Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Head in the cloud... computing, powered by WorkXpress
This article originally appeared in today's Harrisburg, PA Patriot News. My brother, Drew, is a co-founder of WorkXpress.
Clients such as auto manufacturers constantly send work-order changes to R.T. Grim Electronics. Before cloud computing, implementing those changes meant calling on a Massachusetts software designer. "Every change took weeks, months - some would even take years," said MikeWentz, business operations manager for the Hampden Twp.-based consumer electronics business. "It was the combination of the complication of the software we had, and we were at the mercy of the person that was doing the software design." When the software designer retired, the company sought flexibility at a reasonable cost. With cloud computing supplied by Harrisburg-based WorkXpress, R.T. Grim embraced a solution that makes software revisions a simple, in-house affair.
Call it a ripple effect of economic development efforts for startups in the midstate. R.T. Grim managed a large contract for Ford Motor Co. and will market its capabilities to new customers because WorkXpress followed the region's support paths for tech startups.
WorkXpress hopes to capture a giant share of the cloud computing market, expected to rocket from $68 billion worldwide in 2010 to $159 billion by 2014, President and CEO Treff LaPlante said.
Cloud computing customizes infrastructure, platform and software to serve businesses' individual needs, LaPlante said. His company specializes in developing the platform that "manages and orchestrates the other two components" and makes software changes as easy as writing a PowerPoint presentation, he said.
"It's a lot more drag and drop," he said.
The software business is "broken," and cloud computing can fix it, LaPlante said. "There's a communications barrier between a programmer and a businessperson," he said. "The programmer doesn't know the businessperson's business. In the end, it doesn't meet anybody's needs." R.T. Grim's cloud solution from WorkXpress cost about one-fourth the price of traditional software, Wentz said. It was running within a 90-day window imposed by Ford after the company won a contract to remanufacture instrument clusters for about half of the nation's Ford dealers, he said.
"We make changes on the fly practically every day," Wentz said. "If there's something that changes in our process or wording on reports or documentation, we're able to very quickly institute them, roll them out overnight, and they're available tomorrow. In some cases, they're even available today." LaPlante, of Middletown, is a 1987 Central Dauphin East High School graduate who developed video games in California during the tech boom and helped to incubate a tech company bought out by eBay. Inspired by businesses' unhappiness with software, he brought his best programmer back to the midstate in 2002 and established WorkXpress in the Murata Business Center, Carlisle, the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and Capital Region Economic Development Corp.'s business incubator. Revving up the business required two years of "knocking on doors, trying to find anyone that would help me build this business," LaPlante said. "After a lot of networking, I came to realize there was a significant amount of support," he said, but much of it was disjointed.
Today, the region's economic development specialists say they're strengthening networks to eliminate barriers - and discouragement - for startups.
The state Ben Franklin Technology Partners, an earlyWorkXpress funder, offers seed capital, mentoring, commercialization help and incubator space for startups "that are most likely to create jobs and growth," said John Sider, managing director of statewide initiatives.
The midstate is strong in manufacturing and medical devices, but "this is a very diverse economy here in central Pennsylvania," Sider said.
"Any high-potential company can come to Ben Franklin for seed funding and get a close look at whether they'd qualify for one of our investments and other services," he said. "It's not as though any sector is left out, and that would be an unwise strategy around here, because we have lots and lots of companies coming through." On Feb. 3, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pennsylvania and CREDC announced creation of TechCelerator, giving Murata tenants access to Ben Franklin's mentoring services.
"There are so many good ideas out there," said PamMartin, regional director for Ben Franklin Technology Partners and TechCelerator's executive director. "There is no lack of good ideas, but what's needed is, how do I get from a great idea sitting in my garage to something that can be implemented and to build value so somebody will buy the great idea?" While Ben Franklin's Transformations Group uses seasoned, upper-level management to mentor new companies such into stability, a new "entrepreneurial immersion group" being planned will create fellowships and groommanagement to take maturing startups to the next level, Martin said.
"Often, there's a piece that says, 'I've got to find somebody else to help me grow this company,'" Martin said. "We're trying to build people to become those candidates to grow those companies. We're trying to build our own ecosystem."
WorkXpress moved out of Carlisle's Murata Business Center in February to become the LECG IT Support Services Center's first tenant.WorkXpress will draw student interns and employees from Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, a center partner.
On the Web: workxpress.com.
Address: 304 Market Street, Harrisburg, PA 17101