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Up to Speed

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  • | 1:33 p.m. November 18, 2011
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Delinquent Nynex phone customers didn't know it at the time, but Lee Paul and Derek Maciak were responsible for how fast the New York phone company was disconnecting their lines in the early 1990s.

Before they joined Nynex, it could take as long as six months for the company to disconnect the lines of delinquent customers. The two engineers figured out how to do it faster by programming the company's giant IBM computers. “We automated that process to 14 days,” says Paul.

Today, Paul, 42, and Maciak, 37, bring that same problem-solving approach to their Bonita Springs business, Surround Technologies. They help the information technology departments of large companies with big computer systems gradually shift to new and better software. Clients have included Gannett, Verizon and GE Canada and the two business partners expect to double revenues again this year.

Big corporations often have their own software developers who maintain older systems. Surround provides these developers with a tool called Accelerator that helps them write complex software faster and better. In addition, they provide consulting services to information technology departments. Typically, the Accelerator system costs $35,000 to $60,000, depending on the size of the customer and annual maintenance runs 18% of that price.

Surround has benefited from the fact that many corporations have boosted their technology budgets because of the boom in mobile-phone and computer-tablet applications. Its Accelerator system helps software programmers write programs that can tie all kinds of devices together. “We see a lot of IT budgets coming back,” says Paul, Surround's CEO.

For example, Surround helped one retail-distribution company shift from keyboard commands on 20 separate computer screens to visual displays on a single screen. Now, with the click of a mouse, a user can move the icon of a truck from one location to another on a map and view and then move the merchandise inside each of these trucks. To do that, Surround has hired a graphic artist who enhances users' visual experiences.

Initially, Surround specialized in helping customers with IBM computers that operated on a specific software-development platform called Lansa. But since 2008 it expanded to include another platform called .Net, which is primarily for Windows software.

For most companies, upgrading all its software or shifting from one software-development platform to another all at once is too costly and risky. So companies use Surround's technology to gradually modernize their systems over time.

For Surround, the pool of customers is potentially much larger now that it can help companies that use or want to shift to the .Net platform. Paul says the company's revenues could double again in 2012. “Mobile [technology] really helped us,” says Paul.

Surround has been able to grow debt-free and without outside investors. “The hard thing is prioritizing,” he says. “We want to make sure we don't lose focus.”


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