DIVDAT: Pivoting Into a New Generation of Data Processing
Forty years ago, Al Bierkle, a salesman at Kelly Services, and Bill Bierkle, an IT employee at Chrysler, saw the future of data processing: bulky yet powerful machines that could perform tasks far more efficiently than humans could.
Mainframe computers were starting increase in popularity, so the Bierkle brothers plunked down $1,200 a month to lease an IBM 360 that took up half the building. They made the investment because they realized that smaller companies would soon be priced out of the technology that was revolutionizing payroll, bill payment, and other data-processing functions that all businesses must tackle.
The Bierkles formed DIVDAT—short for “diversified data”—a Ferndale, MI-based one-stop shop for multi-platform communications that primarily serviced companies in the auto industry, at least for the first decade of its operation. Today, DIVDAT has around 60 employees in Ferndale and Las Vegas, as well as sales offices in four other states. The family-owned company continues to thrive, says president and CEO Jason Bierkle (son of Al), because of its ability to pivot and implement the newest techologies, much like the company founders did in 1971.
“As our culture adopts different ways to communicate, we’re bolting onto whatever technology comes our way,” Jason says, adding that DIVDAT has managed to hold onto customers through the years thanks to its ability to be nimble and communicate with its customers’ customers through whichever channel is preferred, be it mail, phone, or Internet. “We’re using the same data from 1971 and leveraging it to push it through the Internet, text messages, email, Interactive Voice Response, mail, kiosks—that’s the beauty of our model. Our clients only need a single vendor to get connectivity across contemporary formats.”
DIVDAT started out as mainly a print and mail-order business with a large clientele of auto suppliers. As postage costs rose, DIVDAT hedged itself by exploring new channels in which to communicate with clients’ customers. Now, Jason says the company’s three main verticles are the insurance industry, healthcare companies, and utilities.
DIVDAT’s latest pivot is meant to accommodate people who want to pay their bills in cash. This summer, the company is planning to announce a first-of-its kind deal with two other Michigan companies, one of which is bringing resources back from India, to partner on kiosks that will accept cash payments at grocery stores other locations across the state.
“We’re thriving in a changing environment because of our technology in a town that’s not traditionally known for its technology,” Jason says. “Now we’re starting to get the resources around us that will help us grow our business even more.”
Hayley Bierkle, Bill’s daugher, is in the process of moving back to metro Detroit from Chicago to help her family’s company transition to its next stages. She echoes Jason’s philosophy about scalability: “One challenge we face is where to focus. For instance, in healthcare, we see an amazing opportunity as patients become more like consumers. As they’re shopping around, their bills are becoming more confusing. We see a need to help communicate that billing information in a less confusing way.”
Hayley also wants DIVDAT to build out its software platform to help hospitals manage their revenue cycles and stay on top of debt collection. The key to the company’s success is its flexibility, the Bierkles emphasize, and as long as they continue to adapt to the technology that consumers demand, the channels in which they choose to deliver service are immaterial.
“The benefit of being here 40 years is that we’ve really honed the data,” Hayley adds. “We’ve been doing this since before the word data really meant anything. It’s been pretty seamless.”