The president of the Ohio Buckeye Chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society needed to upgrade her computer systems so that the four offices -- Cleveland, Akron, Columbus and Youngstown -- could access the central database and other software. The existing system was outdated and slow.
"Because we are dealing with people with MS, we have a lot of information that we had to make sure the proper security was in place," says Kramer. "We also have one employee who works from a remote location, and she, too, needed to have access to the server."
With the problem defined, Kramer sought help from Westlake-based Antares Management Solutions to help implement the changes.
"We have a manager of information systems, but she is more of a database administrator," says Kramer. "She understands the system better than any of us, but she didn't have the knowledge Antares had to implement the changes."
Greg Blatnik, manager of distributed systems for Antares, worked with Kramer to identify the organization's goals, then develop a plan.
"We needed to come up with an overall strategic plan that would work for them for the next three to five years," says Blatnik. "There were major things that needed to be accomplished without disrupting their work."
The chapter's file servers were out of date and failing, causing a loss of productivity. The desktop computers were old and leased for too much money, and the e-mail system was not working well, according to Blatnik. The upgrade was also coming in the middle of the chapter's busiest fund-raising season, so all the work was planned for one weekend.
"They were able to do it over one weekend so it didn't inconvenience us," says Kramer. "The system went down at 1 p.m. on Friday and was back up by 8 a.m. on Monday."
Planning was crucial to making so many upgrades on one weekend. Kramer and her staff met with Antares several times over a three to four month period to work out the details.
"Things never happen as quickly as you want," says Kramer. "It was no fault of theirs, it was just as we were going through the process, we had to solve some of the issues that came up."
Communicating and having clear goals helped make Kramer's experience with a computer consultant successful.
"For me, the toughest part was learning the language," says Kramer. "I'm not computer literate when it comes to networks. I found with Antares, they were able to explain everything on my level so I knew what they had to do, and they kept me constantly informed on the status of the project."
Antares had direction not only from Kramer, but also from the National MS Society, which has guidelines to help standardize its offices.
"First and foremost, as a buyer or customer, understand exactly what it is you are looking for and why you want to do it," says Andy Balazs Jr., vice president of information systems services for Antares. "As suppliers, we need to know what you want and why and what the future use is. It leads to a lot better success rate.
"The MS Society understood what they wanted. They knew they wouldn't have a larger staff to manage the system, they wanted some flexibility to run the offices and they needed us to meet the standards. We built something that meets the standards; maintenance is simple with the flexibility they need.
"You have to be willing to put in the time with the project team so you buy into the solution and are part of the process." How to reach: Ohio Buckeye Chapter of MS Society, (800) 667-7131; Antares Management Solutions, (866) 268-2737