Twelve years ago, Tom Barnes purchased thin plywood boards from a local home improvement store to serve as “poor man’s whiteboards” in the guest room of his Matthews home. He and his first two team members looked for clients during the day, while he coded the initial version of global trade software at night. Those were the humble beginnings of Integration Point, a global trade management firm now employing over 500.
Today, there is a bank of flat-screen monitors across the wall in the two-story Integration Point office off Providence Road. The screens track trade activity across the world, along with server data and a multitude of global information.
Integration Point now has offices in six continents and manages trade in 167 countries.
“There are many disparate solutions across the world today. My goal was to change all that,” he says of his start in 2002.
“Trade programs in different parts of the world vary dramatically,” explains Barnes, “and corporations need one platform to facilitate the management of their trade programs efficiently. We bring those capabilities together on one platform.”
Building software on a single, Web-based platform, Integration Point allows organizations to manage trade programs and comply with global regulatory requirements while improving visibility and realizing savings. The company also provides solutions for import/export management, supply chain security, entry validation, denied party screening, product classification, free trade agreement qualification, foreign-trade zones, and global duty deferral program management.
“We have an opportunity to redefine global trade,” says founder and CEO Barnes, 46. “Some think of our business as software, but we are also involved in updating regulatory content. This, combined with the connectivity to supply chain partners and government entities across the world on one platform, provides the opportunity to help mold our industry.”
Integration Point operates globally, not locally or regionally, so Barnes had his choice of great places to establish the company headquarters. “Charlotte offers the perfect environment both from a corporate and family perspective,” Barnes affirms.
Although born in Mexico City, Barnes had lived in Texas, the Midwest and North Carolina. He graduated from East Gaston High School in Mount Holly. He went on to graduate from the University of South Carolina in Columbia, working on two degrees: management science and business economics.
While living in Texas in 1993, Barnes was impressed with an uptick in growth and business in Charlotte. He kept in touch with his former home via The Charlotte Observer and had kept tabs on the employment classifieds.
Speaking of his wife, Barnes says, “We both had job interviews there on the same day, flew up on the same day, and got job offers the same day. So we moved to Charlotte, deciding it was meant to be.”
Barnes started his career as a software developer in Mexico, designing international trade systems at different consulting firms, and managing systems for a global manufacturing company.
“I’ve always had one foot in the IT world and another in international trade,” he remarks.
In 2002, he said to his wife, “I have a good idea for a business, so let’s take our life savings and invest in a company that can offer one trade platform for global needs.”
“Luckily she agreed,” he says with a laugh, and they found a new use for their spare bedroom.
Barnes then set to work forming a core team. “I thought of everyone I knew—the best of the best,” he says.
“That’s important,” offers Clay Perry, senior vice president of global markets, who was also the second employee of the company. “We know a company like this is only good as the team.”
Making It Connective
Barnes emphasizes: “Economies change. Governments enact new regulations. Trade channels are updated. Supply chain partners alter services or products. Regardless of the country or year, global trade is always dynamic.”
It’s those factors that drive him and the team at Integration Point to provide a central platform for importers and exporters.
“What a client needs for Brazilian imports and what a client needs for Asian fair trade agreements is completely different,” says Barnes “Our platform is multilingual and supports all languages. We manage the regulations for 167 countries on a daily basis. Every company has its unique aspects to global trade and that goes with political regimes and economies. That’s why they need us even more to help keep track of this.”
Barnes continues, “Integration Point is architected to satisfy the needs of customers to implement modules as required, on a functional, geographic and corporate basis. This enables them to pay for and use the capabilities required across the enterprises on a country-by-country basis.”
Barnes says his goal from the beginning was to create a tool to give companies the visibility and the necessary regulatory information to facilitate compliance.
“Even if you are an expert on exports in the U.S., you don’t know all the regulations for Japan, Brazil or Australia. There are big discrepancies throughout the world,” says Barnes from firsthand knowledge.
Integration Point created and now maintains a single, Web-based platform that allows organizations to manage trade programs and comply with global regulatory requirements while improving visibility and realizing savings.
Barnes’ company provides solutions for: import/export management, supply chain security, entry validation, denied party screening, product classification, free trade agreement qualification, foreign-trade zones, and global duty deferral program management.
“The platform is cloud-based. Our clients are processing off our server and all are on same code-base. It’s highly configurable,” he says. “We configure our technology to meet their needs. We must understand their business very closely.
“To do that, we have to maintain a talent pool like no other, as well as the ability to stay on top of global trade on a daily basis,” he notes.
“To qualify for a free trade agreement you must be able to show where every component comes from and account for that to save duty,” he says. “Our objective is to expand our global footprint and associated solutions to meet the needs of our global clients no matter what. It’s a big world.”
He notes that the company’s very first client—a large global 200 company—still works with Integration Point. Integration Point also does quite a bit of work for large logistics providers. Their roster of clients includes large petroleum companies, electronic providers, recognizable retail names and pharmaceutical giants.
Barnes insists on high standards in the company’s hiring and exposes employees to a rigorous training program. He believes that Charlotte has a great talent pool—recruiting from regional universities that include USC, UNC Charlotte, Western Carolina, Winthrop, and Clemson.
Customs and Customization
In addition to offering a global trade management solution, Integration Point also works closely with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the largest federal law enforcement agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland, charged with regulating and facilitating international trade, collecting import duties, and enforcing U.S. regulations, including trade, customs, and immigration.
Melissa Irmen, senior vice president of products and strategy, works for Integration Point remotely from her northern Virginia home. That way, she says, she’s closer to Washington, D.C. and in tune with ever-changing regulations from the customs and border agency.
“CBP is going through a complete systems overhaul right now,” she says. “With new software development, they have a process of asking for information from the trade to help them build better systems. We spend a lot of time in interaction with CBP.”
Irmen, a self-described “trade geek,” says it’s work that she truly likes.
“I really enjoy my role as a government liaison. I’m contributing not only regulatory processes here but also trade everywhere,” she says. “Being able to deliver something to someone to help them leverage their business, I think that’s really exciting.”
“We have locations in every major continent and personnel all around the globe—China, Mexico, Australia, India, Brazil, Belgium and more. Our goal is to focus and to have a localized presence in areas of high activity so that we have the knowledge and the scope of what’s in each country,” she says.
She describes Integration Point’s product as a forever-growing platform with multiple functions and easy accessibility.
“Perhaps all you need to do is denied party screening for your exports and you can purchase just that piece of the software, and later you start importing and you need a tool to help to manage free trade agreement,” she says.
“If you are exporting you are required to screen all of the people that you send your exports. That’s one of the functionalities of the platform. If you are importing, you are required to file with the U.S. CBP, and the platform does that as well. We also offer trade programs to improve your competiveness.”
“The key takeaway is that everyone exporting and importing needs to do these things and we make it simpler, faster and more cost effective to do so,” Irmen says.
Because of Integration Point’s involvement in community and regulatory agencies around the world, they are often recognized by trade organizations and industry magazines. In July, customers nominated the company to receive the designation of “Great Supply Chain Partner” for 2014 by SupplyChainBrain, a popular trade magazine.
“It is always a compliment and huge honor when your customers take the time to point out how much they enjoy working with you, how much your solutions assist their operations, and the savings opportunities that are realized,” says Jeff McCauley, vice president of global accounts at Integration Point.
Barnes says Integration Point’s software product, its diversity, ability to be configured and keeping in touch with government customs agencies is working. “We’ve been profitable from day one.”
He points out that the company’s software pieces can be tailored to meet the needs of customers quickly.
“We have over one million regulatory controls in our content base and, wherever you are, you need to understand the rules and regulations and we give you the tools to do that,” he says. “We have different competitors across different geographies and trade programs. The difference is that our one platform meets all those needs and provides visibility globally.”
Barnes says he sees a future full of opportunity. He is positive that Integration Point is meeting the needs of the global trading industry. “My goal is to build the network of global trade,” he says. “We are in the position to define an industry. Very few people have that opportunity.