Stepping out of the comfort zone is a difficult step for any VAR. For ICONN Computer Services, however, adding mass storage products to its content management repertoire was worth the risk.
What would you do if you showed up for work one day, and your employer was no longer in business? That's what happened to Scott Saunders, president and CEO of ICONN Computer Services (Plainville, CT). In 1993, Saunders was a tech services manager for a document imaging company called Opti-Graphics Imaging when it suddenly ceased operations. The closing on his new home was only five days away, and he was concerned about his personal finances.
Saunders wasn't the only one left hanging by this business failure. Opti-Graphics had been an IBM Business Partner, and many of its customers were in the middle of IBM document imaging installations. Fortunately for those customers and for Saunders, the company's IBM representatives knew Saunders' home telephone number.
"IBM told me if I incorporated, they would give me all the work that Opti-Graphics had left," said Saunders. "Three days later, I was incorporated, IBM handed me a nice check, and I've been in business ever since."
Optical Storage As Scanning Complement
ICONN Computer Services has grown to 14 employees today. Saunders bought out his original partner and now has a new one, Andrea Saunders. She serves as treasurer for the company and is also his wife.
ICONN Computer Services is now an IBM Advanced Business Partner and has also expanded its solutions to include a service bureau, in addition to developing its own software product. The service bureau scans documents, indexes them, stores them on CDs or DVDs, and delivers them to the customer along with ICONN's document/content management software called ICSImage, which is used as a viewer.
When Saunders started the service bureau portion of his business, he had to determine the best way to manage his scanning workforce. He offers these employees the option of working at home. They pick up the documents, take them home, scan them on ICONN-issued scanners, and transmit the images back to the office over the Internet. Once ICONN receives the electronic images, they are stored on CDs or DVDs.
Whether his customers receive their images on CDs or DVDs from ICONN's service bureau or scan them themselves, Saunders recognizes the opportunity in associated mass storage solutions. By developing his own document and content management software, which includes QStar's HSM (hierarchical storage manager) software and by selling CD/DVD jukeboxes from Hewlett-Packard to his customers, Saunders doesn't leave money on the table for a competitor to run away with.
Custom Software Price Attracts Customers
You may ask why Saunders would write his own document/content management software when he could just resell a major vendor's product. Of course, that is the difference between a box mover and a VAR or integrator. Rather than just reselling the vendors' software products as is, Saunders added value to several vendors' software, including Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, and Eastman. He rounded out his own software with an HSM software product from QStar. Even though he's proficient in more than 20 programming languages, it still took him nine months to take the product halfway. After he got the product to a certain point, he turned it over to his engineers, and in another six months the product was ready for sale. Surprisingly, Saunders did not have to add any additional staff to handle the programming project.
In order to start selling ICSImage, Saunders had to embark on a marketing campaign. Though he didn't have a marketing person and still doesn't, ICONN bought some print advertising and mailing lists and also created a brochure. During this time, Saunders hired an additional salesperson. After a couple of major sales, the company started to realize a profit from its new software product in only four months.
Saunders said a major advantage of his product is that it can be used with any type of database, such as Microsoft SQL server, Oracle, or DB2, whereas other types of document/content management software are proprietary. And at $7,000 for the server component, it sells for half the cost of its competitors.
Since his software is less expensive than its peers, he can save his customers money in document management installations, making sales easier. He sells ICSImage to his service bureau customers, but he would like to sell more full installations of the product and related components, like Kofax capture software, Fujitsu scanners, and Hewlett-Packard CD/DVD jukeboxes. "In a full installation, there's more training and custom programming involved," said Saunders.
Sit Down And Watch The Customer
To pitch its document/content management solutions - including the ICSImage software - to its customers, ICONN analyzes its customer's document environment and identifies the point at which his solution can relieve the customer's pain. Saunders said it is essential to know why customers need to retrieve documents and how quickly they need to be able to access the information. "Sometimes we go into the customer's site and just watch the people for half a day," said Saunders. "We then identify the technologies that will best address their needs."
Also important is knowing who the decision makers are. In his experience, the CIO reports to the CFO, and they make a joint decision. Knowing what to expect in terms of sales cycle is important too. "Manufacturing companies usually make quick decisions, but healthcare and municipalities take much longer," said Saunders. "Some customers require a sales cycle of more than a year. They'll collect data in January for October's budget and don't plan to disburse funds until the following February."
Optical Saves Dollars And Space
No matter the type of customer, they all want to save money, according to Saunders. One of his customers, a large manufacturing firm, realized a payback period of only 10 months on an $800,000 system. A major factor in the swift payback period was reduced long distance telephone bills. With images stored on CDs, the 45 customer service representatives were able to resolve customer concerns during the same session in which the customer called in on the company's 800 number. The representatives were able to fax out copies or e-mail documents without getting up from their desks or having to return a phone call.
Storing images on CDs also saves ICONN's customers the expense associated with real estate square footage. "We had a customer in Massachusetts that bought an entire building to store 40 years' worth of documents," said Saunders. "They had expensive communications lines running from their main facility to the storage facility, and people had to travel back and forth between the two. Employees would dig through boxes to find documents. That customer spent all last year imaging those 40 years' worth of records and is now able to sell the building."
Saving his customers time, space, and money are Saunders' biggest value adds. As for future goals, he has plenty. "Although we were founded as a content management organization, we'll take on any project, including supply chain management or point of sale solutions." Saunders is becoming stronger in the mass storage arena as well, even providing storage area network solutions for his customers. Nine years after losing his job and gaining a business, Saunders has taken his company from a two-person regional operation to national solution provider status. Taking control of a situation that seemed out of his control and acting quickly on an opportunity created ICONN Computer Services, a company that will likely keep its doors open for a long time.