The economic climate in 2009 forced many telecom players to be more efficient and mindful of cost-saving opportunities.
To that extent, Canton, Mass.-based NEI, a manufacturer of telecommunications technology, improved automation, made its manufacturing processes leaner and actively worked to capture employees’ “great ideas” on how to improve cost structure.
“I give a lot of credit to our employees, who took it upon themselves to offer ways that our company could thrive,” Greg Shortell, CEO, NEI, told TMCnet, in an end-of-year Q&A.
Looking forward, Shortell gave TMCnet some of the company’s highlights (like the launch of the NEI Element Manager) and made a number of predictions.
The full exchange follows.
TMCnet: Looking back at 2009, how did your company do this year?
GS: I have a small sign in my office that reads ‘Just because there is a recession does not mean we have to participate!’ and that was the approach we took throughout what we believed would be a tough economy. Despite its economic challenges, 2009 turned out to be a very good year for NEI. We accomplished nearly all of our key objectives, including an accelerated pace of design wins with a focus on larger run-rate business opportunities. During 2009 we invested in and/or upgraded out IT systems and infrastructure, bringing new bid/quote, performance appraisal and maintenance contract management systems on line, among others. We focused hard on managing our inventory and working capital, which helped us to generate cash throughout the year. From a results standpoint we had 63 design wins in fiscal 2009 compared to 44 in the prior year which added 33 new customers. This puts us in a strong position as we enter 2010.
TMCnet: We entered 2009 during an economic downturn, and now the economy appears to be slowly recovering. How has this impacted your business?
GS: Unlike many IT technology focused companies, we had no layoffs during the year and were able to preserve important soft resources and professional skills, although this came at the expense of a wage freeze. Given that, we have learned to recognize and reward employees in other ways, and these days we are working hard to maintain our goal of making NEI a great place to work--which will always be a focus at NEI.
As a result of keeping all of our staff we are now in a position to rapidly ramp our business, as the infrastructure is in place. The economic climate in 2009 forced us to be more process efficient and mindful of cost saving opportunities. To that extent we improved our automation, lean manufacturing and actively worked to capture employees “great ideas” on how we could improve our cost structure. I give a lot of credit to our employees, who took it upon themselves to offer ways that our company could thrive.”
TMCnet: What opportunities does 2010 hold for you?
GS: Our opportunity pipeline and sales forecast are strong, and we are seeing increasing amounts of service attachment. Deployment services will be especially key for us in 2010. We have a unique value proposition here since the business sale is no longer about the server, the platform or the appliance and associated ‘speeds and feeds’, but rather concentrated on services that surround the hardware. Going forward, it’s really about protecting our customers’ brand and institutionalizing lifecycle management services. We offer world-class capabilities in this area and the market is trending toward services like ours that provide product consistency, deliver quality and streamline IT workflow processes that control and automate change.
We will also engage with customers at even higher levels of program management and become as close to “one” with them as possible. NEI has a personal obligation to our customers’ success, and today’s customers value us for excellence in execution as much as they do for the products and services we offer. So, we were encouraged by our ability to strengthen our business during 2009 and, as we enter 2010, we believe we have a clear opportunity that will capitalize on the progress we made in a very tough year.
TMCnet: What are some of most exciting trends or innovations in your industry?
GS: We are just beginning to see appliance virtualization come into play, and this is very exciting. I believe our virtual appliance deployment model is unmatched in the industry, and we are seeing interest from customers and prospects alike. Our virtual appliance model enables customers to meet the scalability and efficiency demands that their customers require to address virtual data center and cloud deployments. Virtual appliances allow end customers to more effectively provision software applications, reduce hardware dependencies, make better use of IT assets and go green.
We are also seeing hardware health monitoring and alarm management take center stage. Our appliances typically deliver critical business applications that must comply with enterprise-class uptime. NEI’s Element Manager is perfectly suited to the task. It audits and reports the operational condition of both hardware and software components, including CPUs, power supplies, storage arrays and the operating system. When one of these elements goes out of specification levels or fails to operate, our Element Manager automatically generates an alarm event. This supports and automates a more failsafe environment, increases uptime and helps to eliminate truck rolls.”
TMCnet: Can you speak to some of the challenges the next several months might present – either to you or the communications industry as a whole?
GS: I think the industry’s challenge is to carefully manage growth. It’s tempting to think we’re nearly out of the business recession with most research firms predicting three to five percent growth in the 2010 telecommunications market. While I certainly hope this is true, we will tend to tread with caution in the near term.
I believe security will continue to be an industry priority, particularly with the ongoing convergence of networks and applications culminating in the smart mobile handset. Communications, which is now increasingly going mobile, deserves the same consideration afforded to PCs connected to the corporate network. The number of mobile devices connected to the internet is expected to exceed one billion during 2010 and those assets and connection points must be protected.”
TMCnet: What are some of the best opportunities in the next year in your segment of the market?
GS: Our expectations are that 2010 will be a recovery and transformation year in many respects. Market drivers will be mobile devices and the infrastructure needed to support their growing global use. We will likely see significant opportunities coming from 4G and LTE (News - Alert) deployments in 2010. These are typically green field deployments and are a perfect fit for our -48vDC, NEBS compliant and ATCA based platforms. The emergence of IPTV (News - Alert) and streaming video to mobile devices should drive the demand for these systems as well. We are already well positioned to accommodate the logistics, services and support needs to meet global demand. Our Smart Services and automated remote Element Manager software tools will play well here, as many of these deployments are in the far corners of the world where there is limited infrastructure.”
Marisa Torrieri is a TMCnet Web editor, covering IP hardware and mobility, including IP phones, smartphones, fixed-mobile convergence and satellite technology. She also compiles and regularly contributes to TMCnet's gadgets and satellite e-Newsletters. To read more of Marisa's articles, please visit her columnist page.
Edited by Marisa Torrieri