All Engineers On Deck

January 26, 2007
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GRAND HAVEN — Six-year-old technology firm IT Resource was first introduced to the Little Traverse Bay of Odawa Indians in a blind e-mail from a Grand Haven peer scouting vendors for the tribe's $140 million Odawa Casino Resort in Emmet County near Petoskey.

"He wanted to know if we'd be interested in being the IT consultant for the casino," said IT Resource founder and vice president Leo Reap. "We said, 'Yeah, who wouldn't?' We figured any company that deals in money must have a pretty good cash flow."

Intended to replace the smaller Victories Casino upon its grand opening this June, the Odawa Casino would represent the 10-employee firm's largest single project ever, with oversight of the construction and design of a multifaceted technology network integrating security, surveillance, operations, communications, gaming machines and a virtual "pouch pay" system using wireless personal devices to distribute winnings.

ITR did not make the first cut of 15 candidates, but was later solicited to bid again.

"A requirement we had was that we didn't want to do this by e-mail," said Reap. "We told them we wanted to come on site and see it for ourselves. Let's sit down and have a face-to-face."

The following week after that conversation, which Reap conducted on his cell phone outside of another client site, the Grand Haven firm met with casino leaders, and was subsequently awarded the contract.

"We were against some heavy competition, and I'm not exactly sure how we ended up with it," said Reap. "The only thing I can glean is that we were the only ones that sent engineers and not salespeople."

This has been the model for ITR since its inception. It has no salespeople and does virtually no marketing, yet could immediately hire five additional engineers if it could find candidates with the necessary customer service and engineering skills. It has grown annually by 25 percent to 40 percent, though Reap believes it could have grown by twice that if the company had not been committed to controlled growth.

"We felt that was critical to our future success," said co-founder and senior partner Gary Lutz. "You see a lot of companies go from 10 to 50 employees in a year or two, and the next thing you know they're out of business. They weren't able to extend the core competency of the company to all those employees."

Reap and Lutz, previously coworkers at a competing firm, launched ITR in late 2000. Their technology consulting and network design firm quickly turned existing relationships into customers with a no-nonsense business model driven solely by fulfilling customer needs — a particular selling point for government and manufacturing clients.

With recent budget crunches, clients in the public sector — including the cities of Grandville and Grand Haven, state of Michigan and Ottawa County, among many other ITR clients — have been forced to find more efficient ways to operate. Technology can provide the means to do so, but it must be done right the first time.

Likewise, manufacturing companies large and small are faced with a need to change quickly and often, but with little budget for IT expenditures. Both sectors have readily adopted IT outsourcing models.

"We watch out for them," said Reap. "If they have this new manufacturing system that isn't working, we'll interface with the vendor to get the system fixed. Is that part of the scope for a new server and firewall? Absolutely not, but they've paid a lot of money for this thing and they're not getting the data they need. We're not going to tell them they're on their own."

ITR has also avoided limitations by industry and in the scope and scale of its projects. Its clients range from small business to enterprise campuses, are located throughout the country, and represent nearly every sector.

That flexibility allowed the firm to confidently take on the Odawa Casino, a project involving a number of requirements ITR was not readily familiar with, as well as another ongoing project for a Florida-based client, a 209-foot ocean-going yacht.

"This really shows what technology can do," said Lutz. "Everything is integrated into the vessel — multiple communication ports, satellite, ship monitoring systems, multiple networks, navigation — and redundancies like you can't imagine. You can't lose any components."

With no knowledge of ship-to-shore power, VSAT satellite Internet systems or radar, the ship was an educational experience for ITR engineers. Even so, as they figured out how the systems worked, they were able to offer suggestions to the marine vendors that made the network more robust.

ITR is currently building a second facility at 7701 W. Randall St. in Coopersville. The company closed on the 8,500-square-foot building last month. It is currently occupied by medical and dental offices with 3,100 square feet of vacant space, in which ITR will build a data center and conference and office space, with room to build a 7,000-square-foot addition if the need arises.

With the data center, ITR will for the first time be able to host client servers on site, a service it had not been comfortable in doing at its Grand Haven facility, a leased space in a large office building. It is also more convenient for the firm's Grand Rapids-based employees.    

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