22 Jun Berbee puts people first to deliver high-quality technology
Madison, Wis. – When Berbee Information Networks was founded in 1993, founder James Berbee launched the company with two guiding principles: high quality customer service and technology.
Now in its twelfth year, Berbee has channeled these philosophies to create one of the largest and most versatile information technology providers in the Midwest. The company refuses to stay still in its market space, regularly training their staff and adding to their service options.
Finding a need and filling it
Berbee, a former IBM engineer, started the company in his Madison basement with an inital investment of $15,000. His goal was to take the networking technology he had worked on over the years and make it mainstream.
Berbee predicted corporate infrastructure was evolving to focus on technology for accessing and storing information, and that companies needed help mastering this technology. This prediction proved to be correct, as a period of heavy investment began in the industry and grew for the rest of the decade.
To respond to this growing interest Berbee decided to build a service that would support businesses rather than forcing technology on them. When customers come to Berbee for advice, Berbee studies their problem and supplies an analysis, suggesting the best technology to upgrade their system and helping them install it. Once the solution is installed, Berbee continues to supply tech support.
“No one’s ever come to us with a desire to buy technology, they want to solve a business problem,” said Paul Shain, president and CEO of Berbee. “[Our service] is the attempt to identify and figure out what you need to solve the business problem.”
Building the biggest roster possible
Shain said that it is one of Berbee’s main priorities to be in every level of the “technology stack”, and a major part of their expansion has been to add new technologies as they develop.
In 1999, Berbee was one of the first successful entrants into building off-site hosted data centers for their customers. The firm took a gamble on an emerging market with a multi-million dollar investment. This business has become one of Berbee’s most viable offerings with two major data center facilities in Madison and Minneapolis.
Berbee also works closely with several major technology firms, serving as a technology reseller for Cisco, Microsoft and IBM since the early 1990s. They handle Cisco’s network design and management software, storage resources and server upgrades from IBM, and provide assistance with installing Microsoft’s operating systems.
“There are people who do pieces of what Berbee does in the marketplace, but Berbee manages to do it all under one roof,” said Dave Pelisek, a partner with Baird Capital Partners. Baird has invested in Berbee since March of 2000.
Perfecting people skills
While getting a grip on successful technology was important, the most crucial factor to Berbee was to find a staff that communicates it. All the company’s employees – sales, engineering, marketing and programming – are chosen based on being technologically literate and expert communicators. If they can’t speak to customers, they do not have what it takes to succeed at Berbee.
“We have made real investments in people to determine these technologies,” Shain said.
Shain said that Berbee wants to create a “participatory environment” inside the company and out, working closely with both customers and sellers. Berbee arranges regular meetings for their sales and marketing staff with representatives from Cisco, IBM and Microsoft, making sure that each division is trained to handle sellers’ technologies.
“We are involved with Berbee at almost every level,” said Carl Helle, general manager at Cisco. “It’s very much a hand-in-hand relationship when selling to customers.”
Berbee’s style is also appreciated by customers. Frank Giannantonio, chief information officer at the clothing company Land’s End, who siad that a managed data center is efficient for the company, because whenever they have issues with their Web servers or broadband communication – services Berbee supplies through their Madison data center – they can simply call Berbee and have them perform upgrades.
“Why put myself at great risk with something we were unsure of?” Giannantonio said. “It’s prudent to go to people who know what they were doing and write a check every month.”
Giannantonio said that Berbee has come through for them. A few months ago they were having “unforecasted demand” with their online stores and needed more central processing units. Berbee was able to get the hardware installed and online within 24 hours.
“They’re very in-tune with what we do there,” Giannantonio said.
Never stop moving
Berbee has capitalized on their successes with customers and vendors, using their reputation and resources to move through the Midwest. Since their founding in 1993 they have established offices in five states outside Wisconsin, adding one or two new offices every year through aquistions or opening new locations.
Shain said Berbee chooses new companies due to their technology portfolio and geographic location, making sure both companies come away stronger. Last month they acquired the Appleton-based firm Strategies and Solutions due to its engineering focus on the IBM i-series of products, which Shain said they needed to develop further.
Pelisek said that what impressed him the most about Berbee’s expansion was the fact that they were able to transplant Berbee’s culture of customer service and versatility to different regions. Bringing these policies and procedures to other states has helped Berbee break into several markets and grow farther than other IT companies.
For the future, Pelisek predicted Berbee will have little trouble advancing in the IT market if it sticks to its business plan.
“The one driver is Berbee’s dedication and focus to looking 12 to 24 months in the future, figuring out what will be the next thing in the road,” Pelisek said.