Transtector Reins in Printing with a Shared, Consolidated Solution from Ricoh and IKON

Brian BradburyThey were spending a significant amount of money on toner cartridges, repairs and buying the actual printers.
– Brian Bradbury, Business Partner in IT organization at Smiths Group

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A Proliferation of Printers

At Transtector headquarters in Hayden Lake, Idaho, print devices were numerous and abundant. “We had 76 different print devices at this location,” said Brian Bradbury, Business Partner in the IT organization at Smiths Group, Transtector’s parent company. “It was a wide variety of items, from laser printers to scanners, fax machines to desktop printers. There must have been six or eight different brand names and as many as forty or fifty different models of devices. So you can imagine what it was like to try to keep track of the toner cartridges and repairs of those devices as they needed assistance.”

Transtector Systems is a manufacturer of power protection products, including signal protection, EMP/EMI filters, power distribution units (PDU) and uninterruptible power supplies (UPS). Transtector is a subsidiary of Smiths Group, a global technology conglomerate based in London, England, that operates in more than 50 countries.  Smiths’ annual revenue is $7 billion, and Transtector represents $80 million of that amount.

A proliferation of printers is common in enterprises, especially when purchasing decisions are decentralized. You can imagine how it might happen: The sales team decides to buy inkjet printers for their desks. The accounting department has its own laser printer, and accounts receivable and accounts payable each have dedicated fax machines. Marketing invests in a scanner and color laser printer. And so it goes until print devices are ubiquitous.

From the perspective of Transtector’s users, the situation seemed to work well. The company had an agreement with a VAR to receive discounted pricing for top-model, brand-name printers. When printer ink ran low, employees used an expense report to buy new cartridges, and when a print device wore out, they bought a new one. This ad hoc approach met their basic printing needs.

“It is only when you reviewed the costs from the top-down that you see the impact to the overall organization,” noted Bradbury. “They were spending a significant amount of money on toner cartridges, repairs and buying the actual printers.”

Shared, Consolidated Printing Solution on Lease

As a member of Smiths centralized IT organization, Bradbury’s job was to present corporate best practices and special pricing agreements to Transtector and help manage implementations. Smiths had negotiated a contract with the printer manufacturer Ricoh to visit Smiths’ portfolio companies, review their printer needs and spending and supply consolidated printing “kits” on lease that would deliver hard savings. The kits included Ricoh Aficio multi-function printers as well as ongoing equipment maintenance and toner.

All I do is buy the paper and pay the use fee on the lease, and it saves five thousand dollars a month as we move forward.
– Brian Bradbury

A team from IKON, Ricoh’s document management subsidiary, performed an assessment of Transtector and proposed a kit that would consolidate print devices dramatically. Transtector approved it and the new solution was rolled out. “We ended up with 12 devices instead of 76. They are multi-function devices placed strategically throughout our facility. I don’t maintain it. All I do is buy the paper and pay the use fee on the lease, and it saves five thousand dollars a month as we move forward,” said Bradbury.

As part of the maintenance process, IKON monitored printer usage and performance. Their technicians noticed that 3 of the 12 devices were outputting higher than anticipated print counts. So IKON swapped them out for larger models that could maintain higher levels of printing without overtaxing the equipment. “They do a fantastic job of maintaining the process, reviewing it and making sure each location has the equipment necessary for the particular demand,” he said.

Everyone Pleased, Eventually

Transtector executives and financial staff were pleased with the $5,000 monthly savings and positive contribution to profit margins, though users initially had difficulty seeing the value of removing the printers from their desk or immediate work area and putting one 20 feet down the hall. It just seemed inconvenient. However, they eventually warmed up to the value of higher availability and faster repair times. If a print device had a problem, users no longer had to roll up their sleeves and try to troubleshoot it. Instead they submitted a helpdesk ticket and Ricoh/IKON technicians took care of it. They could send print jobs to next closest printer in the meantime. After a few months of experiencing the consistency and low hassle of a shared and externally-maintained printing solution, users also felt positive about it.

Successful IT projects like this also build credibility and make Bradbury’s job easier as he proposes new initiatives from Smiths’ IT organization. Winning acceptance for projects often requires overcoming people’s natural resistance to change. “As you have successes, as you show value, they start to believe your presentations back to the business, if you are consistent in delivery as projects move forward,” he said.

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 Copyright © 2011 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.

Grigg Brothers Turns to VOIP Service from ATC to Reduce Phone Costs and Improve Communication

I wanted to simplify the sheer number of points of contact and make it easier to communicate.
– Jared Grigg, Director of Communication and Information, Grigg Brothers

Toward a Streamlined Phone System

Grigg Brothers wanted to streamline and consolidate its corporate phone system. Its existing system was an assortment of phone lines and services for its headquarters and operational office in southern Idaho and seven branch offices around the U.S. Each office in Idaho supported several employees. Most of the branch offices where field technical reps were based had two phone lines – one for voice and another for fax – plus an Internet connection and mobile phone. “Communications and technology can be a big line item on the budget,” said Jared Grigg, Director of Communication and Information. “The reps were turning in expense reports with fax numbers and landlines and mobile lines, and I said, this is too much. This can be considerably more condensed. I wanted to simplify the sheer number of points of contact and make it easier to communicate.”

Grigg Brothers is a manufacturer and wholesaler of specialty fertilizers for the turf grass industry, including golf courses and sports fields. The company’s flagship products are liquid foliar fertilizers that are absorbed through the leaf tissue of a plant instead of through the roots. Nutrients applied in this way are almost fully absorbed, even during stressful times like summer heat, and create healthier turf. Grigg Brothers’ foliar fertilizers are also more environmentally friendly because they avoid toxic soil buildup, leaching and runoff.

In 2005, when Jared Grigg first started considering options for a new phone system, the owners of the company expressed skepticism about voice over IP (VOIP). They wondered whether it was mature and robust enough to support a business. Because of this and his prior experience managing a Nortel Meridian phone system, Grigg decided to focus more intently on traditional key telephone systems. He dialogued extensively with a local reseller, received several proposals and even proposed a system to the board of directors. The system offered greater flexibility and better features, but ultimately the directors turned it down because the cost was higher than what they were already paying and exceeded the technology budget.

Meanwhile VOIP technology was improving and gaining acceptance in the market. “I decided to look at the cloud again because more and more solutions were becoming available,” he said.

His first step was to deploy an Internet fax service. This service automatically converted incoming faxes to PDF format and sent them by email to the recipients. Everyone in the company received a new fax number. Technical reps who spent much of their time traveling could receive faxes immediately on their PC instead of waiting until they came back to the office. Outgoing faxes could be scanned in to a PC and emailed to the fax service for delivery. The electronic fax service cost considerably less than the dedicated fax lines it replaced.

A Serendipitous Opportunity

In 2007, ATC Communications, the Internet and phone service provider for Grigg Brothers headquarters, acquired a VOIP solution provider called Nextphone. Here Grigg saw an opportunity. One of his concerns with a VOIP solution was that if a problem arose, the VOIP provider might blame the Internet service provider and vice-versa, leaving the user caught in the middle. “If I went down this road, if I backed ATC with their new acquisition, then they would be responsible regardless of whether it was a phone problem or an Internet connectivity problem,” he said.

The ATC Nextphone service had the features they were looking for:

  • Hosted IP phone service that all offices around the U.S. could access over an Internet connection
  • Programmable “find me, follow me” feature for incoming calls that can, for instance, simultaneously ring a desk phone and cell phone, or one then the other, before going to voice mail
  • Four-digit dial connecting everyone in their geographically distributed organization as if they were in the same building
  • Internet fax service with solid features and technical support
  • Unified messaging that sends voice mails and faxes to a user’s email inbox
  • Conferencing capabilities so Grigg Brothers can set up and control its own conference calls
  • Web portal for centralized programming and administration
  • Automatic call routing to cell phones in case of local power outage
  • Significantly lower cost than their existing phone system

This set of capabilities combined with Grigg Brothers’ established relationship with ATC made it attractive. “It was the perfect solution,” said Grigg. The company deployed Nextphone across all its locations. Branch offices received Linksys PAP2T Internet Phone Adapters. To access the new phone service, they only needed to connect the adapter to the Internet and plug in any standard telephone handset. If a technical rep preferred to rely exclusively on a cell phone, the system could be programmed to route all incoming calls there. The company also standardized on Google Apps Premier, so users can access email, voice mail and faxes anywhere using a Web browser.

Headquarters initially experienced intermittent call quality problems, much to Grigg’s chagrin, though his strategy of using the same VOIP and Internet service provider proved advantageous. Grigg was concerned that VOIP would get a black eye because the owners were already apprehensive. But he believed the hosted service was solid and worked with ATC to address the underlying network quality issue. While on the verge of deploying a second DSL at headquarters and a dedicated switch for the phone system, ATC offered to try boosting the bandwidth of the existing Internet connection. “It automatically improved. I have not had a single problem since the day they did that,” he said.

In my twenty plus years of doing this, I have never been more synchronized across all platforms.”
– Jared Grigg

Less Costly and Easier to Support

As a result of switching to VOIP, overall communication costs fell by more than 40% in the first 12 months and have remained level. At the same time, the company streamlined the number of phone lines and points of contact and improved its ability to communicate and collaborate.

Grigg is also pleased that he spends much less time supporting this new phone system. He uses the Nextphone web portal to handle routine administration and support requests. In fact, the company’s entire IT infrastructure is set up for centralized, remote administration. “In my office I have several computers and monitors in a semicircle around me, and I am remotely connected to every single asset in the company – all desktop computers, all laptops and even some cell phones as we move to smarter phones. In my twenty plus years of doing this, I have never been more synchronized across all platforms,” he said.

Soft Phones for International Roaming

More recently the company started using soft phones for placing calls when outside the U.S. to expensive international roaming charges. Soft phone software runs on PCs and smart phones such as iPhone and Android. It lets users place phone calls through that device over the Internet as if they were at their office desk. It is another way Grigg Brothers is using VOIP to keep down communication costs.

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 Copyright © 2011 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.

WTS Sets Itself Apart with Business Continuity Services

You can actually resume the business knowing that the data is accurate and it is functional the way it was prior to the event.
– Richard Dolewski, CTO and VP of Business Continuity Services, WTS

A Service Apart

How does a managed services provider set itself apart? For WTS, which has data centers in Seattle, WA, and Denver, CO, the answer is providing its clients a special competency in disaster recovery and business continuity. “WTS does the recovery on behalf of their customers, therefore relieving the customers of this burden, especially at a time when their staff may not be available,” said Richard Dolewski, Chief Technology Officer and VP of Business Continuity Services. “WTS delivers a repeatable recovery result every time. We value the cost of any business outage and utilize High Availability software to further eliminate planned outages.”

WTS is a managed services provider that emphasizes application hosting for Oracle JD Edwards software, though it provides other services such as disaster recovery and colocation services for iSeries (also known as IBM i, System i or AS/400), Windows and Linux platforms.

Dolewski continued, “A well planned deployment of infrastructure technology with clearly defined availability and recovery objectives can help ensure hardware failures and more serious disasters do not bring a business to its knees. A truly highly available infrastructure can be a revenue engine for our customers by always keeping the systems available to support their business requirements.”

“So we are shifting from traditional HA – which is passive, it’s after a bad event – to business continuity, which means keeping systems always available for our clients. With the clients that we service, it is all about eliminating their planned and unplanned outages. Now they see a value. They’re actually saying, wow, my systems are available so much more.”

Tape Is Not Enough

Prior to employing solutions from WTS, many clients used only tape backup systems to protect their data. When a disaster or system failure occurred, it typically took 24 or 48 hours to find the tapes, load data and restart the system. The data on the restored system was already a day behind because the last backup ran the night before. Therefore a tape-only approach meant a day or two of downtime plus losing a day’s worth of transactions and file updates. For many businesses, such recovery times and recovery points are no longer acceptable.

In one example, a transportation company with four or five distribution centers suffered an outage and had to recover from tape. The information in the recovered system was a day out of date and no longer represented the inventory status in their distribution network. So they did not know if a product had been shipped or billed and were forced to do an inventory recount. It was enough for them to realize tape is not enough.

A View to a Recovery

WTS uses proven, off-the-shelf replication technologies and a good high availability monitoring system to deliver recovery times of an hour or less and a recovery point of the last successful transaction. In the event of a disaster the actual recovery is performed by WTS staff. “We provide application recovery, which is business continuity. We have unbelievable JD Edwards staff here as well as engineers on the different platforms, so the application will be functional. If you have a disaster, you are in a crisis. Turning over a system that is, shall we say, less than credible, you have a second disaster waiting for you. So you want this to be application ready. You can actually resume the business knowing that the data is accurate and it is functional the way it was prior to the event,” he said.

WTS employs replication technologies from Vision Solutions, which includes the recent acquisition of Double-Take Software. Before deploying a technology in its data centers, WTS goes through a detailed proof of concept to make sure it meets all technical criteria. It selected iTERA and Mimix for iSeries platforms and Double-Take for Windows and Linux platforms. It considers them best-of-breed host-based solutions for replicating data in real time to a remote site, whether between WTS data centers or from client sites to WTS if they just need a recovery site. They support multiple operating systems in physical and virtual server environments.

Looking forward, WTS will continue to evolve its disaster recovery services. As a managed services provider, it views these stringent, application-level DR capabilities as a differentiator. “It is all about being prepared. Our job is to be prepared for the client,” said Dolewski.

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 Copyright © 2010 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.

It was a major win for the IT group in real­izing how we could help the company reduce cost while earning more respect from upper management.
– Rob Weis, CIO, North Wind

Interview with North Wind

Rob Weis, CIO of North Wind, discussed his company’s experience developing a portal and collaboration tool using Drupal with AIT Profiles.

Drupal is an open source content management platform. It offers a free software package for publishing, managing and organizing a wide variety of content on a website.

North Wind, an Alaska Native Corporation based in Idaho Falls, Idaho, provides environmental, engineering and construction services to governmental, commercial and industrial clients.

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AIT Profiles: Let’s go back prior to the installation. Tell us about the challenge your company was facing at the time.

Rob Weis: I noticed early on that our corporate intranet was a mess. It was running on a free version of SharePoint that was outdated, unpatched and living on the DMZ. All the while, it was completely accessible to anybody on the planet if you could get past the basic NT authentication. The intranet contained sensitive data about many government projects. This became a major security concern for the company and we decided it was time to look at a full upgrade and moving this system inside our network.

AIT Profiles: And how did you go about looking for a solution?

Rob Weis: We carefully evaluated our upgrade options by evaluating several COTS (commercial off the shelf) vendors, the latest version of SharePoint Enterprise edition and the option to develop the system in-house. Our criteria for selection were based on cost, flexibility, user interface and integration with legacy systems.

AIT Profiles: What did you select?

Rob Weis: We decided to leverage our internal software engineering team’s expertise. The team and I believed there was a huge potential for major cost savings in attempting to reproduce SharePoint, function by function. The new project was now on the high priority list and was rebranded with the name “Portal.”

North Wind had previously adopted an open source content management system, called Drupal, for several scientific applications and project collaboration websites with great success. The first appeal in using Drupal for our scientific applications was the insanely rapid application development it offered. Often times we had a working prototype for our customer by the close of business on the same day! For our new Portal intranet, we looked at this and said, “Let’s see how far we can get in 24 work hours of development before we commit fully.” After about 24 hours of work, it was pretty shocking that we had replicated a significant portion of SharePoint functionality. This gave us a confidence boost to move forward with Drupal. However, there was a lot of work to do in terms of higher hanging fruits and a fairly large data migration/cleanup.

AIT Profiles: Beyond cost savings, did you see other benefits to using Drupal?

Rob Weis: The other appeal I saw for the team to leverage Drupal is it would be a great way to invest in our own team to learn more about the software. It meant discovering new modules, integrating with Active Directory LDAP and other systems, building SharePoint equivalent functionality and finding solutions to a slew of other challenges. All of which, we could use in the future for our other Drupal installations for our customers without needing to charge them a dime to spin up for the knowledge.

AIT Profiles: So how did the Portal project turn out?

Rob Weis: When the Portal launched to the company and the project was completed, we estimated the labor cost of the project and believed we had broken even in labor cost compared to purchasing SharePoint Enterprise for one year of licensing. It may not sound like much, but the SharePoint software would have cost each year what it took to build the Portal once. Additionally, we now had the internal capability to say “Yes, we can add that feature,” instead of the previous answer “No, we’re not sure how to do that.”

Shortly after the launch of our newly launched “Portal,” we had a request come in from our CFO to automate our pay stub system. It was a manual printing process that was very costly. We did an analysis and the current process was costing about $80,000 over 5 years in time and materials. We added a small piece of custom functionality to the Portal user profiles that would connect to our accounting system and display pay stubs to the user. This small feature amounted to a savings of approximately $70,000 over 5 years! This alone paid for a significant chunk of the Portal development costs. It was a major win for the IT group in realizing how we could help the company reduce cost while earning more respect from upper management.  It was at about this time that the team and I recognized we had made the right technology decision. The investment was already paying itself back and we had just begun!

AIT Profiles: That’s a big savings. And how has the Portal affected your organization?

Rob Weis: With the new Portal system, we’ve had a completely new cultural experience for the company. The news is up to date, employee hires are immediately in the directory, and each division and employee has their own page with useful information for everyone. The Portal has features like: search, calendar, classifieds, reservation system (conference rooms, vehicles, GPS tools, drilling rigs, etc.), rotating graphics for seasons and special events (charity work, golf tournaments, etc.), profile self-marketing (resume, biography, etc,) and several other features to keep the content fresh and alive.  It’s hard to put a value on all these features and the cultural impact, but we’re betting that it may contribute to improved morale, less turnover, more involved and efficient employees, and better communication across the company.

AIT Profiles: Do you plan to build upon this system in the future?

Rob Weis: Our last major phase of the Portal project is currently underway. We’re on the cusp of launching a collaboration system for corporate groups and projects. We’ve been beta testing with several internal teams and have had success in using a software add-on for Drupal called Open Atrium. The collaboration pieces and the several other “wish list” enhancements to the Portal are sure to make a major impact to the company over the next several years. We’re helping our software development team grow with Drupal, our employees to be more efficient and excited about technology, improving our security and reducing costs to make our rates more competitive.

AIT Profiles: It sounds like developing the Portal with Drupal open source software has been a good experience. Do you have any final thoughts or advice for our readers?

Rob Weis: If you haven’t considered open source in the past, now’s the time to take a deeper look at what might be possible for you or your company.

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 Copyright © 2010 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.

Chugach Electric Gets Control of Spreadsheets for SOX Compliance with Brainloop Secure Dataroom

Most organizations don’t have any of those standard controls in place around spreadsheets, and Chugach was no different.”
– Cheryl Klein, Founder and Principal Consultant, GRC Consulting Services

Spreadsheets out of Control

Chugach Electric Association needed to get its Excel spreadsheets under control for compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) regulations. “A lot of organizations have issues with Excel spreadsheets,” said Cheryl Klein, founder and principal consultant of GRC Consulting Services. “The most often-used financial application for tracking, accounting and reporting is Excel. Unfortunately there are very few controls around anything within Excel to ensure that the information is valid, that it is correct, that it reports correctly, that someone hasn’t made a change inadvertently… Generally speaking most organizations don’t have any of those standard controls in place around spreadsheets, and Chugach was no different.”

Chugach Electric, headquartered in Anchorage, Alaska, is the largest producer and distributor of electricity in the state. It is a member-owned cooperative and therefore a private organization, though it had taken on a public debt which required it to comply with federal financial regulations, including SOX.

To bring the organization into compliance, Chugach Electric enlisted an outside consultancy, Certified Security Solutions. Cheryl Klein was the lead consultant for this project. She assembled a team of IT and financial professionals to implement the proper controls and processes for SOX compliance, test them for effectiveness and interface with their external auditor KPMG. (Klein has since started her own company, GRC Consulting Services, which specializes in governance, risk and compliance initiatives.)

The proliferation of spreadsheets for financial reporting was a major issue. By scanning the file server for last-modified dates at the end of the quarter, they were able to determine which spreadsheets were used in financial reporting. “We tested and validated the functionality of each one of those spreadsheets to ensure that all the formulas were being called correctly, the summations used the right ranges… So we knew that those were the key spreadsheets, tested and signed off,” said Klein.

From that point, they looked for a way to secure the spreadsheets by limiting access only to authorized individuals and creating an audit trail around journal entries and approvals. As a midsized organization, Chugach Electric did not have the time or resources to deploy a comprehensive enterprise resource planning (ERP) system such as SAP or Oracle. Instead they wanted a cost-effective, targeted solution that would enable them to achieve and maintain SOX compliance.

Brainloop Secure Dataroom for SOX Controls

Chugach Electric adopted Brainloop Secure Dataroom, a hosted service for managing and sharing confidential documents. It provides a secure, Web-based document repository with user authentication and access rights, a tamper-proof audit trail and collaboration tools. Chugach Electric used the Brainloop platform to establish controls around their financial spreadsheets.

Now they actually have a more streamlined workflow process that is better controlled than they did when just emailing spreadsheets back and forth.”
– Cheryl Klein, GRC Consulting Services

Klein continued, “The goal was to create efficient, repeatable processes for compliance. Because compliance with SOX is not a one-time thing – it’s every year you have to go through this. So the goal was to bring them to the point of initial compliance, and then a cost-effective, repeatable compliance process going forward. The use of Brainloop Secure Dataroom does both of those. We got them into compliance initially. And now they actually have a more streamlined workflow process that is better controlled than they did when just emailing spreadsheets back and forth.”

Time and Money Saved – Every Year

Reining in Excel spreadsheets closed major gap for SOX compliance. The Brainloop platform allowed Chugach Electric to achieve SOX compliance initially, as mandated by law, as well as to save time and money maintaining compliance going forward. SOX requires organizations to perform testing internally, in addition to the testing done by an external auditor. By establishing secure controls and processes around their financial spreadsheets, Chugach Electric and its auditor KPMG only have to confirm that the controls are in place and working instead of manually re-testing and re-validating the spreadsheets each quarter. This saves a tremendous amount of time and money in labor and consulting fees every year.

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 Copyright © 2010 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.

From Mail Order to the Internet – The Shoe Shack Builds a Growing Business Using StoresOnline

We spent some hours every week learning how to market our website. It paid off greatly for us.
– Bryan Castleman, Co-owner, The Shoe Shack

How to Build an E-commerce Website?

In 2003 the Shoe Shack was a small mail order shoe business when it decided to make the leap to the Internet. However its first online store was relatively unsuccessful. “We really weren’t getting any traffic or sales,” said Bryan Castleman, co-owner of the Shoe Shack. Not wanting to give up, he searched for a better way to build and market an e-commerce website.

Today the Shoe Shack sells shoes, work boots, western boots, military boots and other footwear online at discounted prices. Its main website is shoeshackonline.com, and it operates several related niche websites that include discountedboots.com, workbootsuperstore.com and militarybootpros.com. It also has a retail storefront at its building in Martin, Tennessee, though 95% of its sales volume comes via the Internet.

After its first attempt at creating an e-commerce website, Castleman attended a conference for StoresOnline, an Internet company that provides a structured platform and simplified, do-it-yourself approach for building e-commerce websites. “We went to StoresOnline and saw how easy it was to build a website. It was somewhat laid out for you already, but you could also do your own customization,” he said. StoresOnline provides templates that users can customize with text and graphics. It has software tools for managing websites, products, customers, email and order processing. “With some of the places where we had a website, Yahoo! being one of them, we had to pay a commission of our sales. StoresOnline doesn’t ask for a commission of sales online. They are more of an e-commerce platform that you build on.”

“Marketing was the one aspect that stood out,” continued Castleman. “StoresOnline compiles all that in a marketing database. And then they give you strategies on how to use them for your website – how to optimize your website by doing meta tags, key words, image tags, all kinds of things that go with Internet marketing. We spent some hours every week learning how to market our website. It paid off greatly for us. We were able to get it up and running.”

StoresOnline also hosts websites in its data center. “They host my website on their servers, which are backed up. You can host them other places, or if you want to host them yourself, you can. We haven’t had a problem with our site being down. They’re a good one to go with,” he said.

Profits and Growth by Doing It Yourself

Since that time the Shoe Shack has enjoyed solid growth. “Before then we were really a small business. My father was the only employee. Now we’ve grown and have eight full-time employees and several part-time employees that work during the busy seasons and Christmas. Last year we had a twenty percent growth overall in our company… Being able to sell more online has allowed us to get capital and to buy close-out items that we can sell on eBay and in our retail store,” said Castleman.

The guided, do-it-yourself approach has worked well for the company. “A lot of people like to do things themselves because it does pay off. This is a way you can learn how to market all your websites by following their strategies. StoresOnline has videos that show you how to work on your website, how to put products up, how to build a page, how to put links on your page, things like that. You might need them to help set up, but we pretty much do everything ourselves,” he said.

“That makes us a little bit more profitable. It allows us every now and then to discount items that other, bigger companies might not be able to do. We can put more money into marketing because we have our own in-house marketing company.”

A Bump in the Road

But the road to success was not without bumps along the way. An oversight cost them a significant volume of business in 2005, though they eventually recovered. The Shoe Shack mistakenly thought they had renewed the domain name for their main website, but in fact it had expired. A scam artist bought the domain name for ten dollars and offered to sell it back to them for a million dollars cash. They declined, so the scammer set up the domain to filter orders to other online footwear businesses as an affiliate website. The Shoe Shack was forced to use a different name for its website and rebuild and re-market it.

“We were really upset about it. It taught us a good lesson to make sure our domain names are registered. When you buy a domain name, that is your business, that’s your name, that’s where your website is going to be hosted. We make sure now that everything is all together and check one or two times a year, if not more. Because that hurt us,” said Castleman.

Onward and Upward

The Shoe Shack continues to grow by developing new niche websites, most of which are related to footwear, such as workbootsuperstore.com and militarybootpros.com. Having learned how to build and market a website, Castleman is adept at creating new ones using the StoresOnline platform. Existing pages and products can be transferred over with some modifications to the text, links and tags. “We try to hit different niche markets. I buy several domain names that I might one day build a website on. That’s how I see our business and our company growing. And I love using StoresOnline because it seems so simple for me. I know how to use it, I’m comfortable with it, and it has been a good experience. I don’t plan to change,” he said.

“There are still a lot of things we don’t do that StoresOnline tells us we should do. As we grow and can hire more people, we’ll continue to do more and more online. The Internet is a huge business online and it’s somewhat never ending. There might be other people marketing online, but there is always a piece of the pie out there you can get in retail sales. You have to figure out what you can work with as a business.”

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 Copyright © 2010 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.

Party Innovations Reinforces Its E-Commerce Website with Site Security Monitor

I had to go through every page in the website to clean it out. It was a major hassle.
– Jeff Sadowsky, Owner, Party Innovations

A Breach in the Website

Jeff Sadowsky, owner of Party Innovations, was surprised to see the customer forum on his company’s website had disappeared. “The forum was a place for customers to post messages and get a coupon to use on the website. One day the forum just vanished. It was a white page. I assumed there was some type of database error, so I emailed my hosting company to find out. After several hours, they finally got back with me and said our website had been maliciously attacked by hackers,” he said.

Party Innovations is a third-generation family business that made the leap to the Internet and e-commerce six years ago. Based in Brooklyn, New York, it is a distributor of promotional products and printed items for corporate events, weddings and other types of parties. The company’s website is its main sales channel and includes an e-commerce component for online orders.

About ten months prior to the breach, Sadowsky had deployed a McAfee security service for the website. The McAfee software scanned the site on a daily basis to detect and correct viruses and security vulnerabilities, but it did not catch the breach that erased the customer forum. “Here I am paying all this money for these services that were supposed to be protecting me, and it didn’t. The hackers knocked off parts of my website. I had to go through every page in the website to clean it out. It was a major hassle. I have thousands of HTML pages,” he said.

Fortunately the attack did not affect the e-commerce component of the website, and customer information was secure. But the experience left Sadowsky feeling unsettled and wanting a stronger solution for website security.

Site Security Monitor Shores Up the Site

After researching various security solutions, he picked Site Security Monitor (formerly known as 54F3). “They gave good reviews to that company. I called and spoke to a gentleman there, and he was helpful in getting it set up and assured me that it could detect for malware. And since then the issue seems to be resolved,” he said.

Site Security Monitor scans the website each day and sends Sadowsky a status report by email which categorizes security issues as low, medium and high level concerns. “Their service seems more proactive. I get the email every day and can see if there is something at a medium or high level. Then at least I can react and not have it go on for a period of time without knowing anything. We may have found one or two medium issues so far and corrected it right away. The other ones were minor and won’t affect anything,” he said.

Sadowsky also found Site Security Monitor to be more price-competitive. The fee was about 40% lower and charged on a monthly basis, whereas the previous service required a yearly commitment.

Like many businesses, Party Innovations relies extensively on its company website. This makes it an important asset to protect. After shoring up his company’s website, Sadowsky now feels much more confident about security. “I’m happy with this service so far. I like the fact that I have something that is also detecting for malware,” he said.

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 Copyright © 2010 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.

Barracuda Backup Service Displaces Tape at Immigration Support Services

I think peace of mind and confidence are the greatest benefits, and the price is minimal for that advantage.”
– Jeff Boatright, Executive Vice President, Immigration Support Services

Tape Backup Slow & Inconvenient

“Our business generates a lot of data, so it’s vital that we have good, accurate, timely backups at all times,” said Jeff Boatright, Executive Vice President and Co-Owner of Immigration Support Services. “We had a tape backup system and a series of daily, weekly and monthly backup tapes. We would take them offsite and rotate them. And as we grew and the amount of data grew, it became increasingly cumbersome to have to do that. It was slow and inconvenient. Even the occasional need to recover a file wasn’t the easiest thing to do.”

Immigration Support Services, based in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, is a private company that processes visa petitions on behalf of employers around the nation that would like to hire someone from overseas. “We help them prepare the paperwork and submit it to the government, not unlike an accountant might prepare a tax return for a company and submit it to the IRS. It’s an HR outsource service,” said Boatright.

Day-to-day management of the tape backup system became a burden for Immigration Support Services. Since the company did not have its own IT department, one of the employees had to assume the role of part-time backup administrator. Continually swapping out tapes and transporting them offsite was time-consuming and a hassle. The company wanted a better way to back up its database and file systems – a system that was easy to manage, backed up data consistently and provided fast recovery.

From Tape to Barracuda Backup Service

In February 2006, the company decided to replace its tape backup system with the Barracuda Backup Service (known at the time as Bitleap) from Barracuda Networks. This service provides full local backup to disk and replicates data to two geographically remote sites for disaster recovery. At the customer’s site a small backup server sits on the network. The server initiates backups automatically based on a user-defined schedule and de-duplicates data inline to reduce storage requirements by as much as 20 to 50 times. During off-hours it encrypts and transmits data to the remote sites.

Pricing is based on total storage consumed. “Barracuda Networks has brackets of subscription rates that are based on total storage needs, and then it’s billed monthly,” said Boatright. “They send warnings when you bump against the ceiling of your plan. But they’re very helpful in reviewing your backup settings to make sure you’re not backing up and retaining more data than necessary.”

Transitioning from tape to the Barracuda Backup Service was a straightforward process. “It was like going from horse and buggy to automobile. It’s not too hard. When you instantly get to go 60 miles an hour, the little bit of effort it takes to learn to drive the car is nothing compared to the benefit of having learned,” he said.

Peace of Mind and Confidence

After their struggles with tape backup, Boatright feels relieved to have a reliable third-party service take care of backup and recovery. “Having the backup effectively done for us, having an Internet interface, being able to read the backups and retrieve files as necessary – the whole convenience of it was night and day,” he said.

“We’re not a technology company, we’re technology users. The company is relatively small. At our largest we have been only about 20 employees, but we generate a lot of work and data. Being able to unload backup on a purchased service was tremendous. Not only was it convenient, but it instilled confidence in our ability to have good backups. That just means it is something you don’t have to think about during the day.”

“Occasionally someone will delete a file by mistake. We haven’t had a catastrophic failure, thankfully. But someone might come in and say, ‘Oops, I can’t find this file – I deleted it.’ We can retrieve it in a couple of minutes and put it back on the server where it’s supposed to be. It really is very simple.”

Boatright considers the fee for the Barracuda Backup Service to be less than the cost of labor for managing the old tape backup system. He continued, “We can run the company and have confidence our information is stored well and retrievable. I think peace of mind and confidence are the greatest benefits, and the price is minimal for that advantage.”

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 Copyright © 2009 Apropos LLC. All rights reserved.