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CEO Spotlight: Ashish Chona, InSync Software, Inc.

By The Sterling Report

Despite widespread skepticism of RFID and other Auto ID solutions, Ashish Chona, CEO and Co-Founder of InSync Software, Inc. talks with The Sterling Report about how he has brought the technology successfully into the mainstream market, leveraging the constant buzz and delivering actual ROI for customers using their software applications.

The Sterling Report (TSR): It has been 5 years since you founded InSync and you are already recognized as the industry leader in RFID software. What has set you apart from your competitors?
Ashish Chona (AC): I believe our ability with easy-to-develop and deploy RFID and sensor-driven software applications has really given us a leg up on the competition. Whether it’s our development abilities with our Edgeware platform or our applications such as Yard Manager and GREENTrace™.

TSR: InSync has applied RFID across a variety of industries. How did you leverage your software solutions to fit the needs of all your diverse customers?
AC: Experience and the skill set of the team is a crucial aspect of this. Your ability to go into multiple industries is dependant upon having a team that has a skill set from diverse industries. You build your core technology, then abstract common elements and business processes are relevant for varying applications. It’s amazing; the commonalities you encounter in AIDC applications, regardless of the industry you’re in. We’ve developed dynamic workflows and utilities for common processes such as check-in check-out, track-and-trace, shipping receiving, etc. and with these we’re able to apply them across the board – whether it’s tracking spare construction materials such as cables and wire in a lay down yard, fresh spinach coming in from the field, or high-tech electronics throughout an extended supply chain.

TSR: You and Ravi Panja were part of Asyst’s management team. How and when did you decide to launch out on your own? Are you having fun helming a company on your own?
Well, it all starts with the fact that both Ravi and myself are entrepreneurs at heart. Working together at Assyst we’d become very familiar with and were closely involved in deploying very complex RFID and sensor apps for a very niche industry. In the late ’90s to early 2000, with the Internet wave continuing and WallMart showing genuine interest, all of these elements coming together gave us what we thought was a great recipe for building a company to take RFID and sensor apps mainstream, or at the least into new industries and applications. We’ve found that the products we develop and deliver are best suited and bring the most value to, 4 primary applications – yard materials management, IT asset management, food safety and WIP/supply chain inventory management. Over the past year this focus and the core products we’ve developed as a result, have really resonated with customers and partners. I think it’s because of this focus, we’re getting more and more traction in these areas. The ride has been hectic and challenging, but more than anything a great deal of fun.

TSR: And are there any other new applications or major updates to current applications you can tell us about?
I think our Yard Management Application is a very exciting product. The application combines RFID and GPS information with mapping, traceability and business automation features to provide a real-time view of networks of storage and lay down yards. We’ve received excellent feedback from customers regarding the product and its device-to-dashboard capability.

We’re also very proud of our work with Dole Foods recently. The Dole Project is a perfect example of how AIDC and location-aware technologies can be harnessed to provide a safer product, improve Dole’s internal efficiencies and ultimately improve our lives. Fresh food safety is a paramount issue right now, just look at the recent report about tomatoes, or peppers. Our GREENTrace application gives produce suppliers’ unprecedented visibility of product and the ability to react to contamination outbreaks more rapidly and precisely than ever before.

Finally, in terms of customer wins, we’ve announced recently that our software is deployed in both a Bayer Material Science application as well as at multiple facilities for SonicWALL, Nvidia and others.

TSR: What is the biggest challenge you face as CEO of InSync?
Put simply, RFID is an exciting thing to be part of. With this excitement comes the challenge of determining areas of exceptional opportunity and growth as well as focusing on developing solutions that fit the requirements of customers in these areas. Focus is absolutely necessary when maneuvering a company through such a marketplace. Having a set target, sticking to it and creating awareness are challenges for the RFID industry as a whole, as well as InSync.

TSR: What does leadership mean to you? What, according to you, does a CEO need to be successful?
I believe leadership and a successful management is all about never forgetting what it was like to not be the CEO. Knowing your employees, creating an environment where learning and knowledge are fundamental and rewarded I think, helps to keep your company fresh and on the cutting edge. On the commercial side, it’s the same, it’s staying in touch with customers, working with them, recognizing their needs and when they change and evolve and being able to adapt product to these changes, is in this industry certainly, paramount.

A well-stocked fridge in the employee room also helps…

TSR: Your educational background is in Robotics and Mechanical Engineering. When you were pursuing these degrees, did you expect that some day you would be leading your own company?
I’d probably argue my biggest “business education” was becoming an entrepreneur at the age of 29. The ups and downs associated with rapidly transitioning from a software engineer to a businessman taught me a lot I believe

TSR: You have previously worked for Radiance, Honeywell and Ultratech Stepper. What have your experiences in the software industry taught you?
Software seems to me to be more of an ART and a Science. That’s what I’ve taken away from these experiences, you have to be able to provide a product that appeals to people on more than just a functional level, it has to excite, inspire and provide something that did not exist before. Always put yourself in the shoes of the customer or user whether internal or external customers. For example, my Honeywell experience helped me to do this because I was working with both the Application Development Group, which provided a product to external customers and later the Platform Group which provides the basis for what the Application Group builds their applications on gave me a good experience of working in these two dynamics.

TSR: As an entrepreneur, how easy or difficult was it to sell your software solutions, considering that RFID and other Auto – ID solutions were relatively new to the market?
There is no doubt it is challenging to bring a new technology into the mainstream. RFID in particular has faced specific challenges, though much of this has to do with the hype that the industry itself and a few early adopters created, before the UHF and tagging technologies had time to develop.

We are at a point now though where customers are, generally speaking, past the kicking the-tires – “what is RFID?” stage and are beginning to seriously look at how implementation of these systems can save them money. The bottom line is a much more attractive driving force adoption in this case than compliance and the buzz, rightly so, today is squarely centered on ROI. We’re able to show ROI in the applications we’ve already deployed, across a variety of industries. This I feel validates our position and our products in this still-evolving marketplace.

TSR: What do you think is the most important personal attribute that a successful entrepreneur must have?
Integrity and honesty play a very important part. Overall, you have to be very, very responsive to your customers, build trust, because trust is the key. Being nimble and responsive when you’re an entrepreneur builds trust, and this allows customers to rely on you.

Ashish Chona is the CEO and Co-founder of InSync Software. Prior to co-founding InSync, he was a member of the senior management team at Asyst Technologies, a leading provider of automated material handing systems and Auto-ID systems (RFID, IR & Bar code) for the semiconductor and electronics industries. Ashish was responsible for global software marketing and sales at Asyst. Prior to Asyst, he was the Co-Founder and Vice-President of Sales & Marketing at Radiance Systems, a provider of factory automation software products and services. Prior to Radiance, Ashish held senior technical positions at Honeywell and Ultratech Stepper. He has an MS in Robotics & Control Systems from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a B. Tech in Mechanical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay. For interview feedback, please contact Ashish at achona@insyncinfo.com.

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