The story of Applied Systems Associates, Inc., (aSa) began with innovation nearly 50 years ago when the power of computer software was nothing like it is today. Founder Jim Leib developed a software solution for the reinforcing steel industry that produced an immediate impact. That impact has only grown through a culture that rewards teamwork, continuous improvement, and reliability.
“Beyond the construction industry, people don’t think about rebar very often because it’s hidden inside the concrete. People think even less about software for rebar, which is much of what we do. But almost everything that has concrete has rebar inside of it to provide the strength needed to support the structure,” states President and Chief Executive Officer Scott Leib, of Applied Systems Associates, based in Murrysville, Pennsylvania.
aSa’s rebar-related software covers estimating, detailing, and production, as well as billing, accounting and material tracking. The company was established in 1969 and has moved from punch-cards and massive mainframe computers to a cloud-based system. aSa’s fifth generation product, a web-based suite of applications, is currently in development.
aSa’s longevity is not just due to technological innovation, although that has certainly been a key factor in the company’s success. The firm’s employee and customer focus has also helped aSa thrive, says Leib.
“When people ask what I do, and I tell them that I work in rebar software, I always add: thankfully it’s much more interesting than it sounds. What’s made it interesting over the years is the relationships with our staff and customers. It makes my job really fun to be able to work with an amazing group of people in our office and customer locations. While we serve a small niche market, it’s terrific to be number one in that marketplace and viewed favorably by so many customers and industry colleagues,” he states.
In terms of software, aSa offers three product lines that touch on reinforcing systems, detailing, and business applications. On top of this, aSa distributes computer-aided design (CAD) software from Bentley Systems and accounting solutions from Sage software.
Rebar fabricators are the firm’s prime customers. “We work with companies that fabricate rebar, either for cast-in-place or precast concrete elements. Our applications are not used by the mills that actually produce the rebar itself, although some of our customers own mills,” explains Leib. “We get involved after the steel has been made and the fabricators need to estimate how much steel is required for a building, bridge, or project. If they win the job, they use our CAD software to produce drawings for the ironworkers to place the steel at the job site. Then we have reinforcing software to help fabricate the steel efficiently and then ship it. We also have business solutions that do all the contract management, inventory, and invoicing for the project.”
Right from the beginning, the company’s focus was on rebar. Scott’s father, Jim Leib, “worked for US Steel and was involved in developing a computer algorithm to optimize the efficient cutting of rebar so that production rates would be good and scrap would be minimized. This was his first innovation involving computers, and he really liked it,” Leib says.
“Ultimately my father left US Steel to work for a consulting company but then decided to start his own business. Because he knew about the rebar industry, he wrote to the largest rebar fabricators in the U.S. at the time to see if anyone would hire him to develop a shearing optimization program to cut rebar. One company said yes, so that was our first customer. The company was Florida Steel, in Tampa, Florida. That was in 1969. We’ve been focused on rebar software ever since,” states Leib.
There have been some detours along the way. “Early in the company’s history, aSa also developed applications for other markets. We did an inventory program for a shoe store. We developed a series of applications for a chain of barber shops. We wrote software for a real estate company to manage their apartment buildings, apartment vacancies, and who was delinquent on their rent. But in the late 1970s, we decided to focus completely on the rebar industry, and we phased out the other products,” continues Leib.
Vice President of Operations Mitchell Leib is Scott’s brother and has been with the firm over thirty years. Their father, Jim, is still involved with the company.
aSa employs roughly seventy people around the world. Similar to Scott and Mitch, all members of the executive management team, including Vice President of Software Development Cathy Friend, Vice President of Business Development Tim Berg, and Vice President of Consulting Services David Grundler, began their careers in product development and have been with the firm since the 1980s.
Such loyalty is due in part to the supportive, family atmosphere at aSa. This environment was first encouraged by Jim Leib in the firm’s early days. aSa hosts picnics and events for staff, provides daily free breakfasts and snacks, and offers workplace showers for staff who exercise during their lunch break. Employees also have flexible hours with input in arranging their own schedules.
aSa has a global presence, with representatives in South America, Europe, India, the Middle East, and Australia. aSa software is available in multiple languages, including English, Spanish, French, German, Polish, and Portuguese.
The company is also a gold certified partner with Microsoft which means, “We have specific certifications demonstrating that our products are compliant with the Windows operating system. We also use many Microsoft software tools to develop our own product,” Leib continues.
The company does not just make and sell software; it also offers servers, workstations, notebook PCs, printers, scanners, industrial controls, business forms, and supplies. aSa staff often travel to the customer’s workplace to handle initial implementation and software training. “Other follow-up services can be provided from our main office,” explains Leib. aSa also operates a training center at its headquarters where customers can receive additional instruction and updates.
In addition to embracing new technology, the company has also adopted new workplace procedures. At first, developers had to design, create, and test software, do on-site implementation and training, then offer post-sale support over the phone.
“As the company grew, we outgrew that model. Now, we have a specific department that helps design and develop software, we have a separate quality assurance group to do testing, and we have another group that does the implementation, training, and continuing support,” states Leib.
The company’s high-end products have been featured in several high-profile jobs. “There are so many different projects where our software has been used – from roller coasters at Kennywood Park to sports facilities like Heinz Field, PNC Park, and AT&T Stadium, to the Pentagon repair after September 11. Those are just some examples in the U.S. We have also worked on projects throughout Canada and worldwide,” says Leib.
Located near Pittsburgh, Kennywood is one of the oldest amusement parks in America. Heinz Field is a sports stadium that plays host to the Pittsburgh Steelers and University of Pittsburgh Panther football teams. PNC Park is a baseball stadium where the Pittsburgh Pirates play. AT&T Stadium is the home of the Dallas Cowboys football team.
The company belongs to several trade associations, including the Concrete Reinforcing Steel Institute, the American Concrete Institute, the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute, the National Precast Concrete Association, the Associated General Contractors of America, and the Steel Reinforcement Institute of Australia. aSa also routinely takes part in trade shows, particularly the World of Concrete event, which is usually held in Las Vegas, and the Precast Show. This past March, the company exhibited at a trade show in Dubai. Leib expects the firm will take part in the next Bauma trade show, an international gathering held in Munich, Germany every three years for people in the construction, building, and mining sectors.
The company has a social media presence on LinkedIn, YouTube, and Facebook as well, but relies on “word-of-mouth, from customers happy with our products,” for much of its main promotion, says Leib.
Every two years, aSa hosts a software forum in Pittsburgh where the company instructs customers on new product features and solicits requests and feedback. “We’ve been doing this kind of meeting since 1971. It’s an important vehicle for us to communicate with customers, where we have learning sessions about aSa software, demonstrate the newest release, and gather feedback about our software. aSa will celebrate its 50th anniversary at the next aSa forum, ‘Bridge to the Future,’ which is planned for March 19 to 21, 2019,” states Leib.
At present, much of what aSa does is focused on steel-reinforced concrete construction. The company is working to enhance its products to serve the unique needs of precast concrete producers as well. Another big project involves mobile applications. The firm is developing a mobile app that concrete contractors will use to assist in reinforcing steel identification, installation, and inspection.
Over the next few years, Leib envisions that the company will, “continue to expand our market share in North America. We also have plans to continue growing worldwide. Currently, our global expansion has been in South America, the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Middle East, India, Australia, and New Zealand. We’re also looking to expand into other markets in East Asia to increase our market share worldwide. I see continued growth in our traditional rebar fabrication sector plus some growth into new areas like precast and concrete contractors to broaden our reach into other related markets.”
Leib reflects on aSa’s legacy. When the company first started, the staff used hand-coded forms, punch cards, and gigantic mainframe computer systems. By contrast, the company’s upcoming fifth-generation product is “a web-based, cloud-based system that will work from a browser,” notes Leib. The new software package, “aSa Studio,” is scheduled for release later this year.
He adds, “We are never satisfied with the status quo. Our development team is always looking at new ways to improve aSa products with the ultimate goal of helping our customers run their businesses better.”