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Originally Published October 12, 2002
Survivors of the dot-com crash regroup for success
 By Bobby White, Daily Record Business Writer
Three businesses that seemingly have no commonality are reflecting the changing winds in a beleaguered technology industry.
Salar Inc., Emerson Climate Technologies and Scientific Systems & Software International Corp. are tech companies that have seen the downturn unfold before their eyes, but have focused their energies on highly specific areas that received very little attention before the fall.
Since the market took its dive in 2000, companies have tried to respond by readjusting product lines, lowering prices or promoting how their products improve efficiencies. The latter, efficiency, is the mantra many companies have begun to chant to refocus their interest.
Salar is a Baltimore-based software company that helps health care organizations streamline care delivery with applications for medical personal digital assistance. While PDAs, the most notable of which is the Palm Pilot, have been sluggish in catching on with the general public, doctors of all sorts have caught hold of them.
"There are areas in the health care profession that are either labor intensive, error prone or require a lot of documentation," said Todd Johnson, president of Salar. "A couple of years back physicians carried around index cards as when they visited different patients. Those cards indicated what was wrong with the patient, and, using the cards, he was able to keep up with ailments and remedies for each individual. Our main product streamlines that."

The application allows doctors to access and update patient encounters on PDAs. The software allows the doctor to see a patient's profile, make a medical necessity check and allows managers to check for up to date billing information. The software has been licensed to Johns Hopkins University.

Johnson said the billing component of the technology totally revamps a process that takes 30 to 60 days if done entirely on paper. "Now, the most it would take is three to five days."
Much like Salar, Columbia based SSSI tries to streamline what was once a cumbersome process.
The president and chief executive officer of the Columbia based firm has spent the past 17 years building a company that has seen a lot in the tech industry.

A. Nayab Siddiqui started the company as a competitor to IBM but soon saw other venues to get into. Over the years the company has dipped its toes in a number of areas: software training, Web site development, customer support, systems and software development for a dozen government and corporate clients.

But in the past few years, with revenue growth shrinking, the company has developed a bundle of Web based applications, with Siddiqui hoping that the application side of his company will prove explosive.

SSSI has a bundled application package called xpdtime™, which helps companies keep time sheets, direct projects, and manage contracts and human resources functions. Other applications include intraReady™, an office ready Intranet, and webZerve™, a management program for Web site content.

With the products, SSSI will become an application service provider, which sells licenses to companies that want to use the services.

"If a business was being audited, it used to take months to provide the info. Now with our software applications that info comes at the press of a button, provided in minutes," said Siddiqui. "We have created another level of performance improvement. Where there once were typewriters now there are computers and, with this, another extension of that continuum."
Analyst say the feverish spending by companies on technology since the downturn has all but come to a stop, with the architects of that spending being forced to account for what it is they have purchased and how it will improve that business.
Between 1996 and 2000, companies invested $1.7 trillion in technology - nearly double the amount spent in the previous five years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
"In many cases the money spent by firms on technology was dictated by the [information technology] people who had no understanding of the business ramifications," said Zeuf Kerravala, vice president of the Yankee Group, a Boston based consulting firm. "So it used to be tech people who only knew about their piece of the pie and were oblivious to how their slice affected the whole pie."

"There seemed to be very little accountability out there," he said. "Until finally people began to see that all the money dumped into these new applications weren't necessarily making the business better."

The industry downturn, however unfortunate, was necessary, he said. It forced companies to prioritize. He said, on average, 75 percent of a firm's tech budget goes to just keeping the system up and running, with the remaining 25 percent devoted to new project development.

"Now, that 25 percent is very closely guarded," he said.

Emerson Climate is a bit different than the other two companies. It is a subsidiary of a much larger company - Emerson Electric. Emerson Electric has more than 60 divisions, employs 120,000 people and posted revenue of $ 15.5 billion for 2001.

By drawing on the different divisions, the company created Emerson Climate three years ago. The subsidiary creates a multitude of products, but its retail services organization is making headway in improving other businesses.

The company, using a combination of remote monitoring and on-site technicians, uncovers mechanical problems that produce excessive energy usage and necessitate maintenance calls at supermarkets. The company finds ways to reduce energy consumption; then, once the store is operating at optimum efficiency, the supermarket is placed on a monitoring system.

The St. Louis based company is also in the process of rolling out a food quality monitoring program. The program will be able to measure the condition of the food, whether it has been infected with bacteria and, if so, what kind of bacteria it is.

"We have really exciting technology, and the work we do is obviously coveted," said Paul Wickberg, president.

Wickberg said energy cost for a typical supermarket of 45,000 square feet can range from $150,000 to $200,000 annually. He said the energy efficiency program can help a supermarket shave its power usage by 4 percent to 9 percent. He said the number of companies, which signed on for the technology, have grown by 275 percent compared to last year's numbers.

"What we do is help companies run better, and that is something we feel we do very well," he said.

Copyright © 2002, The Daily Record. All Rights Reserved.

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