Reseller profile: CIA man is an agent of change

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This article appeared in the June, 2009 issue of CRN magazine.

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Reseller profile: CIA man is an agent of change
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From working on Wall Street to co-founding Saturn Alliance, an IT systems integration business in Sydney, Robert Crane set up the Computer Information Agency in 1995 out of frustration.

He says the SI business provided software for a vertical market and, at the time, everything was based on Novell Netware, and Windows 95 had only just been released. Crane was also using products like Quattro Pro and Paradox to help customers achieve their needs.

Once he started to realise what Microsoft was offering with Windows 95, Office and NT Crane could see the writing was on the wall for Novell.

"I was frustrated because I believed the business wasn't moving fast enough in that direction so I decided that if I wanted to work with these technologies then I had to make a change," he says.

"It was difficult to move somewhere without solid Microsoft experience under your belt back then and I also decided that I wanted the opportunity to try and build a business for myself. With this in mind I decided to make the change and go out on my own."

CIA is a technology consultancy that helps businesses and individuals improve their productivity utilising the tools they already have (like email) as well as incorporate additional solutions (like Windows SharePoint which is free) to enhance the way they work. Its technologies include Windows Servers, which includes Small Business Server, and desktop applications such as Outlook, Word, Excel and Onenote.

Crane says that with emphasis placed on the business benefits of technology, CIA works with companies to improve and streamline their processes using the technology they already have.

The focus is on providing an improved result for the business, which in the long term leads to greater productivity and profitability.

After working with Windows SharePoint (WSS) as opposed to Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) Crane discovered there was very little information about WSS around. As he got more into WSS he wrote down what he learnt and created a Windows SharePoint Operations Guide which is available to customers.

"SharePoint is part of SBS 2003 and SBS 2008 but can be installed onto any Windows Server," says Crane.

"Windows SharePoint can grow from just a single server installation to a multi-server farm servicing a very large business but the question is how to achieve that, what version of SQL Server can you use. "Personally I use the guide all the time for my own reference because it has so much information in it. For anyone else needing answers about Windows SharePoint it is going to save you lots of time and research," he adds.

Crane believes most customers have more than enough technology but most only use about 20 percent of the functionality.

"Too often technology providers are seen as only pushing more technology as a solution. In most cases business have to invest some of their time improving their employees and their business processes to take advantage of what technology has to offer," he says.

Talking about how he got his business off the ground, Crane says there is so much you don't appreciate when you start your own business.

At first you believe that you can do what your employer is doing, but better, so you take a chance and make the leap.

"You soon learn that things like cash flow and business development are just as important as fixing any problems."

Crane believes there is always that element of doubt when you start something on your own but you can minimise that with good planning and research.

"When I started out, I made sure I had about six months' worth of funds to cover the eventuality that I didn't get any work. Luckily I did, but you can't simply leave a job one day and expect to be earning the same amount of money the next," he says.

Crane loves working in technology because of the potential it has to improve peoples' lives even though, he says "we seem to be failing to achieve that''.

"We are proud to say that we are technologically advanced and yet we work harder, have less time to enjoy ourselves and seem more stressed. Why?" he says.

He feels most people are afraid to challenge technology norms, they are afraid to examine what the technology is and how it can be used, because they might be considered stupid.

To him technology is simply a tool, it doesn't have a life of its own - yet most people seem to give it one.

"I'm all about effectiveness then efficiency. Solve the right problem first, then do it the best way possible. I like to solve problems, and thank goodness technology constantly invents problems to solve," he says.

"Moreover, the big appeal is that technology is a great leveller. Access to the internet these days means you can learn just about anything for next to nothing, all you need is the determination.

"It also means that nowadays no matter how small your business, you can still compete equally on the world stage with any multinational."

CIA's business has three main elements: training, implementation and consultation.

Training involves teaching businesses how to use the technology they have available to them to improve their technology (such as, email).

Crane also holds training courses at local community colleges to help businesses learn about technology without feeling they are being sold to. He teaches one-on-one, group seminars and tutorials.

 Implementation involves creating a SharePoint portal or other business solution that is the central repository for all business information, including setup, installation and maintenance of the solution.

"You can't simply drop a solution into a business, you first need to understand what infrastructure they already have in place and what piece can be provided to bring it all together," he says.

"We work with existing infrastructure resellers to provide them with the knowledge they need to implement the basic hardware and software.

"Once this is in place we can develop these basic tools into something that solves problems for the client," he says.

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