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Rising Above … Cahaba Data (by Tim O’Neill)

Tim_oneillEditor Profile - Tim O’Neill is an independent technology consultant. He has over 30 years experience working in the WAN, Analog, ISDN, ATM and LAN test market. Tim has worked with companies like Navtel, Network General, Ganymede and ClearSight Networks and is now helping companies get lab recognition and technology verification. Tim is also the Chief Contributing Editor for LoveMyTool.com, a website designed to help network managers gain access to valuable information and real solution stories from other customers. Tim is a patent holding, published and degreed engineer, who has seen this technology grow from Teletype (current loop) data analysis to today’s 10 Gigabit LAN’s focused on business applications with heavy compliance demands. Tim can be reached at oldcommguy (at) bellsouth (dot) net.


Denny's Note - Those of you who know Tim and I, either personally or through this Blog, know that we are passionate about what we do. We enjoy technology and we enjoy being surrounded by people who also enjoy technology. One reason is that we have learned long ago that technology is the great equalizer. Because technology is so much harder to fake, it demands and it promotes meritocracy.

One important benefit of being around technology is that we get to meet some great people. Great technologists transcend race, gender, culture background, social hierarchy and family wealth. You are either a good technologist or you are not. All it takes is determination and tenacity (a kind of DNA that compels one to “Eat raw meat off of live buffaloes”).

This is the first article of a new series for LoveMyTool, to be called “Rising Above … America TECH Heroes”. Tim and I will be bringing you more of these uplifting case studies on successful technologists, individuals who choose to “rise above” all that life can throw at them and be successful in spite of all odds and adversities.

Most important of all, as a first generation American, I found these to be inspiring American stories because none of these true American heroes would ever think of themselves as victims and would rather expend their energy lifting themselves by their bootstraps than to wait around for the cavalry.


Cahaba

Cahaba Data, Inc. is a regional, one-man company that specializes in Microsoft Access and Web Enabled Database Services and Solutions with focus and dedication. The owner and my Friend, Jim Bailie, found a real, local niche and is focusing on that need and making quite a profitable business out of it.

All local, no travel, quick, concise billing and good profit.


Cahaba Data supplies database design and support to businesses in the greater Birmingham, Alabama area. Birmingham, with a metro population of 1.5 million, is centrally located in the southeast with a large number of small businesses and regional offices of national companies.

Cahaba’s solution focus and business design is based on Microsoft Office Access and web platform QuickBase consulting, troubleshooting and programming. Jim Bailie, the founder and visionary, after spending twenty five years in the IT business arena in large companies, decided to do something local and something for himself.

Jim’s experience spans wide area networking, local area networking, network management software, and now as Cahaba Data, Inc., specializes in helping local companies with their database software and applications. See more at www.CahabaData.com.

Jim Bailie is an old friend who decided to get out of the Big Business hustle and start something small for himself. Cahaba Data, Inc. is his new company. Jim went to school to become an expert in Microsoft Access and Quickbase and his company is very successful and growing.


Cahaba's History and Success

Jim says, “Those of us in a technical career definitely need to look beyond the technology and keep an eye open for more localized business potentials. Now I have reached an age and stage in my career that I think I can lend some input on this topic and bring some light to these opportunities. My entire business career has been in IT. It was a career within many of the largest corporations.

I began inside Megacorp (name changed to protect the guilty, but it is a household name). Even after I eventually moved to a small company, our products were aimed at Megacorp’s data center. So it was very much still a very large corporation experience.”

Jim now focuses on providing services to small businesses which has been a completely new experience for him. Jim never before had the time or inclination to notice what was going on in the local small business IT area. The good news for you networking guru’s, is that there is a lot of demand down here.

Jim says, “By my way of thinking there are a couple technical areas that are forever. One is networking and another is databases. Products may come and go, suppliers may come and go, protocols may come and go but networking will always be there. There will always be a lot of information that needs to be organized, sorted and stored.”

Jim is now in the database arena. He interacts with many customers and local IT companies. The demand for networking experience is clearly strong down here in the small business segment. Jim warns those considering becoming a one-man shop that the experience is quite different from the corporate world.

The most appropriate analogy is that of being a plumber; there are no prolonged planning meetings, almost never a business lunch and forget about those seminars. You arrive, fix the problem, hand them an invoice and move on to the next job. Salary is out, billable hours are in.

It is definitely not glamorous, but it can be lucrative because the demand is strong. Another part of the small business experience is seeing the local IT competition. In marketing terms, it is “highly fragmented” which means there are tons of tiny companies thus many customers for this arena.

Since there are really no barriers to entry, there is a lot of variation in the quality and professionalism. Many of us accustomed to the corporate level of management needs can positively stand above the competition by maintaining the basics: Be timely, prepared, organized and appropriately dressed.

One of the key failures for IT people in this segment is a lack of persistent, continuous marketing and networking with peers. As one with a life inside Megacorp, such things as local advertising, yellow page displays and membership in the Chamber of Commerce is a whole new world. Without these the telephone does not ring.

Forget about Google searches. Google or ebay is great for selling that old Mercedes where the product is very specialized and the buyer could be anywhere. Google is almost a non-factor for highly localized and focused marketing for something as general as computer database support. There is just too much noise in the world wide arenas to find traction.

Go local, focus local and stay local. Success will come.

Another key error made by many small IT providers is under pricing their services. This is due to a lack of adequate financial skills that fail to accurately recognize their true expenses. Many are also under capitalized.

This contributes to a significant turnover among the freelance solo practices. Probably 15% of those with a single line listing in the yellow pages are gone within two years and another new 15% arrives.


Jim relates some of his experiences for us

“Probably the single most common database issue is that most businesses begin with Excel. Excel is great for math. Even where no math is involved, Excel is more approachable. Most small companies start with just one large spread sheet to enter information row by row. After a while, it becomes very difficult to find, sort, and get summary reports.

We import those Excel sheets into Access tables and then subdivide them into a normalized relational structure. I have seen several distributors of industrial products and one environmental company that were all in this situation, still just running on Excel.

Another area of struggle is remote connectivity. Even small businesses have outside field sales people and employees that work from home. In this case, we try to get them to clarify whether their need is truly web based or if the need is for remote connectivity.

One company, a local hotel franchisor, had 95% of their employees at a variety of hotels in the state and only 5% in the office. In their case, they needed a true web based solution. Intuit’s QuickBase is our web based solution. Often clients only need remote connectivity. Microsoft Access is not web based and is not the correct solution for this.

Moving to a web based solution involves a lot more expense and complexity than many small businesses realize. Remote connectivity is more affordable and a more simple solution for most. In these cases, I refer them to their firewall vendor for a VPN solution or to the Citrix commercial service GoToMyPC.com. It’s simple, quick and I get paid.”


Summary

If Oracle or IBM’s DB2 is an 18 wheeler then Microsoft Access is a pickup truck. It is not that the technology is less; it is that the size capability is smaller. I have never seen a client with a file size limitation problem. What we do see is the need for sophisticated reporting and that requires custom SQL structured queries.

Access to a fully SQL compliant solution is necessary. We can then implement quite complex solutions. Taking four hours to craft a correctly working SQL statement is not something the client cannot fully appreciate and so quoting a clear price range is always important.

If you are retiring, being downsized or just tired of the travel, moving from the corporate IT world to the small business level can be rewarding. It definitely requires hustle, focus and staying power. Ramping back up to a corporate level salary, including health care is very difficult. However, demand is strong for networking experience and good solid management skills are very helpful.

Always keep your eyes open as there are enormous niche markets right in your own back yard. If you look and are ready to get serious, it can be done very successfully as Jim shows us. It takes focus, dedication and patience but it can be very enjoyable.

I wish all of you, including Jim, Great Success and Much Happiness!

Remember the 3 F’s – Faith, Family and Friends!

To contact Jim at Cahaba Data - Email: info (at) CahabaData (dot) com


My Best - Oldcommguy


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