The CIO solution Featured

5:19am EDT April 29, 2003
Bill Stolze considers himself pretty good with computer networks and technology. His partner, Eugene Sciulli, thinks Stolze is a better mortgage broker, with talents too valuable to be spending half his day troubleshooting the company's computer networks and software.

Stolze and Sciulli are the principals in Direct Settlement Services Inc., a 50-employee Wilkins Township firm that conducts settlements for real estate purchases and refinancings. Launched in 2000, just before the real estate refinancing boom began, the company grew rapidly.

It also discovered that its initial computer system, purchased for $20,000, just couldn't keep pace with the demands of the business. Stolze found himself working on network and software related issues and glitches as much as he was working on loan packages. For instance, glitches in the e-mail system -- the method clients use to order research -- cost it five business days over one three-month period.

"In this business, service is the premium," says Sciulli. "We can't have any letdowns, none."

Sciulli urged his partner to give IT consultant Harold Poley of Murrysville's Valueforge Inc. a try. Stolze balked at first, but agreed to use Poley on an as-needed basis.

"I'm stubborn and I don't like to let go," Stolze says.

It wasn't long before he was convinced using Poley was a better solution that trying to do it all himself.

"Harold has saved us a tremendous amount of money," says Stolze. "We were dealing with separate vendors for our telecommunications, hardware, software, Web hosting and e-mail. Now he oversees and streamlines it, like an internal CIO would."

Poley also likens his relationship to his clients to that of an outsourced CIO. He says he works with clients to plan and roll out technology solutions that end up costing less than a series of piecemeal efforts at acquiring hardware, software and services would.

Poley says the experience of Direct Settlement Services isn't unusual.

"I find that when a company starts out with one or two people, there's a tendency to think that they can do it all themselves," says Poley.

But entrepreneurs quickly discover that as their business gets more complex, it becomes more difficult, if not impossible, to patch together several pieces of hardware and software and make it all work smoothly. As a firm grows, the problem becomes more complex, so Poley provides advice that helps clients work through their issues and anticipate future needs or head off potential problems.

When a company tries to handle its own problems, there is often a lack of strategic focus when it comes to IT.

"There's no one sitting back and looking at the big picture," says Poley.

And the most damaging effect is on the business. Computer and network problems eat up time that would be better spent on the core business. For Stolze and Sciulli, who launched their business because they heard griping about the service of settlement companies, getting distracted by IT problems meant valuable time away from client service.

Says Poley: "When it gets to the point where you're spending several hours a day trying to make them work, it's time to call someone in." How to reach: Direct Settlement Services Inc., (412) 829-1800; Valueforge Inc., www.valueforge.com