Joe DuehmigNetwork Directions was founded for one purpose: to help small businesses understand and get the most out of their technology investments. Back in 1999, a sea change was occurring with business technology. The “Y2K” bug was forcing many, if not most, small businesses to replace their old, known, (if somewhat buggy) systems with new Windows systems they did not understand. The cost and complexity of the new systems were overwhelming business owners as well as the employees that had to transition to them.

In 1999, I had worked in both private industry and government sectors designing and building large national and global communications systems. The companies that did this type of work knew how to deliver these complex projects but were utterly incapable of providing quality services to small businesses. I understood that what a small business owner looks for first is a level of trust, followed closely by the technical know-how to get the job done.

Trust is not something that is given lightly, and I knew that the best way to start building the trust was through effective communications. This established one of the basic tenets for Network Directions: always communicate in clear, non-technical terms that shows the link between the technology and the business needs it is intended to solve. If we can’t show a clear connection between a recommended solution and a legitimate business requirement, we don’t deserve to do the work.

We know that many consulting companies claim to be ‘technology driven’. Often this means upgrades for the sake of an upgrade; pushing new software to users that don’t need it and creating unnecessary learning curves and lost productivity. At Network Directions, we start with the business requirements and follow with the technology. Just because there is a new version of software available doesn’t mean it must be rolled out immediately. We also understand that the cost of an upgrade or new system is not simply the hardware/software and labor. There is a definite cost to the business that comes from the users’ learning curve; the lost productivity as new processes are learned and bugs are worked out. We take all of this into account when we assess a company’s technology environment.

With the successful conclusion of the Y2K issues, Network Directions began focusing on other areas of technology that affect small businesses. In 2000, most businesses did not have permanent Internet connections. Often a single modem was used to dial-up to the Internet to check a single e-mail account. DSL was in its infancy, and higher speed connections were cost prohibitive. While this kept the Internet under control, it prevented reliable remote connections or troubleshooting. So when something went wrong, the problem had to be reported manually and usually meant a certain segment of a company was down and couldn’t work. This lead to the second tenet for Network Directions: respond quickly and with all the tools for the job when a customer calls. Being able to respond quickly helps reduce overall downtime and keeps the costs associated with downtime to a minimum.

It wasn’t long after 2000 that DSL Internet connections offered “always on” Internet connections at a speed that allowed better support options than simply waiting for a report of a problem. In 2002, Network Directions became one of the first technology companies in Wisconsin to transition to a “Managed Services” model and begin the move away from the traditional “Break/Fix” approach (i.e., if it breaks, call us and we’ll fix it). Managed Services was a marked improvement over Break/Fix in several ways. First, the always-on Internet connections allowed us to remotely monitor key components of a customer’s network 24×7. With a new, sophisticated monitoring system installed in our data center, any problems or issues with components like servers, switches, routers, etc. would generate an alert that we would receive immediately. As often happens, many issues occur after normal business hours and the monitoring alerts meant we were aware of the problem before the customer. To this day, my cell phone is never turned off so any alerts that come in after hours are always received and responded to. Knowing when a small issue occurs often helps us prevent a larger issue and any ensuing downtime.

Another advantage of the always-on connections was the ability to connect remotely to servers and workstations. Now we no longer had to respond on-site to every problem. We could quickly and efficiently check logs, reboot servers, and assist users without any delays from drive times and freeway traffic. We have upgraded our remote support software several times over the years to take advantage of new capabilities and provide even better support to our customers.

As we have moved through the new millennium and into the second decade, some truly amazing changes have taken place in technology and in business. We have helped our customers navigate the changes from Windows 98, XP and Windows 7 on the desktop and Windows 2000, 2003, 2008 and 2012 on the server side. Countless upgrades and improvements in e-mail, Internet access, and the ability to communicate with customers and vendors have occurred in this time. As expected, new threats and security needs have arisen to challenge us all.

Now we see smart phones and tablets, Windows 8 and touch screens, BYOD (bring your own devices) and mobile workers, not to mention ransomware and malware. With each new technology and each new threat, Network Directions continues to grow to meet the challenges and to provide our customers with the best service, support, and advice.