Secure Horizons

It's All About Trust

No matter how high-tech the business, success still comes down to great customer service-and that's exactly what to look for if you outsource security.

Network Computing Architects (NCA) Inc. is proof that cul-ture is a potent ingredient in the recipe for success.

Founded in 1992 by Internet whiz Craig Suhadolnik, 46, the 40-person firm has emerged like a phoenix from a December 2001 fire that destroyed its Washington state headquarters, to become a leading West Coast provider of IT security services to small businesses and corporate accounts. NCA's management team credits customers and suppliers with helping them get back on their feet. "It didn't even enter my mind that we weren't going to do it," Suhadolnik says.

So strong are NCA's technical credentials that many local financial services operations and several of the top IT manufacturers it represents-including firewall maker NetScreen Technologies and IP-telephone maker Shoreline Communications-are also its customers. NCA, based in Bellevue, Washington, expects sales of $15 million for the year ending June 30, 2004-approximately 80 percent of which will come from security assessments and installations of firewalls and other intrusion-detection products.

Tom Gobeille, the 45-year-old president and CEO of NCA, says a driving tenet is to ensure employees spend at least 50 percent of their time with existing or prospective customers. "The higher the percent of customer interaction, the higher the percent of success, especially at the right levels," he says. "People forget to spend time with customers, and that is a fundamental flaw with a lot of people's businesses."

NCA usually limits initial contact with prospects to a $1,500 consultation. Consider that it can bill upwards of $250 to $275 per hour for its services, and it's easy to get carried away. "If we think that people don't need what we sell, we will tell them upfront," Gobeille says.

That sort of candor won over Eduard Telders, security manager for Seattle-based PEMCO Mutual Insurance Co., who has been working with NCA for close to four years. His company balanced hiring in-house staff with outside security resources because it was more cost-effective. His team tapped NCA because of its technical depth and can-do mind-set, and he is evaluating how to extend the relationship into other security areas.

"They impressed us with not only their expertise on the subject, but [also] their corporate culture and their attitude," Telders says. "Even in the middle of recovering from the fire, they were able to do incredible stuff." -H.C.

Think Ahead

Before you invest in security technology, Tom Gobeille, president and CEO of IT security firm Network Computing Architects Inc., in Bellevue, Washington, suggests the following:

1. Assess first. Most companies have added to their corporate networks haphazardly and may not know where they're vulnerable. Hire an outside expert to run penetration tests.

2. Don't be afraid to start small. Sometimes, a lower-cost, all-in-one firewall or VPN may be all your company needs to get started.

3. Remember training. Your company could own the most sophisticated security in the world, but it's all for naught if your employees don't understand how to help keep you safe. -H.C.

Cool Tools

Walled in: For offices that need to secure a network with broadband Internet access, the Firebox 700 from WatchGuard Technologiesis an affordable firewall and VPN security appliance. One box provides firewall protection and secure VPN access for remote workers. And the Firebox 700 is geared for easy setup. · Street price: $1,700

Slamming spam...and more: You can get your anti-spam, antivirus, URL blocking, e-mail security and malicious-code defense all in one convenient package with Computer Associates'eTrust Secure Content Manager. Prices start at $55 per user; volume pricing is available. An integrated solution like this one can save your business money over purchasing components individually from separate vendors. · Street price: varies

Box of tricks:Check Point Software Technologies'Safe@ Office, a managed services appliance, takes care of many of your security needs. It's loaded with Network Associates' McAfee VirusScan ASaP online solution. Firewall, VPN and content-filtering features round out the capabilities of this box. Designed for businesses with up to 100 employees, it's geared for ease of use and fast setup. · Street price: varies

Hands down: Biometrics made easy: This USB fingerprint identifier lets you say goodbye to passwords. It's small enough for you to take along in your notebook case and also includes a two-port USB hub. A 3-foot cable allows you to hook it up to desktop PCs as well. A one-year warranty is standard. · Targus'DEFCON Authenticator· Street price: $120

Zone of defense: When you need a firewall for your home office or very small office, Zone Labs'ZoneAlarm Proleads the pack. It offers protection from everything from worms to spyware. ZoneAlarm Pro's ad-blocking and cookie-control features make the Internet a safer place to be. But this software is compatible with PCs only; Mac users will have to look elsewhere. · Street price: $49.95

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This article was originally published in the April 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Secure Horizons.

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