Riding the curve

Technologies that might seem passé at some organizations are considered quite cutting-edge at others.

Technologies that might seem passé at some organizations are considered quite cutting-edge at others. Here's a look at a pest control company and a local government agency that are pushing the envelope in their respective industries.

Business intelligence tools have been available for a number of years, but using them in the pest control industry is a leading-edge move. Senior management at Marietta, Ga.-based Northwest Exterminating is making more extensive use of data mining tools and dashboards to track sales in the Southeast, says Director of Information Systems Matthew Metcalfe.

"The [BI] tools we've deployed are much further ahead, and the use of these tools is much more extensive in our company than what we've been able to gauge of our competitors, many of which have no IT staff at all," says Metcalfe, who manages a five-person IT group.

This year, the company expects to invest about $250,000 in dashboard systems from Dundas Data Visualization Inc. that are more advanced than the "basic" dashboards that executives had been using, says Metcalfe.

Decision-makers at Northwest Exterminating plan to use the dashboards to analyze and compare the popularity of various types of pest control services in different geographic areas to help the company target its sales and marketing more effectively.

Metcalfe says it's been pretty easy to justify the investments. When he first joined the company three years ago, regional sales figures were manually entered into Excel spreadsheets, "and the numbers weren't right," says Metcalfe.

Since then, IT spending has continued to grow, and senior executives are now using dashboards to track territorial sales more closely and more accurately, he says.

Thin-client computing is hot in the public sector, where government agencies are trying desperately to lower IT costs. Thecity of Roanoke, Va., is moving to a thin-client architecture in order to potentially double or even triple the life span of its desktop devices, says Director of Technology Roy Mentkow. The project also means shifting to a platform that requires less security and is easy to manage with fewer technicians.

The city's IT budget is down about 2.5% for 2010, while tax revenue has remained stable, says Mentkow. Infrastructure-related upgrades such as the thin-client initiative are typically planned a few years ahead of time, he says.

Mentkow says Roanoke expects to have deployed approximately 150 Dell OptiPlex thin desktops running Citrix to replace its oldest workstations by the end of 2010. Each year, the city sets aside $150,000 to refresh a percentage of its 1,200 desktops, according to Mentkow.

At some point, Roanoke will transition some of the PCs "that still have legs under them" and repurpose them as virtualized desktops, says Mentkow. The current focus is on deploying the thin-client machines, he notes, and he's not sure when the city will begin implementing virtual desktops.

Hoffman is a freelance writer in New York. Contact him at tom.hoffman24@gmail.com.

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