Company: Lynx Technology
Customer: Black Country Chamber & Business Link
Submitted by: Lynx Technology
Date: Spring 2002
Small and medium-sized businesses often need help to grow and prosper. In an uncertain economic climate, professional advice and support can become essential. With a new IT and communications infrastructure from Lynx, the Black Country Chamber & Business Link is now supporting local businesses in more innovative and effective ways.
Black Country Chamber & Business Link provides expert advice, information and support services on a wide range of commercial and professional activities. “We cover the whole range of activities involved in running a business,” says John Reader, Director of Specialist Services. “This can range from business plans to marketing, finance and human resources. We also help arrange clusters of local businesses in supply chains, encourage business start-up through our enterprise team and are extensively involved in encouraging businesses in disadvantaged areas of the community.” Sponsored by the DTI, the organisation also receives funding from the European Union.
Currently headquartered in Dudley, it employs over 100 people including 40 business advisers, and resulted from the merger of four sub-regional Business Links and three Chambers of Commerce in locations such as Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton. “They all had different IT systems at varying levels of sophistication, different client management systems, and so on,” says John Reader. “To work effectively, we wanted business advisers to be able to access our systems wherever they are. This can include ‘hotdesking’ at a satellite office, people working at home, advising clients at their premises, and ‘on the road’ at virtually any location.”
This required a new IT and communications infrastructure, together with a smooth migration to ensure operations wouldn’t be disrupted. Lynx deployed the end-to-end solution in just eight weeks. “The main challenges we faced, and addressed, were integrating the various organisations and their systems, creating a more robust and consistent IT platform, and providing a solid basis for future developments. This is what we achieved.”
“Lynx was excellent in the delivery phase — we had a deadline and they turned the project around very quickly,” continues John. “We were waiting for funding approval so we had short lead times between placing contracts and when we needed the new services. Although we’d discussed the project beforehand, contracts were only placed in late January 2001 and we had the solution by the end of March.” A key factor was the combination of Lynx business consultants with a wide range of technical skills, used to analyse the organisation’s needs and then deliver a solution to match.
The comprehensive new infrastructure includes a range of products, delivered as a tailored solution. It’s based on thin client technology with virtual private network (VPN) and ISDN capabilities. The applications provided, standardised across the system, include Microsoft Exchange Server, Windows NT4, Windows 2000 and Internet Server, together with CheckPoint FireWall-1. From design to implementation, Lynx provided a one-stop shop. “This is phase one of an ongoing process, especially since we’re moving to our permanent HQ in the next year,” says John. “We now have a platform we can develop further to, for example, improve our client management and finance systems.”
Black Country Chamber & Business Link wanted an IT provider able to offer expert guidance and then deliver a complete solution. “In my previous role at Dudley Training and Enterprise Council (TEC), I’d come across Lynx at a conference,” explains John. “When I became involved in the new organisation, I made further enquiries, examined the technologies available, and looked at one or two other suppliers. However, I was impressed most by Lynx, and invited them to present. The most impressive aspect was that Lynx could deliver a complete, totally integrated solution. We didn’t want to manage planning and delivery ourselves, and work with various sub-contractors.
“It was also important that Lynx has worked with other Business Links on IT and communications projects. They clearly understood our marketplace.” At the same time, the organisation didn’t want to implement untested technology combinations; Lynx could support the software and solutions it proposed with case studies of similar projects. “This isn’t just about the technology. At every stage, Lynx people were highly professional and approachable. They did what they said they were going to do. We had a good working relationship, in which different areas of responsibility were defined. That kind of approach clearly adds value.”
Thin client technology enables the Dudley HQ to manage almost all resources centrally, and deliver LAN-like performance over reduced bandwidth. Consequently, the organisation can work more proactively, with business advisers able to access data and services both remotely and securely.
John Reader believes Black Country Chamber & Business Link is now a more flexible and agile organisation, able to manage its business more effectively, get closer to clients and so deliver an improved service. “We achieved our primary goal. We now have the potential to reach more clients — our current market penetration is 14% and we expect this to increase. In the past, providing support could be a very bureaucratic process and was highly paper-driven. We now have an efficient web-enabled infrastructure that saves time and enables better use of resources. We can therefore provide a boost to the regional economy.
“If we can use technology like this to open up new communications channels with the business community, it can only benefit the region. We can improve our diagnostic work, for example, let people know about events or conferences, and give clients direct access to information services. Thanks to Lynx, we now have an infrastructure around which all our future services can be developed — to enhance our software packages and databases, for example, as we develop and integrate our client management systems. I expect Lynx to be playing an important role as we move forward.”