Desktop to Dial Tone

By Khali Henderson Comments
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IT MIGHT SEEM INCONGRUOUS

that a 37-year-old company might have a compelling VoIP story. Heck, the granddaddies of the industry like Cisco Systems Inc. are barely 20. But, DecisionOne Corp. executives are working on an autobiography that places the IT field services firm at the center of this nascent industry.

CEO Neal Bibeau and Vice President of Business Development Geoff Drayton

“We have an organization that knows how to deliver service that can be relevant to a lot of growth areas of the marketplace,” explains Neal Bibeau, DecisionOne’s CEO. “There is really a very ready application for the core DecisionOne capabilities to help make these companies legitimate.”

DecisionOne’s capabilities fall into three buckets, including technical service/help desk; inventory, logistics and repair; and field service, including installation and ongoing maintenance. “Generally, the technologies that we support are everything you would see in an enterprise computing footprint — from the data center ... all the way up to desktop workgroup,” says Bibeau, noting that data center and desktop workgroup are two of the company’s three divisions. “Then we have networking communications that brings these things together.”

Leveraging these capabilities is part of an overall restructuring and refocusing of the company that began in 2000 with a Chapter 11 bankruptcy — a not uncommon circumstance for tech companies during the Internet bust. In DecisionOne’s case, the financial reorganization was the result of high debt incurred over a six-year acquisition spree during the mid-’90s. Some of the companies that were acquired by DecisionOne, which was known as Decision Data until 1995, included Bell Atlantic Business Systems Services, Memorex Telex, Xerox Technology Services and General Diagnostics. In all, the company completed nearly 40 deals in its rollup strategy.

Bibeau, a veteran of the IT and data industries, was recruited in March 2005 to sharpen the focus of the company and to oversee a second Chapter 11 reorganization filed coincident with his arrival. “We had to define the core focus, which was IT infrastructure support services, get the fundamentals in line and then figure out interesting ways to build the business and grow,” he says.

Bibeau says DecisionOne needed to divest itself of a few business lines, like call centers, that didn’t support the company’s core competency. And, he says, faced with a shrinking market for independent IT service providers, it needed to revisit its go-to-market strategy. “Historically, DecisionOne had a mixed model where the principle sales thrust was to go direct and secondary was the partnership model,” Bibeau says, explaining the company’s indirect approach was through OEMs, large integrators and other partners that were taking market share from the independents. “We shifted our perspective to a partnerships model where we will pursue indirect channels as a principle means of building our business.”

These channels not only included the usual suspects, but also new opportunities with companies like Google, which in June tapped DecisionOne to install and support implementations of Google’s enterprise search appliances, and also emerging VoIP players.

To capitalize on these opportunities, Bibeau recruited Geoff Drayton as the company’s vice president of business development. Bibeau knew Drayton as a “tenacious” executive from Excite@Home. The executives’ paths crossed when Bibeau as CIO for travel management company Rosenbluth International was working on a deal to deliver online travel services through Excite@Home’s Work.com joint venture with Dow Jones & Co. Inc. “I thought Geoff would be a good person to point at those challenges. I knew we would get some discipline and traction around it,” says Bibeau.

In addition to these strategic steps, DecisionOne’s restructuring included some inevitable cost-cutting. It shed overhead like real estate and operating infrastructure. Among the changes were a move to new headquarters in Devon, Pa., and the installation of a hosted VoIP system in summer 2005. The experience confirmed the company’s plans to expand into the VoIP arena. “It was very apparent that the company that was going to provide our hosted [VoIP] system could also partner with us for field service deployments and the logistics and technical support,” says Drayton.

With that impetus, the company developed and launched in September 2005 its Desktop to Dialtone program aimed at providing VoIP life cycle support services to hosted VoIP service providers and VoIP OEMs. Desktop to Dialtone includes a readiness assessment, including onsite and remote evaluations; logistic services, such as pick/pack/ship, configuration and advance exchange; deployment of IP phones, softphones, IP PBXs, routers and switches; and technical service desk.

Drayton took Desktop to Dialtone on the trade show circuit last fall. “We started to talk to the companies and found out this was a huge point of pain for them,” he says, describing the problem of servicing multilocation customers in a cost-effective and consistent manner.

“We give them an overnight national footprint,” he adds. In fact, the company has 1,700 technicians on the payroll in the United States and Canada. “We have field technicians within a half-hour drive of 85 percent of the U.S. population,” says Bibeau, noting the gaps are filled with contractors. “Our goal is to be local everywhere.”

This network of techs is supported by more than 300 inventory locations and about 300 people working in ISO 9001:2000-certified logistics and repair facilities in Grove City, Ohio, and Northborough, Mass. Another 300 technical service reps handle more than 300,000 calls per month, providing 24/7 triage, dispatch and second-line support, primarily from two locations in Tulsa, Okla., and Ridgefield, Minn. About 200 people are in administration, sales and marketing, and another 500 (in varying capacities) are located in Canada.

DecisionOne’s Support Life Cycle

DecisionOne had signed 20 Desktop to Dialtone service agreements as of early August, says Drayton. Among the announced deals are those with gearmakers like Whaleback Systems and with hosted PBX companies Pandora Networks and Nuvio Inc. The company is not limiting its alliances, however. This month, it is expected to announce a partnership with New Global Telecom Inc. to provide an integrated service to NGT’s resellers. “Every VoIP deployment requires CPE,” says NGT’s CEO Rich Grange, noting most of its resellers have limited or no truck roll coverage. “We have always felt that CPE fulfillment and delivery was a critical component in the service-delivery model. It was something we planned to integrate into our offer.”

DecisionOne already works directly with several resellers of the NGT platform. However, the new offer will be integrated into NGT’s business processes and OSS. Grange says DecisionOne fills in the missing pieces of its service-delivery model, making NGT’s 6degreesIP product fully turnkey.

The NGT deal highlights the costefficiencies of repeatable processes made possible by the Desktop to Dialtone program, which has tested and trained on most leading VoIP gear. “If I have to send my salesperson five times to an account as well as a sales engineer, I could easily exceed in expenses the revenue from that new customer,” says Drayton. “We have developed processes that we can fix price what it [costs] to set up a customer.”

DecisionOne’s foray into the VoIP marketplace on behalf of its new partners began in earnest this spring, but Bibeau says it’s too early to quantify its financial impact on the company. He did say it is a growth component of the company’s desktop workgroup division, which accounts for 40 percent of DecisionOne’s revenue. “In terms of our ability to maintain our presence and grow in that area, it’s essential for us to remain current. The [VoIP] service reflects how this environment, this computing environment, is evolving,” he says, explaining the importance of developing competencies in the space.

“We need to support the data center of the corporation and all those distributed and mobile workers,” adds Drayton. “Voice and data converging is a major part of that. For our technicians to be able to go into corporation with 1,000 franchises and each one has servers and desktops and VoIP all converged to IP communications, we have the ability to service that environment. That’s a huge growth strategy.”

But DecisionOne has no intention of going it alone; it wants to be the VoIP industry is tech support department, notes Bibeau. “Whether it’s a VoIP carrier or a networking appliance OEM or cable company, our goal is to be an efficient, preferred service provider to support that part of their business.”


Up Close & Personal

CEO:

Neal Bibeau
Vice President of Business Development & VoIP Evangelist: Geoff Drayton
Company: DecisionOne Corp.
Web: www.decisiononecorporate.com
Headquarters: Devon, Pa.
Employees: About 3,000, including 1,700 field techs
VoIP Partners: Borderless Communications, Broadsmart, Cypress Communications, Epygi Technologies Ltd., Facet Corp., GHA Technologies Inc., Gentek Marketing, Hello Direct, IPTelesis, IPtimize Inc., LineSider, M2 Power Inc., Neobits Inc., Nuvio Inc., Pandora Networks, Proximiti Inc., TalkSwitch Inc., Teck Vond Enterprise Inc., Tristar Communications, VoiceNext and Whaleback Systems (as of Aug. 10)
First Jobs: Bibeau cleaned pools and Drayton mowed lawns
First “Real” Jobs:
Bibeau worked at Dun & Bradstreet Corp. after earning his MBA from Dartmouth College. Drayton started out as a retail broker with Kidder Peabody & Co.
Hobbies: Drayton ice dances with his wife, a figure-skating judge
Obsessions: “I would not marry my wife until she learned how to ski,” says Bibeau. “I am not sure if that qualifies as a hobby or an obsession.”
Favorite Gadget: “I think the greatest thing is the air card I just got,” says Bibeau. “You can use it anywhere. I finished up my board presentation at the bar in the airport.” Drayton, on the other hand, is a “Mac person.” “I am the only employee at DecisionOne that uses a Mac computer for work,” he says.
Links
DecisionOne Corp. www.decisiononecorporate.com
FacetCorp www.facetcorp.com
IPtimize Inc. www.iptimize.com
Neobits Inc. www.neobits.com
New Global Telecom Inc. www.ngt.com
Nuvio Inc. www.nuvio.com
Pandora Networks www.pandoranetworks.com
Proximiti Inc. www.proximiti.com
TalkSwitch Inc. www.talkswitch.com
Whaleback Systems www.whalebacksystems.com

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