Tech Firm Grounded In Business

    GRAND RAPIDS — As you’d expect, after 13 years in the business, Paul Hillman knows exactly what his firm does for its book of clients.

    Just one thing puzzles him: finding a quick and easy generic term for the work the company — C/D/H — does.

    Right now, Hillman said, C/D/H defines itself as a technology consulting company, but that’s not the most lively description in the world.

    “There’s just no easy generic term for it,” Hillman said, with a laugh. “And I don’t want to use ‘solutions provider.’”

    What the firm does, he said, is help medium to large corporations use computers and allied technology to the best business advantage.

    “We are very professional businessmen,” he said. “We still wear white shirts and dark suits to differentiate ourselves from some people who sell hardware or software.”

    C/D/H derives its name from the company’s three founders: Hillman, Keith Dierking, the CEO, and Mike Conway, who since has left the firm to operate his own company.

    “What we do,” Hillman said, “is help our clients think through some big technology issues, and on a per-hour fee basis.”

    He explained that a good many businessmen are saddled with a problem. They’re under pressure to do more with computers, “…but they’re saying, ‘I’ve got no budget, so how do I pay for all these people to work on the computers so that this thing doesn’t grow out of control.’”

    He said that C/D/H specializes in giving such business people an objective view of technology systems and how they raise or depress the bottom line. “Objective is the big issue,” Hillman said, “and we’ve been around for 13 years providing that kind of picture.”

    He said a fairly typical case with which C/D/H has dealt was a fairly large company with an IT department of 40 or 50 people.

    “They were getting into all these internal battles about which is better: Novell or Microsoft, Microsoft or Novell.

    “As a result,” he added, “the company was stagnating without getting a consensus. They were grinding to a halt trying to work through all these little problems.”

    And he said the root source of the difficulty was that IT people typically are neither trained in nor attuned to business, while most firms’ business managers are bewildered by the nuances of technology.

    “In this particular case,” he said, “they would have been fine with either system. But they hired us to come in and write an architectural document for them, so that both the IT people and managers could approach it from a common ground.

    “We live in both camps,” Hillman added.

    “We see literally dozens of companies in this area all struggling with much the same thing. And you know what? Different companies handle it differently. But what they finally wind up with is a document which the chief of IT can hold in his hand and say, ‘Yep, I’ve got a plan, now. I know the direction to take.’”

    Hillman said C/D/H  has “a very narrow, very deep focus.”

    The company’s services range from IT strategic planning to systems analysis, and from security audits to systems operations revises. 

    “But the only things we work with,” Hillman said, “are Microsoft, Novell, Citrix and Cisco. We’re fully certified in all of them and so are our people.

    “And, again, we don’t sell any of those products. But what we offer is incredible expertise in all of them.” He said the company has 18 employees, some of them with up to a decade of experience, most of them averaging six or seven years.

    It’s the type of expertise, he said, that helped a publication firm with a unique problem: a minority of its staff working on Macintosh computers, the rest working on IBM-variety equipment.

    “They were really struggling with this Mac issue,” he said, “because they had this whole staff of Mac people who need to get the same e-mail that their other people do on PCs.

    “So we studied this and came up with a solution. But you know what? We had to tell them, ‘There’s going to be a whole bunch of things that this system won’t do for you.’

    “One of them said, ‘Why are you saying that? I thought you were trying to sell us this system.’

    “And I said, ‘I’m not trying to sell you the solution, I’m just analyzing the situation and I want you to realize that you’re going to invest $25,000 or $50,000 in this solution, and you’re going to be disappointed if I don’t tell you right now that it doesn’t do this, and this and this.’

    “And they said, ‘Wow, that’s a breath of fresh air: finding out ahead of time exactly what it will and won’t do.’”

    Hillman said a project can take a month or more after the initial meetings — which might start with lunch in the Sierra Room located on the floor below C/D/H.

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