It's a scenario you've seen too many times in too many places: unexpected volume overloads the computer system. Or the telephone system can't handle the flood of incoming calls and gives customers a busy signal. Could this happen to your new company? Not if you create an expandable architecture that delivers the capacity and flexibility a growing business needs.
Overload was a problem facing Universal Tax Systems in Rome, Georgia, when the company developed an electronic tax filing subsidiary. CEO Randy Tullos, 38, recalls that in the early days of this technology, the industry's growth rate was in the triple digits and volume was impossible to estimate. "Sometimes we'd have to forward returns to the IRS within a few hours of receipt--and some of them required heavy-duty number-crunching," Tullos says. The solution was not to buy the biggest and best computer system available but to create a LAN of PCs that could be reconfigured quickly to accommodate changes in volume, and then shifted back to another purpose when the peak demand passed.
For example, a snowstorm shut down power to an IRS service center for a few hours; when the storm passed, Tullos had to send 10,000 tax returns in 30 minutes. "Machines normally used for another purpose were reconfigured," he says, "and we were able to send [the returns] at 20 times our normal capacity." When the crunch was over, the extra computers resumed their usual functions.
Tullos explains that bigger, more powerful computers could have reduced equipment costs but wouldn't have provided the necessary immediate flexibility. Also, when overall growth drove the need for more computing power, expansion could be less expensively accomplished by adding low-end, off-the-shelf PCs to the network.
Tullos suggests start-up entrepreneurs pay attention to initial cash outlay, but not at the expense of their company's future. "So often when we make technology decisions, we worry more about costs than anything else," Tullos observes. "In a dynamic and growing business, flexibility is more important than costs in achieving the company's goals. Build a system that can grow with you quickly and easily, not one you'll have to throw away each time growth exceeds your expectations. That way, you'll avoid having to spend the intellectual capital to redesign your system every time you grow."
Universal Tax Systems Inc., (800) 755-9473, www.taxwise.com.