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In order to save costs, many companies are considering switching their traditional circuit-switch telephone service for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), calls routed over the Internet, sometimes for free. Founded in 1999, BullsEye Telecom, of Oak Park, Mich., is an integrated provider of local and long-distance telephone service, VoIP and high-speed data services. The company was No. 82 on the 2005 Inc. 500. BullsEye Telecom’s CEO Bill Oberlin talks about how small and mid-size businesses can determine the right time to adopt the new telecom services. Inc. Technology: What are the practical differences between VoIP and traditional telephony for an business owner who isn’t familiar with the technology? Bill Oberlin: In the old days with old voice service, you have a pair of wires entering a home or office and you have one pair of wires that takes your call, provides a dial tone, and takes calls inbound or outbound. And you have one telephone number. Today, two pairs of wires are capable of providing high-speed Internet at T1 speed, and as many voice lines on that same line as you possibly could offer before there’s any kind of congestion. It’s a different type of telecom. It’s getting better all the time because all the equipment that we use, as well as others, are finding all of their glitches that they might have had a year ago that they’ve removed. So today we have an awful lot of customers who get it installed quickly after they order, never have a problem, get all the features that we provide — many [more] features than you could ever get on a traditional voice line — and they get the T1 to boot. And they pay a lot less. Inc. Technology: Why might a small business owner want to stick with traditional telephony? Oberlin: Afraid of change. In some cases, it might be cheaper, especially if you don’t want a high-speed connection like T1. And they’re not telecom experts. They’re experts in their field … and it’s hard for the ordinary businessman to know what’s risky. They say, you know, “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I’ll continue doing it until somebody tells me VoIP is foolproof.” Inc. Technology: What concerns do you hear when people express hesitance about switching to VoIP, and which concerns are still warranted? Oberlin: One of them is, “Well, I know people can spy on my data or my voice if I use the Internet.” Security concerns. Frankly, there’s no more concern than there is with what they do in their office every day with their data. If they’re a terrorist talking to somebody about blowing up the World Trade Center, I guess they ought to be worried. But outside of that, I don’t think VoIP has any more or less security concerns than traditional voice would, or than your cell phone. I think the second thing they worry about is when they have a fax machine on a separate line, a high-speed Internet connection on a separate line, and voice on separate lines — let’s say five lines. Now I put them all together on one line and if I lose the one line, I lose everything. We provide a disaster recovery plan for them, which has to do with how we arrange the technology. We can also keep one line or multiple lines separate from the T1. Inc. Technology: If you’re a business that is satisfied with traditional telephony, is there any reason to switch to VoIP or is it better to wait for a catalyst such as rapid growth? Oberlin: There are two kinds of VoIP. The first kind is where their telephone system really is too large or too small. It can’t be integrated well with new technology. They’re up to a point where they’re going to make a decision, so they make a decision to go with an IP telephony system. They’re well equipped for the future. The second is where people are perfectly comfortable, nothing is wrong. They’re not growing out of their system, they’re not shrinking where they could probably get rid of their system, and they like their system. One of the ways we do business is they don’t have to change their system at all. We make them VOIP and we can tie in all those other things by providing equipment that sits in between their LAN, their telephone system, and us. This box allows them to have more lines, to not disrupt their telephone system. They don’t have to make a capital investment, and they save money and get higher speed data. Inc. Technology: What are some of the features available with VoIP that aren’t available with traditional telephony? Oberlin: Somebody with 10 branches can cut out all of their long-distance calling to those branches just by calling four digits as an on-network call. The biggest thing, I think, is what’s called simultaneous ringing. So it’s a small business and Joe Jones has office number 1000, and Joe is often times at home working or on the road. He can have anybody that calls that number either call his cell or his home, and whichever phone he answers first, that’s where he gets the call.
Special Report: Tools that will let you stay grounded Alex Stanton would have swum across the Atlantic to woo that special prospective client in the United Kingdom. Ultimately, he only had to go downstairs. Stanton, CEO of Stanton Crenshaw Communications, in New York City, passionately wanted a contract to represent a certain European telecommunications company. He and his team planned to fly to London in mid-September to pitch their proposal in person. But then came September 11, when terrorist hijackings grounded all U.S. air travel for three days and delayed many overseas flights for several days longer. With the Twin Towers wreckage billowing smoke just a few miles away, Stanton asked his prospective clients to postpone the meeting. They politely declined. They wanted to pick their public-relations firm that week to get an overdue marketing campaign off the ground. In seeking options, Stanton didn’t have to look far. He dropped in on ICE Inc., a marketing-communications company located two floors below his office, on the hunch that the company might have videoconferencing equipment. In the spirit of post-attack camaraderie, Stanton’s neighbors offered to let him borrow their boardroom, their equipment, and a technician. Thrilled, Stanton called London. Fortunately, the prospective client had a compatible setup, and its executives were perfectly happy to meet virtually. So, at the appointed time, Stanton’s team went downstairs, faced the cameras, and put on a one-hour show for a five-person audience across the pond. “We did a couple of rehearsals,” Stanton says. “We found you have to stage it a little more than you might in person. You have to decide who’s going to talk when, and you can’t interrupt as much.” While the transatlantic sound was fine, the video occasionally jerked or froze. And the presentation didn’t feel quite natural. The executives in London faced a fixed camera, which never moved even when they did, and occasionally someone would shift out of view, forcing the presenters to address a disembodied voice. “You’re sort of at the end of a tunnel,” Stanton says. “It’s hard to see how people are reacting to your ideas.” Despite the drawbacks, Stanton’s team members felt they’d made their case, even after the telecom company awarded the contract to a competitor (which, coincidentally, was another New York City PR agency forced by circumstances to pitch by videoconference). “We didn’t win, but at least we were on equal footing,” Stanton says. Like Stanton’s company, many small and midsize businesses have built their reputation on traveling to meet far-flung colleagues, customers, partners, and prospects. And like Stanton, who’s now considering a blend of videoconferencing and personal visits, many CEOs are now reexamining the assumption that being in business means being on the road. The most urgent soul-searching, of course, stems directly from the September 11 attacks. And the November 12 crash of an American Airlines plane in Queens, N.Y., did little to allay the fears of an already leery traveling public. But even before those events, the slumping economy prompted many companies to curb their travel expenses. In April 2001 the National Business Travel Association, a trade group based in Alexandria, Va., polled 200 companies of all sizes and found that 33% were using or considering collaboration technologies, primarily videoconferencing, to eliminate costly trips. Five months later, following the suicide jet crashes, nearly 90% of those polled said they’d now consider high-tech options to travel. It’s too early to say if increased scrutiny of business travel represents a true change in thinking, a permanent shift away from our economy’s air dependency. Right now many CEOs seem to be in wait-and-see mode: Wait and see what happens in the U.S.-led “war on terrorism.” Wait and see whether there are more hijackings, air disasters, or other threats at home. Wait and see whether the economy starts to rebound. But it’s safe to draw a few conclusions. First, for both financial and security-related reasons, many CEOs are developing restrictive new travel policies. In addition, many companies are experimenting with high-tech options that let them do their jobs closer to home. Some are already finding those alternatives surprisingly attractive compared with long-distance business trips with all their expense, time investment, and hassles. ON SOLID GROUND: Alex Stanton, CEO of Stanton Crenshaw Communications, needed to make his pitch without getting on a plane. Ultimately, though, nobody expects to eliminate the need for business travel. As Daniel P. Brogan, president and CEO of the San Diego architecture firm Earl Walls Associates, puts it: “I see this as an opportunity to rethink the way we do business. But we’re never going to get away from traveling. Our business is still very much hands-on.” When it comes to substituting technology for travel, options range from the almost-free to those requiring another line on next year’s budget. On the low end: making better use of existing equipment, an approach as simple as spending more time on conference calls. On the high end: renting a television studio for a satellite broadcast or even investing in an in-house, state-of-the-art videoconferencing studio. In between: options like Web-based conferencing and broadcasting, setting up virtual private networks, using peer-to-peer technology, and — especially in an era of germ-tainted mail — increasing use of E-mail, fax, and instant messaging. (See “The Next Best Thing to Being There,” below.) Obviously, picking the right option depends on what the company needs to accomplish and what barriers it must overcome to get there. The following are several common postattack headaches and the technology prescription for relieving them: Your former “road warriors” are skittish about taking to the skies. Earl Walls Associates specializes in designing scientific laboratories. Thanks to that narrow niche market, the company serves clients all over the world. But in recent months “I’ve definitely told people not to travel if they don’t have to,” says CEO Brogan. Instead, the company increasingly runs client meetings from two rented videoconferencing facilities located close to its office. Even at $1,000 a day, videoconferencing is cheaper than sending a team in person, especially when you figure in the loss of productivity on travel days. Of course, architects must sometimes meet face-to-face with clients to review plans, but Brogan is now trying to do as much virtual up-front and follow-up work as possible. He’s even earmarked $25,000 this year for an in-house videoconferencing studio. But just as you can’t call somebody who doesn’t have a telephone, you can’t videoconference with somebody who doesn’t have a compatible setup. So before he actually spends a dime, Brogan is polling the company’s clients to find out whether they’ve got equipment — or at least access to it — on their end. On September 11, employees at Whale Communications Ltd., a network-security company with offices in Fort Lee, N.J., just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, watched the World Trade Center towers burn and collapse after being hit by hijacked jets. Not surprisingly, many Whale employees didn’t want to fly after that. CEO Elad Baron, who grew up amid the threat of terrorism in his native Israel, couldn’t blame them; he immediately declared all air travel optional. Fortunately, Whale had started scrutinizing its travel costs earlier in 2001, when many of the company’s 60 employees were spending up to 75% of their time traveling to visit clients across the United States or in the company’s research-and-development facility in Israel. “Even before September 11, we figured out that was not very efficient, so we really began cutting back,” Baron says. So he invested $38,000 in Web-conferencing and videoconferencing hardware, software, and services. By September, he’d cut travel time for most employees to just 20% to 25% of their total hours. Because of the savings on travel expenditures, he expects to recoup his investment early this year. However, some employees’ jobs still require travel. If they’re afraid to board a plane, Baron expects them to make other arrangements. In the most extreme case, a sales rep who’d previously flown nationwide started driving everywhere instead. His longest trek: from New Jersey to Charlotte, N.C. — about 1,300 miles round-trip. Because the rep traveled on weekends, he lost no work time — and got no objections from the boss. “I don’t mind, as long as the customer gets served,” Baron says. Your chief ambassador wants to stay home. In many companies, there’s one person — sometimes the CEO, sometimes another executive — who has long served as the public face of the business. But now the ambassador wants to spend less time, or no time, in the air. That’s the case at Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists Inc., an 11-person agency based in Austin, far from the nation’s major news and publishing centers. A year ago, CEO Leann Phenix created the position of national media director, a job requiring frequent coast-to-coast travel to attend book-launch events, meet with the media, and speak at writers’ conferences. Staff publicist Marika Flatt was promoted into the new job and at first rather enjoyed all those cross-country flights. But Flatt, the mother of a 14-month-old daughter, hasn’t been on a plane since the terrorist attacks. A NEW ATTITUDE: “I see this as an opportunity to rethink the way we do business,” says Daniel P. Brogan. “But we’re never going to get away from traveling. Our business is still very much hands-on.” Like other companies, Phenix & Phenix has considered videoconferencing and other high-tech options. But because Flatt is the only employee who needs to travel extensively, the business’s executives have decided that such an investment wouldn’t make sense for the company — at least so far. Instead, Flatt is building and maintaining some other long-term relationships: with the telephone and the computer. “If there’s a writer I haven’t been introduced to yet, I’ll send an E-mail and say, ‘Can I call you at such-and-such a time?” she says. “It’s obviously not as good as meeting face-to-face.” But that’s how things will have to be, she says, “until things simmer down a little bit and we build our confidence back up in the airlines.” Meanwhile, will staying close to home hurt business? “Definitely,” Flatt says, sighing. “Definitely.” You need to do hands-on work with faraway partners, but you don’t necessarily need to see them. Network Orange Inc., in Boca Raton, Fla., which manufactures and sells network-testing and -control equipment, serves customers all over the United States. These days president Mike Vislocky has been concerned about sending employees across the country to touch base with customers. “It’s not just a fear of flying,” he says. “It’s the prospect of being stranded away from home.” So Network Orange invested in a Web-conferencing software called WebDemo, which lets the Florida team have virtual visits with customers. The product allows a meeting’s participants to view a PowerPoint presentation or edit a document together, screen by screen, in real time over the Internet. Meanwhile, they’re on a conference call, discussing what they’re seeing. Overall, “it’s not bad,” says Vislocky. “You can take breaks; you can put your phone on mute and just listen until it’s time for you to say something. I have a portable phone, so I can even walk around until I need to come back to the screen.” Vislocky hasn’t used videoconferencing and says he probably won’t. “None of the stuff we do benefits from being able to see other people.” You don’t travel much, but your clients do. Royce Carlton Inc., a New York City-based speakers’ agency, represents about 50 famous clients. Among them: Anna Quindlen, the former New York Times columnist turned best-selling novelist. Agency CEO Carlton Sedgeley had booked Quindlen to speak at a Houston fund-raiser in late September. But after the attacks, Quindlen, who lives in Manhattan, refused to get on a plane. So Sedgeley arranged for her to speak by videoconference, a solution he calls less than ideal. “It’s second-best,” he says. “It’s just not as satisfying as someone being there. You don’t get to press the flesh. You don’t get the book signing.” On the other hand, for an investment of about $350, the show went on, and Sedgeley collected his fee, albeit a reduced one. BUSINESS AS USUAL: Rob DeRocker of Development Counsellors International has flown 16 times since September 11. Sedgeley has been using travel-obviating technology since well before September 11. In November 2000, he helped political analyst Jeff Greenfield give a virtual talk using technology far more sophisticated than videoconferencing. Greenfield was scheduled to address a group in Palm Springs, Calif., but when the U.S. presidential race stayed too close to call for weeks, Greenfield couldn’t leave Florida, where officials were recounting the ballots by hand. Instead, he addressed the California crowd via satellite from a TV studio in Palm Beach, Fla. The satellite link provided a much higher quality transmission than even the best videoconferencing and, not surprisingly, bore a price tag to match: about $4,000 for that particular venture, Sedgeley says. In the weeks following the attacks, he arranged appearances broadcast by satellite or videoconference for several other speakers. You must travel, period. For some companies, no technology alternative can replace being there. As Andrew Zacharakis, professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College, in Wellesley, Mass., puts it: “If you have some hot sales prospects and you need that face-to-face contact, I would say you have to get on the plane.” Rob DeRocker did just that shortly after the attacks. DeRocker is executive vice-president and part owner of Development Counsellors International, a 30-person company that develops marketing campaigns promoting tourism. He flew to Kansas City the Monday following September 11. Over the next several weeks, he boarded 16 airplanes. (On one flight, owing to increased security, he had to remove his shoes and run them through a metal detector.) And so far, he’s requiring his account executives to fly because the company’s survival depends on it. “We can’t forgo traveling if we stay in this business,” he says. “It’s hard to lead a press trip to Tacoma unless you’re there, and driving isn’t an option.” There’s just one thing that might change his insistence on flying: another terrorist incident involving aircraft. Meanwhile, many companies continue to seek the perfect balance of technology and travel. For Alex Stanton, who used videoconferencing to make his pitch to the European telecom company, it’s a matter of compromise. “Often, when we’d go and do these things, we’d send two or three or four people to show them our whole team,” he says. Now he considers sending one person — perhaps the team leader — to present in person and having other employees attend by videoconference. “It’s not perfect,” he says, “but we don’t live in a perfect world.” Anne Stuart is a senior writer at Inc. The Next Best Thing to Being There Nothing digital can duplicate a hearty handshake. But if you want to keep your company aloft without putting yourself — or anybody else — on an airplane, you can consider a wide range of electronic alternatives. If you’re strapped for cash, build on your existing technologies, starting with the telephone. Make those once-deadly conference calls far more palatable with high-quality speakerphones (such as the Polycom SoundStation models, which start at $499) or the dial-in teleconference services offered by many telecom companies. Next stop: the Internet. Create an online environment in which employees, partners, and customers can swap documents, create group mailing lists, or post messages in forums. Host your company’s intranet, extranet, or password-protected Web site yourself, or, for a small monthly fee, pay a service provider (such as Intranets.com) to host one for you. If you need to see people’s faces, consider videoconferencing, two-way video, and audio communication over high-speed lines. Pictures may freeze or look grainy, and shy participants may clam up on camera. And videoconferencing works only if both parties have compatible equipment. But it’s probably the closest thing to sitting in the same room. Costs range from $100 or so for a home-use camera and microphone to $5,000 for a portable videoconferencing system to $75,000 for a customized in-house studio with good acoustics, professional lighting, high-quality monitors, and cameras. Rentals range from $250 an hour to a flat $1,000 a day at local videoconferencing studios and some Kinko’s outlets. Another option when visuals matter: a satellite hookup. Satellite communications offer superior transmission quality — but at a superior price because of the cost of renting satellite time. Figure on spending at least $1,000 an hour. If you want to put on a show for a widely scattered audience, consider Web conferencing with tools such as WebEx or WebDemo, both of which let meeting participants share documents and applications online in real time. Web conferencing lets far-flung participants view documents simultaneously from their own desktops. It’s a handy option for PowerPoint presentations, sales demonstrations, whiteboard-style diagramming, and collaborative document editing. Some products include audio, while others require a simultaneous telephone conference call if participants need to talk while they’re working. The costs range from $100 for install-it-yourself conferencing software to $1,000 or more for a professionally hosted conference. If you want to share documents safely, look into creating a virtual private network (VPN). This highly secure technology creates a private “tunnel” into a company’s systems. It’s an outstanding way to provide remote users — including distant partners, traveling employees, and people who work at home — with full access to important documents and applications. The costs range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, depending primarily on the number of users. Please e-mail your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more electronic alternatives, see 5 Travel-Reducing Technologies.
E-Strategies Worried that terrorists might attack U.S. computer systems next? A few simple precautions will go a long way toward protecting your company. Even before last September’s terrorist attacks, the law firm of Lewis and Roca LLP was hypercautious about safeguarding its sensitive digital documents. In fact, compared with other small companies in the law firm’s home city of Phoenix and other law firms nationwide, Lewis and Roca seemed not just security-conscious but, well, a tad security-paranoid. For instance, accessing the firm’s sophisticated client extranet had always required using a tool that constantly generated new personal-access numbers. And the firm’s network automatically logged off users whose keyboards were idle for more than 60 minutes. But that was before September 11. Afterward, like their counterparts at other businesses nationwide, Lewis and Roca executives worried even more about the possibility of unseen intruders infiltrating their computer systems. So the 51-year-old firm, which also maintains branch offices in Tucson and Las Vegas, immediately had an in-house team focus more closely on reviewing the firm’s entire data-protection arsenal. The law firm’s biggest priority, of course, is protecting the physical safety of its 350 employees, says chief operating officer Robert S. McCormick. To that end, Lewis and Roca has increased surveillance and security in all its buildings. But shielding its confidential records from theft, damage, or deletion also remains what McCormick calls a top “ethical and legal responsibility.” Lewis and Roca is far from alone in reconsidering its whole spectrum of data security. And under the circumstances, the firm is hardly overreacting. “Right now I don’t think it’s possible to be too worried” about safeguarding records, says Weston Nicolls, a former National Security Agency executive who is chief information security officer at Telenisus Corp., a provider of managed Internet infrastructure services based in Chicago. Nicolls’s concerns are shared by Michael A. Vatis, director of the Institute for Security Technology Studies at Dartmouth College. In a report released just after September 11, Vatis warned that attacks on U.S. computers were “extremely likely” as part of larger, coordinated terrorist actions launched in retaliation for U.S. military strikes. Federal officials apparently agree. Three days after the September terrorist attacks, the FBI’s National Infrastructure Protection Center issued a formal advisory warning of possible vigilante activity online. A few weeks later, the Bush administration appointed longtime White House counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke to the newly created job of cyberspace security adviser. Clarke has repeatedly warned Congress and U.S. businesses about the potential for a “digital Pearl Harbor” in which distant assailants would invade and damage the country’s computer networks and telecommunications systems. The good news is that there were no reports of widespread cyberterrorism in the weeks immediately following the suicide hijackings. But as the Dartmouth report points out, previous political conflicts — for instance, clashes between India and Pakistan — have led to “cyberattacks” in those countries. So as U.S. military action continues overseas, Americans need to be highly alert for a possible new wave of virtual warfare, with both distant and domestic hackers trying to deface or crash Web sites, disseminate computer viruses, and break into vulnerable networks to steal, corrupt, or delete information. Osama bin Laden’s shadowy, computer-literate followers aren’t the only potential assailants. “Even more likely are cyberattacks by sympathizers of the terrorists, hackers with general anti-U.S. or anti-allied sentiments, and thrill seekers lacking any political motivation,” the Dartmouth report warns. In other words, companies should consider cyberterrorism not just possible but probable. They should also prepare accordingly, just as a California company might plan its response to an earthquake or a power failure and an East Coast business might protect its systems and data against a likely blizzard or hurricane. That means taking stock now to determine what’s sufficiently safeguarded and what’s still vulnerable — and having an IT staffer or outsourcer make corrections immediately. “Once you’re attacked is not the time to think about how to respond,” says Mark Schertler, vice-president of networking and security services at Primitive Logic Inc., a consulting firm in Sausalito, Calif. “You should have a recovery plan in place. You should have discrete and diverse service providers so that if one gets attacked, you can still operate. And if you’re relying on the Internet for revenue, you should have redundant sources to connect to it.” What’s the minimum computer protection for small businesses? For starters, virus-scanning programs. Self-installed software that detects and stops both viruses and worms can cost as little as $100. Once the software is installed, companies should assign someone to update the protection programs at least once a week — but preferably daily — to protect against the latest nasty attack. “It’s like an arms race,” says Schertler. “New viruses are coming out all the time.” A second must-have: a firewall, or shield, between the company’s internal systems and the Internet, to prevent unauthorized intrusions. The cost for that ranges from less than $50 for a home-based business to thousands of dollars for large companies with many remote users and massive amounts of confidential or valuable information. Next, companies of all sizes should regularly back up all systems. Small companies may be able to get by with weekly backups; businesses of, say, $10 million or more in annual revenues should invest in technology that will take a data snapshot daily. Both should stash the stored data off-site. (Nicolls of Telenisus suggests using a bank vault.) Every company should also make plans to run its networks from another location if necessary. Growing companies may also want to invest in a virtual private network (VPN), which provides far-flung employees, business partners, customers, and vendors with a secure tunnel into a business’s internal computer system. They should also add security software to their road warriors’ portable equipment, such as laptops and personal digital assistants. (See ” Laptop Insecurity,” Inc, March 15, 2001.) Users of Microsoft’s Windows operating system may want to consider upgrading to the new Windows XP operating system for its built-in firewall, enhanced virus protection, and capability for encrypting files both on the desktop and in transit over the Internet. For businesses of all sizes, Primitive Logic’s Schertler, who like Nicolls is a former NSA official, recommends two other security precautions that together cost precisely nothing. First, require employees to use “strong passwords,” made-up phrases that would-be intruders can’t guess or decipher, by running programs that automatically test passwords with common words or names. “Mix up letters and symbols to create something you wouldn’t find in a dictionary,” says Schertler, something like “drB613Jzx.” Second, assign someone on staff to act as your in-house point person for software-vendor updates. That way, your company will get regular reminders about such things as upgrades and patches, which crop up over time. Some security breaches, particularly those on Web sites, happen simply because nobody has the responsibility for retrieving the remedy for a security hole. Lewis and Roca already had many of those precautions in place. But after the terrorist attacks, the firm looked even harder for potential weak spots. Its in-house security team renewed its interest in how the firm controlled access to its systems, including its public Web site and client extranet. Team members also reviewed the firm’s virus-scanning capability, as well as its plans for preserving digital records during a natural — or terrorist-caused — disaster. In direct response to the World Trade Center attack, they even researched ways to salvage paper records. “The pictures of legal documents floating through the streets of lower Manhattan made us aware that recovery of electronic data alone may not be sufficient,” says chief operating officer McCormick. “We may want to consider technologies that will provide us with electronic images of our paper documents and files.” At the same time, the law firm, like many other small businesses, realizes its security-improvement process will never be finished. “It’s fluid, it’s evolving,” McCormick says. “We’re learning new things day by day as the situation changes.” In fact, on the day McCormick made those comments, his firm had just launched a new security initiative to investigate ways to monitor incoming mail for evidence of explosives, anthrax spores, or other potentially deadly materials. The firm also advised employees about ways to protect and preserve data on their own home computers, as well as ways to secure office E-mail and voice mail. Yet despite widespread concern about cyberterrorism, the FBI’s data indicate that most security problems originate within a company’s walls, either by accident or by design. For that reason, experts also recommend that companies monitor their networks for unauthorized remote access, set alarms to indicate large deletions of files, and remove ex-employees’ access to computer, E-mail, and even voice-mail systems as soon as they’re out the door. As security expert Nicolls puts it, “Unfortunately, people can still screw up the very best technology you can buy.” Anne Stuart is a senior writer at Inc. Computer and Internet Security Resources COMPUTER SECURITY WARNINGS AND ADVISORIES FBI’s National Infrastructure Protection Center www.nipc.gov CERT Coordination Center, Carnegie Mellon University (Funded by U.S. Department of Defense) www.cert.org The System Administration, Networking, and Security Institute www.sans.org COMPUTER SECURITY INFORMATION AND TRAINING Computer Security Institute www.gocsi.com FREE TIPS ON PREVENTING SECURITY PROBLEMS AND CYBERTERRORISM ATTACKS Telenisus Corp. www.telenisus.com REPORT PREDICTING CYBERATTACKS DURING THE U.S. WAR ON TERRORISM The Institute for Security Technology Studies, Dartmouth College www.ists.dartmouth.edu/ISTS/counterterrorism/cyber_attacks.htm Hands On 48 Hours: How do you eliminate bureaucratic bottlenecks? Siamak Farah, CEO of InfoStreet, a $1.8-million developer of corporate intranets in Tarzana, Calif., wants his 15 staffers to take initiatives and run with them — as opposed to waiting for a manager’s approval. So in early 2000 he inaugurated “the 48-hour rule.” “If an employee comes up with an idea or proposal and submits it to his or her superior, the superior has two working days to respond,” he explains. If a manager doesn’t respond within 48 hours, then the employee can proceed under the assumption that the manager has granted approval. Farah says the rule has “done wonders” for decision making and initiative taking. And what if, perchance, a manager is away for two days? Nothing changes. Absentees must delegate the decision making to a second-in-command. –Ilan Mochari The Whole New Business Catalog Inc Query: How Do I Get to the Next Level? Best of the Net: B-School Brains Creating a Cyberdefense Stop the Net, I Want to Get Off Let’s Make A Deal The Unkindest Cut of All Please e-mail your comments to email@example.com.
In the wake of the September 11th attacks, many businesses are struggling with decreasing sales figures. On the other hand, some companies are seeing the opposite effect: a dramatic increase in demand for their products and services. Managing a sudden upturn in sales can be just as difficult as managing a sudden downturn, especially if you lack the resources to bump up production or provide more services. We spoke with three CEOs of IT firms who experienced this kind of increase in demand after September 11th. Here’s their advice on how to best handle sudden increases in demand. Dean Ansari, CEO, NetDIVE Have a future growth plan in place. Dean Ansari, CEO of NetDIVE, a provider of Web-conferencing software and solutions, saw sales more than double in the weeks after the Sept 11 attacks. “Our products enable people to communicate and collaborate through the Internet, decreasing — or even eliminating — the need to travel for a conference. There was a real heightened awareness of this recently,” he says. As a result of the spike in interest and sales for its Internet-conferencing products, NetDIVE had to scale up two key areas of its business: the support department and bandwidth. In the days after the attacks, NetDIVE hired several new support people (software engineers). How did they do it so quickly? “We always have resumes in the pipeline,” says Ansari. “So we had a pool of candidates to draw from.” The firm also “brought new machines online and increased bandwidth to the necessary amount within a matter of hours.” According to Ansari, adjusting to the demand wasn’t too difficult a transition because NetDIVE had a growth plan in place ahead of time–a plan that included a 50% increase in development and support efforts for its products. That increase was to include manpower, hardware, and bandwidth. Granted, the plan would normally have been executed over a matter of months or years–not days. But it at least provided a valuable framework for growth. “Due to the increase in orders and interest, we thought it was prudent to bring on people and machines. It was on our plan to grow the support group and to increase bandwidth. We expected sales to increase over time–we just had to accelerate the plan’s timing much faster than planned in the past few weeks.” George Kurtz, CEO, Foundstone Listen to your customers and react quickly. Call volume at Foundstone, a data and computer security firm, increased 35% in the days after the attacks, says CEO George Kurtz. And the Irvine, Calif.-based company closed quite a few larger-than-usual deals–six-figure deals for Fortune 100 companies–during that period as well. And not only were they larger than usual; the speed of service requested was unusual, too. “The notable item is the speed in which they closed,” says Kurtz. “These companies wanted our services immediately.” All of this was happening during a time when Foundstone was scrambling to deal with the effects of the attacks. Although Foundstone is based in California, it has offices and training centers nationwide–including one in the World Trade Center. Fortunately, all of Foundstone’s WTC employees were unharmed. How did Foundstone handle the chaos? In short, they listened carefully to what customers were saying. Within a day, for example, customers were calling with concerns about the vulnerability of their systems to cyberterrorist attacks. And a week later, when the destructive “Nimda” computer worm started spreading, calls piled in about how to protect against it. Foundstone monitored these calls and concerns, and quickly addressed them. One of the first steps was to quickly create new packages and offerings to clients that focused on the cyberterrorism and viruses. For example, they immediately created a Nimda package as call volume about the virus soared. And they also put together a new cyberterrorism package in the aftermath of the attacks. “We wrote a tool that would quickly identify the systems infected by Nimda and that would help remove the worm from each system,” explains Kurtz. “We packaged up a specific ‘Incident Response’ offering tailored at organizations that needed our expertise in containing the Nimda worm in their environment and then helped them secure their critical systems. This entailed immediately dispatching our personnel on-site within hours to help fix the problem.” “The tough part is in the short term,” continues Kurtz. “Because of the new security fears, everyone wants everything done within the next two weeks. So of course we’ re working extra hours and weekends to get things done in that time span.” Seymour Friedel, CEO, Zydacron Be a “well-oiled company.” “Well-oiled companies are prepared for fluctuations, even major ones,” says Seymour Friedel, founder and CEO of Manchester, NH-based Zydacron, a designer and manufacturer of videoconferencing technology. “Well-oiled means that all of your systems are in good shape–financial, billing, manufacturing, your pipeline of parts, Web site and ordering systems, etc.–so you’re prepared to deal with rapid changes in workflow,” he explains. To be more specific, Friedel lists three key steps, specifically geared toward manufacturing, to being “well-oiled”: The product must be “manufacturable.” First, it must require low labor content, so that “you can double factory input without doubling the staff.” Second, it must entail very good design, so that “a high percentage of the pieces that come off the line work the first time.” You must have tight control over your inventory. Know what you have in stock and have the ability to get additional materials on short notice. You should also have a good relationship with your parts suppliers. You must have a modular manufacturing process. “If you run out of capacity, it is easy to replicate another manufacturing module to increase production,” explains Friedel. Zydacron’s Web site hits jumped tenfold in the wake of the September 11 attacks and orders increased significantly. “We have had requests for quotes for amounts that we haven’ t seen in a long time, if ever. We’ve also had an increase in military requests,” says Friedel. Luckily, he continues, “there is plenty of excess capacity out there in terms of available parts. If this had happened when there was a parts shortage, we would have had to really scramble.” What would they have done in that case? “We would have found excess parts somewhere else. Or moved to a parts substitution if necessary.” Friedel says that Zydacron keeps close tabs on inventory and returned goods, and also keeps a close eye on customer support calls. This way, they quickly are aware of any product problems. Employees of Zydacron are all “extolled to ensure the product lives up to customer expectations,” says Friedel. By being well-oiled in these ways, Zydacron is prepared to handle sudden influxes of orders on the spot. Copyright © 2001 Inc.com LLC.
In the aftermath of the World Trade Center tragedy, state, federal, and city agencies are assisting affected businesses to recover as best they can. Most assistance comes in the form of long-term, low-interest loans. Remember, these are loans, not grants. As with any loans, business owners still have to fill out applications and be able to qualify. But this time, they face another huge problem – access to their records and data. Most of the large corporations in the affected area are prepared. In fact, the Y2K scare may have turned out to be a blessing. Big companies, afraid of having their systems disrupted by the Y2K bug, installed redundant systems, contingency plans, and off-site backup programs. But small businesses will be a different story. Jim King, Director of the New York State Small Business Development Center, estimates that 10-30% of small businesses will have lost ALL records. I suspect the number will be even higher, as I’ ve rarely seen a small business that keeps copies of their data in an off-site location. At most, they may have a copy of their tax returns on file with their accountant. The first job of SBDC and Small Business Administration counselors will be to help businesses recreate their records. So it’ s time to develop your own disaster prevention plan. I’ ve put a copy of the ” Contingency Plan” worksheet from my book, The Successful Business Organizer, on my Web site, www.RhondaWorks.com. You can find other crisis prevention information there also — select ” Help Me Rhonda,” then ” Crisis Center”. For years, I recommended businesses to back up data at least once a week and store copies off-site at a distance of a mile or more (in case of earthquakes, fires, etc.) But that’ s not easy to remember. So now I’ m URGING you to set up an online backup system, and you won’ t have to remember anything. The good news is this is easy and inexpensive. In the last few years, a number of companies have started to provide online, automatic data backup. Looking at the various options, I settled on the @backup service from SkyDesk, www.backup.com. The process is quite simple. You merely download the program from the company’ s Web site, select which of your files or folders to back up, and choose a time to have the backups performed. The first backup may take a while, but after that, the program only updates files you’ ve changed since the last backup, so it may only take a few minutes a day. This can be done at night if you leave your computers on or during the day. It works with either dial-up modems or high-speed connections (services for AOL and MSN members are coming out in the next few weeks). The service automatically connects to you: once you set it up, it happens without you thinking about it. Your data is encrypted so even SkyDesk personnel don’ t have access to it, and they maintain backup and redundant systems, so even if something happened to their corporate headquarters, your data would be safe. The @backup program was specifically designed for small businesses and home-office users. According to Mike Joseph, SkyDesk’ s executive vice president of marketing, 70% of their customers are companies with fewer than 25 employees. Prices vary according to how much data storage space you’ ll need. Joseph says their average customer uses 70 MB of storage space. Here are costs from a few of the online backup services: @backup. 30-day free trial; 50 MB for $49.95 annually; 500 MB for $299 annually ibackup.com. 50 MB for $36 annually; 500 MB for $120 annually Data Protection Services. Aimed at bigger companies, they start at 1GB for $49.95 month. Keep in mind that you don’ t need to do online backups of your software programs, only your data. Programs are easily replaced – your own records aren’ t! Back up every bit of precious information: customer lists, all your accounts, phone numbers, etc. Terrorist attacks may not be easy to prevent and natural disasters will inevitably occur. But saving your data is easy and inexpensive. At least, losing your records is one disaster you can avert. Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2001 Rhonda Abrams writes the nation’ s most widely-read small-business column and is the author of The Successful Business Plan: Secrets and Strategies and The Successful Business Organizer. For free business tips from Rhonda, register at www.RhondaWorks.com.