Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Businesses taking advantage of Lafayette’s broadband capabilities are driving profits and improving their bottom lines.
By Erin Z. Bass


When Chris Rader started his IT business in Lafayette in 1998, he had two clients, one in Houston, the other in Los Angeles. Both had servers at their respective locations, and if there was a problem, Rader or one of his staff had to fly out to fix it. Today, Rader Solutions manages IT for 75 customers, 50 of those located out of state, and many of their servers are hosted in Lafayette.
Rader still travels for business, but it’s to maintain connections with clients, not to troubleshoot. Because of Lafayette’s high-speed Internet capabilities and LUS’s Fiber Network, downtime is rare and Rader can, for the most part, run his business from his desk at the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise. 

“We could do business anywhere, but the fiber makes it possible for us to do it here because it’s such a great conduit,” says Rader. “The fiber from LUS is rock solid. It just works all the time and allows us to compete with other companies that do hosting in other cities.”

Rader Solutions has been using LUS Fiber for several years to serve as a remote technology department for clients, and Rader says business grew by 60 percent last year. He expects similar growth in 2011. “We’re a high-growth company and will continue to be because we’re leveraging the fiber,” the entrepreneur says.
 
Locally, LUS is providing fiber, and Cox Communications offers a dedicated fiber pipe to businesses. Other companies like AT&T and Sprint, as well as Cox, sell high-speed Internet access in the form of broadband. Necessary to do business these days, broadband and fiber allow companies to upload and download much faster than if they were using a dialup service through a telephone line, as well as videoconference with clients and broadcast events or announcements over the Internet.

Rader Solutions is one of five companies housed in LITE’s “Opportunity Machine” business accelerator, designed to incubate and grow existing small businesses by offering free office space and Internet service. California firm Pixel Magic was the first tenant, proving that digital special effects for movies like Jonah Hex and the latest Harry Potter sequel can be created in Lafayette.

As a partnership between the Lafayette Economic Development Authority, LITE, UL Lafayette, the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce and Small Business Development Center, OM is also actively recruiting companies that might be a good fit for the accelerator and trying to get the word out from Lafayette to Baton Rouge. LEDA President Gregg Gothreaux says they have presented at five events since January, and the first in a series of seminars presented by OM and SBDC was held March 15. Designed for technology startups, spinoffs and the development of new service lines, these seminars will offer knowledge and tools that businesses need to be successful in today’s digital world.

Broadband advocate and head of the newly formed group FiberCorps, Geoff Daily believes there’s a ton of potential for Lafayette businesses if they take advantage of the technological capabilities available in the city from providers like LUS and Cox Communications.

“Because broadband is so new really, it’s only a minority of people out there who are truly utilizing it,” he says. “Companies that can gain some expertise and generate their own innovations in this space have the ability to then leverage that into new revenue growth for themselves. I think that’s just one of the biggest opportunities out there for businesses.”

In February of 2010 Abacus Data Exchange advanced its offerings to provide public virtualized “infrastructure-as-a-service,” what’s often referred to as cloud computing. Providing broadband solutions to local businesses since 2005, Abacus says businesses that want to streamline their workflow processes are looking to its data cloud for a solution to enhance productivity and efficiencies.

Local advertising and media company Calzone & Associates is one such business. Calzone has partnered with Abacus to leverage the new cloud and implement its functions for its own data management, storage backup and off-site redundancy, as well as file sharing and privacy protection. Calzone is adopting the cloud computing system to share inter-office files among office computers, act as a backup for all office computers, to protect confidential files, and to share large design files with clients, print-shops and media. Calzone has re-structured the workflow processes of its entire office around the new cloud system.

The data cloud makes it possible to share files with multiple users connected to a virtual machine housed and protected at Abacus’ secure data center. “All of our data is stored safely and securely in one location, where our entire team can access it at anytime,” says company CEO Julie Calzone. “The shared file system makes it easy to access a file that one person is working with, make changes to it, and instantly resave it to keep the process going,” Calzone adds. “We work off-site often, and this solution keeps us connected to the data and team at all times.” The virtual machine backs up every night automatically and is accessible by a remote virtual private network connection, giving workers use of current files even when they are away from the office.

According to broadband.gov, the site of the Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan for America, broadband can promote economic development and revitalization through e-commerce by creating new jobs and attracting new industries, while also providing access to regional, national and worldwide markets. The plan compares broadband to the transcontinental railroad and telephone, radio and television, which all spurred job growth and ultimately connected people around the country.

“Broadband is the great infrastructure challenge of the early 21st century,” the plan states. “Broadband is a platform to create today’s high-performance America — an America of universal opportunity and unceasing innovation, an America that can continue to lead the global economy, an America with world-leading, broadband-enabled health care, education, energy, job training, civic engagement, government performance and public safety.”

Daily recognizes that, for businesses, figuring out how they fit into the broadband picture can sound like an impossible task, but even the smallest business can benefit by doing something as simple as selling their product online. “What you need to do is focus on what are the problems of your business, where are your cost centers, where do you think there’s a potential market that you haven’t been able to go after yet? Then, go look at the tools and see how they can address these issues for your company,” he advises.
 
In addition to those located in LITE’s OM, other area businesses — like Calzone — have begun to take advantage of broadband and see changes in their bottom line. Acadian Companies’ National EMS Academy, which now trains 2 percent of all newly certified paramedics in the nation, grew out of a need the company decided to fill internally. In search of online distance learning and not finding an accredited program that met its needs, Acadian developed a model that connects six remote locations and uses a broadband Internet connection from AT&T to allow EMT students to interact with each other through voice and video. Acadian’s staff can also complete mandatory re-certification training online, something that used to involve travel and overtime hours.

NEMSA Director Gifford Saravia says this computer-based training has saved the company approximately half a million dollars, and with the NEMSA product now available for purchase to anyone online, Acadian hopes to generate an extra line of revenue.

“Students don’t want to travel to train and want to work where they train, so we bring the classroom to them,” says Saravia. “We’ve found the best model is to train them where they live, and our network is bulletproof.”

At Stuller Inc., Public Relations Specialist Randi Bourg says the company is starting to think more about how it can use broadband to streamline processes and cut down on costs. Stuller already trains customers through the use of webinars and conference calling paired with video. “Our IT department is also experimenting to see what possibilities are available for our internal locations,” Bourg says. With nine offices on three continents, company personnel currently fly from location to location to view new products and processes. “Our hope is that through the use of broadband, we’ll be able to communicate better instead of someone having to physically be there,” she adds.

For businesses that haven’t quite embraced broadband yet, nonprofit group FiberCorps was formed in October to serve as a support organization and facilitator. Daily, along with co-founder Marc LeDoux and two employees, has begun working on a few local technology projects, like delivering video of events over the LUS network directly to Acadiana Open Channel for broadcast, and plans to hold monthly networking events for businesses that want to learn more.

“If we can get businesses to realize that by embracing broadband and broadband innovation they can expand their markets to far beyond what’s down the street, we can get more of our companies operating on a national level and bring more money into the community,” says Daily. “It’s only worth doing if it’s going to drive profits and improve the bottom lines of businesses.”

GigaFest Coming to AcA - April 28
Want to know more about broadband’s implications for your business? Check out GigaFest.
GigaFest will feature a mobile unit with 84 48-inch monitors creating an immersive environment. This highly visual experience will allow members of the Lafayette business community to learn about the possibilities of business over big broadband pipe through video conferencing, interactive digital environments and informative presentations.
GigaFest is hosted by LUS Fiber and will take place at the new Acadiana Center for the Arts facility downtown. Four presentations will be given April 28 — at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Anyone interested in learning more about broadband options for businesses in Lafayette should call Amy Broussard at 210-4555 to reserve a seat during one of the sessions. Seating is limited.

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