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Software consulting firm Summa adding workers as client base grows

| Monday, Jan. 13, 2014, 11:45 p.m.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Audrey Dunning (left) CEO of Summa Technologies Inc., talks with Amanda O'Keefe, Salesforce.com technical consultant, on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, in Pittsburgh.

Summa Technologies Inc. expects revenue to grow by 25 percent this year as the software consulting company expands its services beyond Western Pennsylvania.

Founded in 1996, Summa primarily worked with large Pittsburgh companies and institutions in its first dozen years of business and counts glass and coatings giant PPG Industries Inc. and Carnegie Mellon University as clients.

But CEO Audrey Dunning said she has more recently focused on winning business in mid-Atlantic cities such as Baltimore, Washington, and Philadelphia as a way to boost growth.

“It's been a measured and concerted effort to grow the company,” Dunning said this month during an interview from Summa's headquarters in the historic Ewart Building on Liberty Avenue, Downtown.

Dunning took over in 2007 from founder Ed Engler, who is managing partner of Pittsburgh Equity Partners, a private equity firm that invests in early-stage technology companies.

Dunning's efforts are paying off, she said. The privately and closely held company doesn't release revenue or profit figures. But Dunning said Summa added 70 employees in the past year to support its growth, bringing its workforce to 170 people. And it expects to add 30 this year, she said.

Inc. magazine last year included Summa on its annual list of the 5,000 fastest-growing private companies in the United States. The magazine said Summa grew sales by 152 percent over the past three years.

It's given the company a solid financial position. Dunning said Summa is funding its expansion, as well as a pair of acquisitions in the past three years, without borrowing or seeking outside investors.

In 2010, Summa acquired HarvestGold, a Westmoreland County-based company that set up customer-relationship-management software systems at large companies, including health insurer Highmark Inc. The cost of the deal was not disclosed.

A year later, Summa bought LotterShelly, an East Liberty software design studio, for an undisclosed price.

Summa primarily works with companies in manufacturing, health care, retail, financial services and education that are seeking “more creative ways to connect with their customers,” Dunning said.

In the case of PPG Industries, that meant formulating a digital tool that could help consumers shop for paint colors, Dunning said. The online application, which has been carried over into a mobile application, allows shoppers to upload pictures of the room they want to paint and see how various paint colors would look on the walls.

Summa not only helped PPG figure out which systems and applications would be most useful, but developed the customized software behind the paint-selection app, Dunning said.

“We can tell you how to do it and then go build it for you,” she said.

PPG praised Summa's work on the paint project and others, according to a company statement: “Summa has been a great partner in some of our most innovative IT initiatives at PPG.”

For CMU, Summa rebuilt its student-information system, what Dunning called the “guts” of the university's I.T., to make it more consumer-friendly.

While CMU is known for producing top computer-technology talent and has developed many systems internally, Dunning said CMU needed an outside company to focus exclusively on such an important system.

“We're often working on the most mission-critical business systems at any company,” she said.

Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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