In 2003, The Printer Works, based in Hayward, began its third decade as a leading independent supplier of parts and accessories for popular office printers. An Authorized Parts Reseller for Hewlett-Packard, The Printer Works specializes in the LaserJet and DeskJet printer lines and offers parts and sub-assemblies as well as expertly refurbished printers. The Printer Works has 90 employees and four locations.
Five years ago The Printer Works began developing a web-based eCommerce system that is now responsible for a significant part of the company's sales. The Printer Works' web site (www.printerworks.com) features a comprehensive searchable database plus online catalogs with parts tables and exploded view diagrams of printer sub-assemblies. These on-line features give The Printer Works a distinct competitive edge.
Because office printers are complex electro-mechanical devices, correctly identifying needed parts can be a major challenge for the service personnel who make up the bulk of The Printer Works' customers. By making it easy to identify parts, The Printer Works' web site has played a key role in building a loyal customer base, even for clients who prefer to talk to a live voice and who ultimately place orders by phone.
The success of their web site has made round-the-clock network availability a necessity. The printer parts business is very competitive, says Steve Roberts, founder and president of The Printer Works. If customers can't order a part when they need it, they can easily go to someone else. Even on a weekend, downtime can cost us thousands of dollars per hour in lost sales.
But the real cost of network downtime could far exceed a few lost sales opportunities. Over the years our business has changed from supplying parts for shelf stock to shipping parts for emergency repair, says Roberts. Our customers are under pressure to meet repair deadlines, and their customers can be under the gun as well for example, they may have to print payroll. If a broken network prevents us from shipping critical repair parts as promised, that can ripple through the supply chain and cause our customers to lose their customers. An hour or so of downtime on our end could jeopardize a million dollar service contract for one of our customers.
The Printer Works relies on six Windows 2000 Servers to deliver their IT infrastructure. The company has also deployed voice over IP solutions to manage voice communications. This has made a robust connectivity infrastructure even more critical. If your back-end systems are down," says Roberts, "you can still do some business. But when your people can't talk on the phone to a customer, that is a very big problem.
Without a large, expensive in-house support staff to keep continual watch over their IT infrastructure, The Printer Works was continually at risk of costly downtime. We can't really afford to have network management experts watching our system 24 hours a day," says Roberts, "but on the other hand we can't really afford major breakdowns either. What we needed was an affordable way to ensure network availability.
The Printer Works outsourced their server and communications infrastructure support to Progent. In the summer of 2002, Progent implemented a full set of network monitoring tools, including Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) to monitor Windows 2000 Servers. Progent also installed network router and traffic monitoring tools.
Before Progent's MOM-based solution, network problems were handled reactively, after users complained about them. This resulted in downtime that should have been preventable. With the help of proactive, automated alerts and trend reports generated by MOM, Progent is now able to anticipate network and server problems before they become serious enough to impact network availability. For example, when a server is approaching a capacity limit, MOM will generate an alert so that resources can be added before a crisis occurs. Thanks to MOM, Progent is fixing problems before customers are aware that the problems exist.
The Printer Works' uptime has dramatically increased since Progent deployed MOM. As an additional benefit, the confidence The Printer Works gained by having a stable infrastructure has induced the company to invest more in their web site to add features that improve customer interactions. For example, real-time XML-based querying to all the leading shippers allows The Printer Works to give accurate shipping quotes on their web orders and allows customers to shop for the best shipping rates. Because the system can now email order status to customers and provide links for additional information from the web site, customer service time is reduced.
MOM has saved us money in a lot of ways, says Roberts. Our original goal was to reduce downtime, and MOM has been a great success in that area. But our outsourcing expenses have also stayed very reasonable, our performance has been stable, and we've been able to support more network activity and services without having to hire more internal IT staff.
MOM allows Progent to leverage its own support experts by automatically generating critical problem alerts to the pagers and email addresses of appropriate technicians and engineers based on the severity level of the problem. MOM allows us to meet service level agreements without having to charge an arm and a leg for support, says Les Kent, president of Progent. This translates into satisfied customers and less frazzled support people, because we end up doing less work in crisis mode. We're convinced that the only way to achieve high availability is by being proactive. Microsoft Operations Manager is the most efficient way we know of to manage the IT infrastructure of a small business.
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