Technology – Economic trends


PC manufacturer changes company vision preparing for the future

Terry Anderson is a man ahead of his time. Or perhaps he’s clairvoyant.
In either case, Anderson, the CEO and founder of Pewaukee-based Omni Tech, saw the crash that hit the PC market in September 2000 about three years before his other executives and started to formulate a strategy that would carry the PC manufacturer well beyond the years when PCs are no longer manufactured in the US.
"I’ve been saying this for five years: This industry is very much like the calculator was," Anderson says of PCs. "Years ago, I got my first calculator; it was a $1,700 Hewlett Packard — a great big moose — and it added, subtracted, multiplied and divided. Today you can buy a calculator for $8 that’s solar-powered and it can do every math function you can imagine. … I think, eventually, the computer industry will go that route for the computer itself."
He emphasizes the hardware-aspect of that statement because he is attempting to reinvent his company into a total solution provider of information technology.
The marketplace looks at Omni Tech’s PCs as if they are commodities, even though the company believes its machines to be superior to its competition. So the question became: How could Omni Tech thrive, given the "commoditization" of its product and the current economic conditions — meaning the industry is still reeling, the recession is still here, and given the events of Sept. 11?
The company has already distinguished itself with its customers in several ways, according to Anderson, who led a tour of his two Pewaukee facilities. The PCs are good machines judging by the staff of six people in the customer service department responsible for the nearly 300,000 active machines in the field. Omni Tech also distinguishes itself by its customer retention — "customers for life," as Anderson says — at an eye-popping 98% per year, and much of the turnover is due to the fact that the client wants to ship the PCs internationally. Because Omni Tech has such high standards of customer service, it won’t ship overseas if it can’t support those PCs.
Part of its customer service includes making sure hardware updates are compatible with clients’ software packages. Omni Tech also pre-loads software onto new machines for 90% of its clients.
Another unique aspect of the company is having the clients maintain the units in the field, rather than have Omni Tech personnel making house calls. The company also has the ability to track each PC by setting parameters for the machines; if the machine runs outside of those parameters — for instance, if the hard drive is too hot, which can cause it to crash and lose data — Omni Tech can call to warn the client of a possible malfunction, averting potential disasters from happening.
With the company selling more than $135 million worth of PCs and services in 2001, it’s hard to argue with success.
But the company’s change in philosophy can be boiled down to this: Instead of leading with the PCs it manufactures, Omni Tech’s salesforce is now leading with its array of services. The PCs have become almost incidental in the transaction, according to Anderson, thus when Omni Tech can no longer compete with overseas manufacturers on price, the company will be in position to continue to thrive.
"It used to be, in the 20th century, it was good enough to talk to your customers, find out what they needed and fulfill that need," Anderson says. "In the 21st century, you really need to know where your customers are and you need to bring things to them that they never thought of before. So it’s our responsibility to bring things to our customer, which we can do very easily in this business because the technology business is changing so rapidly, and many of our customers have a tough time keeping up with the technology.
"What we do is we bring that technology and suggest it to our customers," Anderson says. "’Well, you’re here, and if you do this and this and this, you could be here. And here are some new software packages that do this and this so you can get to that point.’ That’s the onus that we have to play. That’s the 21st century sale."

Jan. 18, 2002 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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