01 Apr Inacom targets diversity programs as Milwaukee expansion drives growth
Madison, Wis. — Inacom Information Systems, a computer consulting and training firm headquartered on Madison’s south side and focused on the mid-market, recently announced it has become certified as a woman-owned business – after 20 years under the leadership of CEO Laurie Benson.
Benson has run Inacom since its beginning in 1984. But until now she has forthrightly told people that the business is not certified as woman-owned. That certification allows many clients, especially those in government, to count purchases from Inacom toward diversity programs.
Recently, especially with the firm’s expansion into Milwaukee, more and more clients have requested that Inacom become certified. So it applied through the Business Educational Consortium Inc., a non-profit group staffed by volunteers that serves mostly Wisconsin.
The application took about two months, as BECI made sure that not only is a controlling share in the company woman-owned, but that women have significant executive input. A site visit capped off a process that included detailed questionnaires about who makes different kinds of decisions.
“Nobody will ever be certified by them if they don’t qualify,” Benson said.
Benson said the company’s approach to business and to attracting clients wouldn’t change, but it would have a “bonus” to offer diversity-focused customers.
“We truly, in the sales cycle, talk about the fact that we’re women owned,” said Liz Skolaski, vice president of sales at Inacom.
Benson specifically mentioned companies such as Johnson Controls, a Milwaukee-based producer of electronic control systems for vehicles.
“Our growth last year was 40 percent,” Benson said – from $50 million in 2003 to $70 million in 2004. Much of that came from adding a new market in Milwaukee, a big step for a company that has stayed focused on Madison since its inception.
“This year we expect our growth to be 15 to 20 percent across the board,” she added.
Inacom’s growth strategy has been to get into multiple markets – major areas now are voice, storage and health-care IT, with voice making up about half the business – build a solid base before expanding, and hire locally so that existing staff can remain in place.
The company also makes good use of its partnerships with major international partners such as Microsoft and Cisco, who may have an easier time going through local providers such as Inacom than trying to maintain sales offices everywhere. “The manufacturers really, really need companies like us,” Benson said.
Health care and compliance
Two up-and-coing areas for Inacom are health care – which made up a big part of business even before the firm made it a focus – and the compliance issues looming over IT such as Sarbanes-Oxley.
“We’ve created a health-care vertical,” Skolaski said. “Our feeling was it’s a better way to take care of our health care clients. They have a lot of specific applications to their industry that no one else does.”
She sees Inacom as an integrator in that market, pulling together storage, security and other technologies as well as training.
Meanwhile, Benson said that compliance is one of the few areas that even cash-strapped customers are paying full attention to.
“Clients are saying they can’t skimp on compliance, even if they cut back on everything else,” she said.
Even small businesses that do not currently fall under regulatory requirements such as Sarbanes-Oxley need to pay attention to compliance, she said, especially if they are looking to be bought by a larger company or to expand.
“It doesn’t matter what size they are,” Benson said. “There’s nowhere for them to hide.”