CCS Technologies to open new Grand Haven location

September 27, 2009
| By Pete Daly |
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CCS Technologies, one of the oldest information technology sales and services companies in West Michigan, is adding a second location in Grand Haven. Founded by Greg Slater of Spring Lake and two other individuals, CCS is now owned and operated solely by Slater and his wife, Ellen, and has been located in Coopersville since 1976.

The second location will be at 206 Washington St. in downtown Grand Haven, the former Studio 206 Hair Salon. Slater expects the business to be up and running there by mid- to late October.

Slater, 55, knows as much about accounting procedures as he does about computers. When he enrolled at Muskegon Business College (now Baker College of Muskegon) in the early 1970s, he wanted to major in data processing.

"If you took data processing, you also had to take accounting as a second major," said Slater, because "that's what people were doing with them," he added, referring to the early computers.

At its beginning in 1976, CCS Technologies provided payroll and accounts payable and receivable services, as well as many additional business reporting and accounting functions to local West Michigan businesses. Slater's business revolved around the TeleVideo 8088 personal computer with a modem, which allowed him to process payrolls for perhaps 75 or 100 local companies. The modem cost more than $500 — a lot of money in the 1970s — but he was able to transmit his clients' accounting entries and other data to banks.

"That was very high tech back then," he said.

"Then people started buying equipment from RadioShack — the old Tandys," said Slater.

According to its corporate Web site, RadioShack's first big hit with consumers was the CB radio, followed in 1977 with the first mass-produced personal computer: the TRS-80 microcomputer. (TRS stands for Tandy RadioShack.) The TRS-80 microprocessor was in the keyboard and data was saved on cassette tapes, and people were very, very excited about it.

Slater said a lot of his clients bought Tandys with the expectation that they could use them to do their own business accounting.

"RadioShack and Tandy sold a lot of those computers," but many people who intended to use them for small business ended up needing a lot of help, he said.

"I would go in after they bought it and help them get it set up. That’s really how we got into the PCs — helping clients who bought it get it operational."

In the early days, CCS had about five employees. It is still a small business; today, there are about 10 employees. About 80 percent of its business volume is sales and service for small businesses; the remainder is the home PC user.

After 33 years, "the basics have really remained the same," said Slater. "We still work with small to medium-sized companies" that range in size from 10 to 150 employees.

"We match very well with companies that do not have an IT department, or possibly they have only one person in their IT department. Our overall philosophy is still to keep our customers operational, so they can conduct business and do what they need to do to stay in business. We take care of the technology that allows them to do that."

In a short span in September, CCS sold and installed two server systems. "Those are big projects," said Slater.

"Operational" is a key word at CCS. Slater said when CCS was founded, it first had to focus on keeping its own business operational. CCS was using technology to produce payroll checks, financial reports, income tax documents for accountants, and similar data services for its clients.

Now "operational" is also critical in residential settings.

"Because of the unemployment situation, we're seeing a lot of sole proprietors that work out of their homes now. They might have lost their job, so they're maybe doing some consulting or sales. Their computers are very, very important to them," he said.

Obviously, the leisure IT market is strong, too. Who doesn't need a daily Internet fix on the PC at home?

"We do a lot of repairing of systems and selling computers, notebooks, technology," said Slater.

But the company doesn’t do payroll anymore. Slater said they stopped performing business accounting services like that about 10 years ago.

"We strictly focus on the technology and taking care of customers from a technology standpoint. That includes everything from networks to Internet security to computer repair — and Web site design."

He quickly adds that the company’s Web site design is approached from a practical business standpoint — "not necessarily a whiz-bang graphical standpoint."

A good example is the Web site CCS created for Alliance Analytical Laboratory, a microbiology and chemical analysis service based in Coopersville that does testing for about 300 clients across the country.

Peter Nielsen of AAL said most of the work is related to food products, but it also does tests for industrial clients, and even drinking water analysis for health departments. The AAL site offers its clients password-protected access to their test results, so security and the speed of the communication is absolutely critical. Nielsen said there are times when a shipment of new product is on hold until test results are confirmed and in hand. The AAL system includes instant automatic e-mail notification to clients when a test result can be downloaded from the AAL Web site.

CCS also serves as a help desk for its small business clients.

"Years ago we used to have to drive out to the customer" to fix a problem, he said. "Now with remote access, we do a lot of the technical support right from here, as long as their computer is operational and they have Internet. We can go into it and solve 60 to 70 percent of the issues that way."

Today, IT is the lifeblood of most businesses, and the issue of adequate data backups "are huge," said Slater. "I have always said: You can never have enough backups. I've said that in the `80s, I've said that in the `90s, and now I'm saying it in the 2000s."

How much backup a business needs depends on how long your business can be non-operational, he said.

"Some people can only be down minutes, or maybe an hour or two," he said, adding that image-based backups are the answer in those cases.

"Even if your building burns or people steal (your equipment), you get new hardware in there and you put that image back on and you're operational. That’s less than a day, even in a disaster situation," said Slater.

Backups and viruses are a hot topic in communications from CCS to its customers, which are via CCS Alert e-mails and a monthly newsletter.

Slater said they are careful not to send alerts too frequently; otherwise, people tend to ignore them. When they do send one, it is a bona fide warning about some malware spreading on the Internet, along with practical steps to take to avoid it. In July, an alert sent by CCS reported on a coordinated attack on U.S. government and South Korean government Web sites, and that Web site security experts believed an attack on individual PCs was next. (First steps to take: If in doubt, don't even turn on your PC. Make sure you have your data backed up safely on another hard drive or secure storage.)

CCS has taken a defiant approach to the recession: "We chose not to participate," joked Slater. "We're staying very busy," he said, but added that it is obvious that some CCS customers have not been doing so well.

"It really hurts to see that," he said.

But Slater is an optimist.

"I've seen things really pick up in the last two months," he said.

In talking with customers every day, he said he is seeing and hearing "a lot of positives out there in the small business arena right now, which really gives me great hope that it's looking better."

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