To Darcy Oakden, it was obvious his company needed a server upgrade — all the signs were there. What was much less clear to him was which product to go with.

“”We were past the small potatoes level . . . we were at the level where our e-mail was extremely hit-and-miss,”” says the chief financial

officer of Brandon, Man.-based industrial machine shop Atom Jet Industries.

“”The system would crash at least once a day: There was no backup solution. To do anything on the network was complex — you almost had to know another language to operate it.””

Oakden compared the former network to an old junker of an automobile, and says the Band-Aid approach wasn’t working anymore.

“”It got down to the question of, should we put four new tires on this thing, or should we get a brand new car?””

According to one analyst, this is not an uncommon scenario.

“”You have to look at your network in the cold light of day. How much is it costing you to continually Band-Aid things?”” asks David Freund, practice leader, information architecture with Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H.

“”It may have been running this way five, seven or 10 years. And you keep adding more spit and wire to it. And something that had started out a simple project has become this humongous, complex system that only one person understands.””

With about 25 people on staff, Atom Jet has no dedicated IT person. Oakden wears many hats at the company, and the IT decision-making is just one of his responsibilities.

“”It didn’t seem clear cut to me. I had heartburn with (the question of) which route we should go.”” Two years after installing Microsoft Windows Small Business Server (SBS) 2003, however, he is confident he made the right decision.

Benefits from the product can come from six main areas: Reliability, teamwork, productivity, company morale, security and cost savings, according to Les Connor, president of CFive Ltd., a Brandon-based Microsoft SBS technology provider that was chosen to carry out Atom Jet’s implementation and manage its network.

Of these six areas, Connor says the “”company morale”” portion leaves people scratching their heads because it’s something most don’t equate with technology upgrades.

“”It’s quite huge. You no longer have users smacking the sides of their monitor because their computer freezes,”” he says. “”A worker is given a job to do. If they are constantly fighting with their resources, they don’t get the job done — and that affects morale.””

Oakden agrees this was a key factor. “”Now we can work on our business. We used to spend a couple hours a day just fighting problems. Now? We go weeks without issues.””

Cost savings are another element that a company may underestimate, because it is never cut and dry, Connor says.

“”When you look at the price — roughly $2,000 for premium or $900 for the basic version — there really isn’t a small business that can’t afford that. But the largest cost savings are in the post-implementation itself.””

Staying focused

For a fee of $200 to $300 a month, Connor manages Atom Jet’s network maintenance, instead of having people within the company divert time from their core jobs.

“”If that equals even five per cent more work a day per staff member through productivity gains, it will add up to thousands of dollars a year.””

In fact, that’s roughly how much Oaken figures Atom Jet has saved since the upgrade. Not only that, but its ability to share files, have a dedicated e-mail server, work remotely with file access and focus more on its core business have all been invaluable, he says. The only thing he wishes were included is an accounting feature within the software.

According to Freund, until fairly recently, this product would not have been a good fit for a company such as Atom Jet, because of the company’s size.

“”When (Microsoft) introduced SBS 2003, they did something important. They upped the size limit from 25 users to 50. Jumping up to 50 (users), that’s a lot more comfort for small businesses,”” Freund says.

Companies are also often nervous about entering into this type of technology contract, Connor says. They may not have a clear understanding of where the cost savings will come in and how it will change their business.

“”They might think, not only am I now going to be married to this guy, but it’s open-ended and I don’t know how much it is going to cost.””

Oakden says he was wary at first. “”There’s been some bad taste left in people’s mouths. Some organizations in town haven’t been reliable. They have gotten people set up, left them and hung them out to dry. And I was quite familiar with that sort of thing — but I was pleasantly surprised.””

Connor tries to put to rest fears like this by doing a technical assessment up front and interviewing the business owner to target the services they are likely to need the most.

“”Obviously a large measure of trust needs to be established,”” Connor says. “”I am more like a partner (than a consultant). I have keys to most of the companies I work with.””

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