Jim McCooey is the founder and president of Smithfield-based Computer Associates Inc., a privately held software development and IT services business. The company was founded in 1978 and employs more than 60 people.
McCooey recently talked to Providence Business News about the company’s 34 year history, the transition to cloud computer and the evolution of Rhode Island’s technology industry.
PBN: Your company has more than 30 years of experience, how has your business evolved during that period?
MCCOOEY: CAI designs, installs and supports Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software that helps companies manage their businesses more profitably. Over the past three decades, we’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with many forward-thinking businesses that embrace technology-enabled process change. As a long-term partner, we pride ourselves on our ability to recommend new technology and deploy it to help our customers stay competitive.
Today, our clients represent a diverse range of industries and include companies that manufacture and distribute lumber and building materials, food and beverages, jewelry, giftware and other consumer packaged goods. We’ve also developed software for refiners of gold, silver and other precious metals.
In addition to continually monitoring the technology landscape, CAI has added further value to our ERP software with a full suite of IT and network support services. Our managed IT services practice has also enabled the company to expand our market reach with a more horizontal approach.
We work with each client to understand their unique business IT requirements. Then, we recommend a combination of technology and services to provide a higher level of satisfaction and greater control and simplicity—all at a consistent, understandable and manageable cost. Today, our suite of managed IT Services include cloud-based migration services, desktop and server management, automated data backup and business continuity solutions, server virtualization and cyber security and network design consulting.
PBN:On your website, you list a wide range of clients in industries from manufacturing to seafood processing. How hard is it to cater to such a diverse range of industries?
MCCOOEY: Every business, whether they sell lumber, diamond earrings or shrimp, needs a basic set of software. From general ledger, AR, AP, inventory control, transaction processing, service and delivery, our clients benefit from our breadth of cross-industry experience, with as much as 90 percent of the core ERP software readily transferrable from one industry to the next.
That said, however, every industry presents a distinct set of business challenges, market dynamics and government regulations. In addition, each company often has its own tried and true way of servicing its customers and differentiating itself. CAI’s value proposition is our ability to quickly grasp the unique requirements and idiosyncrasies of each company and develop software tools that replace legacy systems and applications and automate business-critical processes. It may sound like a cliché, but we really do become an extension of our customer’s IT team, enhancing the software over time to take advantage of new opportunities.
An enduring hallmark of CAI is our ability to parlay software development and best practices from one industry to another; related sub-verticals within that industry; or even entirely new markets. Our transition from jewelry-manufacturing software to the precious-metals-refining industry, the migration of our building-materials software beyond millwork manufacturing to support the requirements of “sticks-and-bricks” retail lumber dealers, as well as our success in the seafood distribution market as an offshoot of our food processing ERP software, are all recent examples of this cross-pollination.
In the ERP software industry, where software companies are cast aside with seeming regularity and lots of projects get scrapped before they’re completed, we are proud of our record of successful software deployments and long-term partnerships. Our 98.5% customer retention rate, across all of the industries we serve, speaks for itself.
PBN: Do you primarily serve the Rhode Island area, or do you have a wider berth of clients?
MCCOOEY:CAI provides its business management software and IT services to small and medium sized businesses throughout the country. The development of remote network management stools has simplified this process and made it easier for us to offer the same high-level support to a firm in Alaska as we would to a company across the street.
PBN: As more and more businesses look to cloud-based opportunities, how have you had to adjust your business - and your products - to fit the growing demand?
MCCOOEY:Cloud computing has been around for more than a decade, but security concerns and costs have, until recently, hindered a more widespread deployment. The concept behind cloud computing is simple: it lets you run computer applications over the Internet, without having to buy, install or manage your own servers. For businesses looking to reduce capital expenditures and minimize their up-front investment, cloud computing can be an ideal solution.
To support this growing aspect of our business and help our customers realize the tremendous cost-of-ownership and productivity benefits associated with the cloud, CAI has invested in a secure, redundant cloud infrastructure. Our customers’ software and data is stored in our highly secure, redundant datacenter and accessed via a secured Internet connection. And, because everything's 'virtualized', you pay for the storage resources you need, and updates can be applied seamlessly, without any business interruption.
The CAI cloud offers all the benefits of cloud-based computing, including resource scalability, flexibility, cost efficiency and maximum up time, while simplifying networking management. Our customers are able to completely eliminate their in-house servers. This lets them stop worrying about the costs to securely house and maintain the servers, and forget about the hassles of keeping the operating software up-to-date and free from malicious viruses and other types of malware.
CAI’s Network Operations Center (NOC) is staffed by technical experts 24×7 in order to provide the proactive monitoring and around-the-clock support our clients’ dedicated cloud-based services demand. The CAI Cloud Infrastructure is built with the highest levels of redundancy, security and performance, and our data centers are supported by veteran engineers, and backed by industry-leading service level agreements.
PBN: As a well-established tech company, how have you seen the Rhode Island business climate change since you've been in business?
MCCOOEY:It’s fair to say that over the 34-year history of CAI, we’ve witnessed the continued acceptance of technology as a critical component of our client’s businesses. In the past when a company had to choose between say, buying a new truck or investing in business management software, the truck purchase would typically win out. Now, there’s careful vetting going on to ensure that the business has the right mix of technology tools to get the most of its people and resources.
As I mentioned, we’ve also seen, in the last 24 months, a serious flight from ‘on-premises’ hardware and software to true cloud-based architectures as a way for businesses to eliminate capital hardware expenses, improve business productivity, maximize data available and security, and provide their employees access to their mission critical systems wherever the Internet is.
Another key trend is the willingness of companies to outsource their information technology (IT) support as a way to reduce overhead and maximize the performance, availability and security of their computer networks and business data. This trend is being driven by several factors including the ongoing introduction of new and potentially damaging security risks, e-mail viruses and other cyber-attacks by criminals and hackers that work undetected to find new ways to breach your network. In addition, businesses understand that as their network servers age they become increasingly vulnerable to hijacking and data theft – and the proliferation of wireless networks, smartphones and other mobile devices puts your business at even more risk.
As a provider of fully managed IT support services, we can bring to bear a host of proven security solutions such as intelligent firewall technologies, web content filtering tools, remote server management services and other affordable ways to help our customers lock down their network and data.