As businesses in Toronto cleaned up the mess after Tuesday’s anti-poverty protest, a Sun Microsystems partner took the wraps off an iForce Ready Center in the heart of the financial district where the demonstration took place.

Sierra Systems Group Inc. Wednesday said it has created a client presentation centre on the 10th floor of its new offices on Bay Street in downtown Toronto. The iForce Ready Center also includes Sun servers running the Solaris OS and iPlanet software from the Sun-Netscape alliance. The Sierra iForce Ready Center follows a similar launch by Calgary-based Burntsand Inc. in February.

The iForce Ready Centers are part of a Sun Microsystems program to provide software and equipment to key partners where they can demonstrate proof of concept solutions to customers. They can also be used to test whether certain applications will work together in a production environment.

Bob Dido, Sierra’s director of e-commerce consulting, said the company sees opportunities to use the facility in several of its key markets, including e-health, e-government and financial institutions. One of the prototypes it has built, for example, is an e-health portal that demonstrates both the community information a hospital could provide to its client base and resources for staff, volunteers and patients at a facility. “It takes a look at the various stakeholders and provides a point of interaction with the institution,” he said. “On the intranet, you can interface with things like PeopleSoft for HR, payroll and that sort of thing. On the front end side, you’re looking at your own personalized Web site to store health information and doctor’s appointments.”

Sierra started working with Sun to be a part of the iForce program more than a year ago, having built a number of applications on the company’s iPlanet software. Sierra has since re-trained some of its systems administrators to handle the technology associated with the iForce Ready Center, and has been working with Sun on joint customer engagements. “As a consulting company, we do not have a lot of extra staff. When they’re on the bench, that’s a cost to us,” he said. “When my people are not working on client engagements, a lot of my technical and consultative people are working on building prototypes.”

Steve Dow, Sun Microsystems of Canada’s director of the partner area, said iForce Ready Center candidates were selected from firms with a high level of IT competency and infrastructure, and who were already in the position to go to market with Sun. Dow said Sun already has a number of partners who may be selected for the next series of iForce Ready Centers. “We don’t know the timeframe yet,” he said, adding the selection is conducted by its corporate parent in Palo Alto.

Dido said the iForce Ready Centers are a good way of helping clients explore projects from the incubation stage onwards.

“They have some general ideas — we try and show them some alternatives — some pictures of what can happen. That helps to focus,” he said. “It really is just a high-level accumulation of ideas under a couple of organized methodologies and concepts that will allow us to then start focusing people’s attention.”

Once the concepts are determined, Sierra uses a strategic planning methodology called Digital SWOT to help customers take a relatively obscure business idea and assess its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (or SWOT).

Dow said the work of Burntstand and Sierra will help make the business case to expand the iForce Ready Center program across the country.

“You’re probably going to see more than one in Toronto,” he said. “It will probably in some ways follow the density of the business.”

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