisitions that make up today’s Sphera. If you missed Part One, you can read it here, and you can read Part Two here.
2016-Present: Sphera Steps In
We’re not going to spend too much time on this because, well, you’re already reading our blog and we’ve covered this extensively, but Genstar Capital, a leading middle-market private equity firm, acquired IHS Inc.’s Operational Excellence and Risk Management (OERM) business in 2016 and Sphera Solutions was born.
Under the direction of our president and CEO, Paul Marushka, the company has focused on a successful PIN strategy that focuses on innovations in our Platform, Information and Network. You can read more about some of Sphera’s milestones in our third-anniversary blog series, but know that there are three main objectives for all of our software solutions: to help keep your people safe, your products sustainable and your operations productive.
At the time of the deal, Marushka said: “I am thrilled to be partnering with Genstar on this transaction. With the support of Genstar’s financial and strategic resources, OERM is now very well-positioned to pursue a reinvigorated growth strategy that will help our trusted clients drive Operational Excellence as they face growing and ever-challenging regulatory complexities in the U.S. and internationally. Our focus now will be on product innovation complemented with a number of core and adjacent M&A opportunities that will further build trusted customer partnerships with expanded products and services.”
And reinvigorate—and complete deals—Sphera has done and shall continue to do.
2017: Revved Up by Rivo Deal
The Great Fire of Warwick is a thing of legend. In September 1694, as the story goes, a sudden fire quickly turned into a conflagration because of strong winds and, as the historical Commissioners’ Order Book describes in old English, the fire “consumed almost all of the Highstreet, the Church Street and the Sheepstreet intirely, part of the Jury Street, Newstreet, and many buildings about the Market House.”
The devastation though did bring about some needed changes. According to a blog that appears on the Lapworth Local History Group website, the Fire Act of 1694 “was passed by parliament shortly afterwards and not only raised national funding for the rebuilding of the town, but also laid down rules for the way in which the rebuilding must be done, specifying design rules for the new buildings and a new wide street design for the town.”
Fast forward just a few hundred years to 2002 and a new legend—this time in the EHS space—was born when Rivo Software in Warwick, U.K., was formed. Taking a modern, technologically advanced approach to mitigating Operational Risk, Rivo quickly emerged as an industry leader.
As Rivo’s website explained back in 2008: “The company specialises in Safety, Health & Environmental software solutions for organisations operating out of more than one location, or with multiple users, who face greater challenges to ensure compliance in today’s increasingly regulatory environment.”
To accomplish that goal, Rivo used cloud-based solutions, and a little less than a decade later, Sphera would take notice.
Less than a year after Sphera was formed, the company acquired Rivo Software in a deal completed in April 2017. “We believe it is critical to continue innovating and expanding our world-class products and services,” Marushka said. “With Rivo’s technology, Sphera now has the unique ability to offer customers the optimal flexibility—with both on-premise and cloud-based software options for managing risk and compliance.”
The acquisition was designed with SpheraCloud in mind, a new, state-of-the-art Software as a Service platform for Operational Risk, which we announced at the inspire user conference in Austin, Texas, some six months after the Rivo deal.
2018: SparesFinder’s a Big ‘Part’ of the Strategy
Keeping a watchful eye over Maintenance, Repair & Operations hasn’t always been an easy task. When a part goes bad, it could hamper productivity tremendously if companies are not prepared. It could also force a plant into its most hazardous state—starting it back up again following a shutdown.
The evolution of MRO software designed to help companies deal with this Operational Risk is an interesting one—and one that began south of the equator more than two decades ago.
1997 was a time for change in New Zealand: The country elected its first female prime minister that year—and a new concept called Virtual Pooled Inventory (VPI) was conceived there as well. VPI was designed to automatically link end users to engineering spare parts via the web. The next year, VPI’s first version of the software was marketed across the Southern Hemisphere, and in 1999 Sphera’s own David Stroud, who is vice president of MRO, and Jan Hutchings established sparesFinder in the U.K. They followed a successful strategy to win customers, build partnerships and expand the network of distributors. The next year, they would acquire the global rights to the business.
In 2002, sparesFinder would launch the popular Masterpiece software, which is a cloud-based software solution designed to help companies quickly and easily standardize and enrich item descriptions across their operations.
Sixteen years later (2018 to be exact), Sphera acquired the British MRO software company and Stroud joined the company at that time. The sparesFinder cloud-based solutions help companies maintain accurate, accessible and reliable spare parts data and material master data. The software: Finder, Masterpiece, Gatekeeper and Insights provide organizations the ability to standardize and enrich existing MRO master data (material data), analyze, report and act on spare parts purchasing and inventory data, govern master data creation and modification, and easily find and leverage material master-related data.
“MRO is a huge and often expensive part of many large and midsize companies’ day-to-day operations,” Marushka said at the time of the acquisition, “and adding sparesFinder’s solutions to the Sphera family will help our clients manage their MRO needs seamlessly whether they choose an on-premise or cloud-based solution.”
You can learn more about Sphera’s latest MRO products by clicking here.
2019: Petrotechnics Pickup
Considered the “Offshore Oil Capital” of Europe, Aberdeen, Scotland, has a long and storied history. The University of Aberdeen alone traces its history all the way back to 1495, and nearby Aberdeenshire is known as “Scotland’s Castle Country” with more than 260 such structures there that date back centuries. One of those castles is even thought to have been an inspiration for Bram Stoker when he was writing “Dracula” in the late 19th century.
Aberdeen is also where Petrotechnics was established in 1989, and for three decades it has helped companies manage and mitigate risk in the hazardous process industries and move away from the paper-based forms that were considered workplace safety best practices in the past—and that a few companies still employ today not fully understanding the power of the Digital Transformation.
As a 2010 version of the Petrotechnics website explained: “It occurred to us that industry could be transformed by using technology to link people and process, and this fresh approach could contribute to greater efficiency and safety with improved operational expenditure.” Then, the history section of the website explained: “The success of Petrotechnics has been based on People, Process and Technology and this will continue into the future.”
And continue it has.
Over the years, Petrotechnics has deployed a work activity management system (WAMS) in the North Sea and South America, pioneered an Integrated Safe System of Work (ISSoW) and became the first vendor to deliver a Dynamic Real-Time Barrier Management System.
And, as the story goes, the big breakthrough moment for Petrotechnics occurred in 1998 when a major Oil & Gas company wanted the company to pilot a “work execution” solution in the North Sea Eastern Trough Area Project field with the Sentinel Pro solution.
Over the years, Petrotechnics further expanded its product lines, innovating to meet the needs of its customers and help companies mitigate risk and improve productivity while enhancing safety performance. Petrotechnics was well-known for its Proscient solution, which launched in 2013.
It includes several modules such as Control of Work, Integrated Operations Management with Electric Permit to Work (ePTW), and process safety barrier management, among others. (All Petrotechnics products have recently been rebranded as Sphera’s Operational Risk Management software.)
Speaking of Control of Work, in 2007 Petrotechnics officially entered the chemical/petrochemical space when it started a project with a major Oil & Gas company in Texas City, Texas, a couple of years after a refinery explosion. The aim of the project was not only to change the way people work but also to change the way people think about work and working safely. The solution provided was a robust approach involving people, process and technology combined with a change process, training, coaching and long-term customer support.
Just a little over a week into 2019, Sphera announced it had acquired the Operational Risk Management software stalwart, and with the deal, Sphera supercharged the push toward what Marushka has dubbed “Integrated Risk Management 4.0.” Petrotechnics, as we’ve seen, has been a key player in the Digital Transformation arena for many years, and its ORM Digital Twin software in particular plays a huge role in that. Digital Twin brings together the data collected from enterprise systems, mobile applications, sensors and human-derived inputs as part of an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) strategy to produce a computer-generated risk map. This allows companies to obtain a simulated view of their Operational Risk in real time while advancing their Operational Excellence strategies.
“Sphera’s acquisition of Petrotechnics expands our base of Operational Risk solutions through applications digitalizing and visualizing risks at the operational level with real-time data from Industrial Internet of Things devices,” Marushka said in a news release. “This acquisition builds upon our SpheraCloud product in extending our Integrated Risk Management solution from risk identification to risk mitigation.”
Shortly after the acquisition, Petrotechnics was named a market leader in the Verdantix ORM Green Quadrant benchmark report.
This was the first big move Sphera made in 2019, but it wasn’t the last.
You can learn more about Sphera’s Operational Risk Management product line by clicking here.
2019: SiteHawk in Sight
Birds of a feather, you know …
SiteHawk’s story begins in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1993. Known then as Industrial Data Systems Inc., the company was founded by Kim and Jeff Stier to develop and maintain efficient and effective Material Safety Data Sheets and chemical safety compliance programs by employing—you guessed it—state-of-the-art software technology. The concept was straightforward: Pair industrial safety engineers and regulatory specialists with technology experts to create tools to easily maintain compliance, reduce risk and, most importantly, save lives. Later, the company moved to Smyrna, Tennessee, and started doing business as SiteHawk, a moniker that just stuck like a talon. And in 1999, SiteHawk launched a web-based chemical data management application, which was the first of its kind.
More than a quarter century later, SiteHawk still offers a complete approach to chemical management through data, intelligence and reporting to support safety, compliance and risk management. SiteHawk’s products provide long-term compliance solutions with innovative, cloud-based technology and world-class professional services for SDS and Chemical Data Management, and the products are considered market-leading solutions. Additionally, in 2018, SiteHawk adopted Guiding Principles and Core Values to drive the organization toward a common goal and provide all employees with a clear vision for Operational Excellence.
In 2019, Sphera acquired SiteHawk to bring innovation in usability as well as additional regulatory content and mobile-friendly technology to Sphera’s Product Stewardship customers.
“The acquisition of SiteHawk not only expands Sphera’s cloud-based solutions, but also extends Sphera’s Product Stewardship content, services and markets while reasserting our leadership position in the Product Stewardship space,” Marushka said. “As the industry leader, we believe it is critical to continue innovating our portfolio of cloud-based and content solutions while also enhancing our world-class, on-premise products.”
Once fully integrated, we can’t wait to see these Product Stewardship stalwarts take off together through the cloud and beyond.
You can learn more about Sphera’s Chemical Inventory Management software.
2019: The Thinking Behind thinkstep
In Germany in 1989, at a time when public discussion about the environment was often not based on facts, only perceptions, a German car manufacturer asked the chair of Polymer Testing & Science at the University of Stuttgart, Dr. Peter Eyerer, to identify the environmental advantages of a polymer-based fender vs. one made of steel. During the analysis it became apparent that a lot of data was missing and that more questions arose than could be answered in a single assessment, including that the entire life cycle of the fender needed to be considered.
So in 1991, Eyerer and a small team of research associates launched the product sustainability software “Ganzheitliche Bilanzierung” (Holistic Balancing, GaBi for short) together with a content database to assess the sustainability of bumpers and fenders as the first-ever multiclient automotive sustainability study. PE International became the industry spinoff for this software.
In January 2001, the core group of researchers purchased the company. Through a lot of hard work and strategy, the group aggressively gained new contracts for the GaBi Software and for Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) consulting work.
In 2003 and 2004, finance and insurance companies asked PE International to handle their environmental data. That’s how PE International launched the corporate sustainability software “Sofware für Finanzinstitute” (Software for Financial Institutions, SoFi for short).
From 2004 to 2010, PE International experienced an annual growth of 35% and more employees joined. PE International incorporated as a nontraded, stock-based company and found investors who helped bring the company to the next level.
In 2015, PE International was rebranded as thinkstep. At the same time, it experienced some financial struggles. The next year, the company was restructured with new management, bringing it back onto a profitable path. In 2019, after opening discussions with several potential buyers, thinkstep agreed to be acquired by Sphera because of complementary offerings and geographical markets and because of compatible business cultures and goals.
You can learn more about the thinkstep sustainability solutions by clicking here.
This is Sphera’s story, but the tale is not finished, nor will it be. It will continue to be written as opportunity and innovation emerge over time.