Speed and Scalability
The dedicated T-1 line, IT person, hardware and software that the company would need to support its own efforts internally would cost more than $82,000 annually. "The added benefit for that money is that we have the entire staff of InfoStreet working to make sure our portal and mail server is backed up and running all the time, fixing any issues that arise, updating the software and just generally being available for any questions we may have," Paradis said. "Thats a significant benefit to us as a small company."Quick completion Getting customers up and running quickly is a hallmark of InfoStreets customer service strategy. When the company began selling services in 2000, building a portal for a customer could take as much as two weeks. Now the process is a snap. "One of the cornerstones we live by is automation," Farah said. "We automated the whole creation of the system and automated any moving parts. Users can go on the site and immediately get a verification key and be ready to go. The site is literally ready in 22 seconds." Agristar and InfoStreet worked together to enhance the high-speed satellite service that Agristar had built with Hughes Network Systems to add e-mail and information offerings for Agristar customers. "In an hour-long conference call, we had built a lot of what we wanted," Paradis said. "InfoStreet had a programmer who built an interface to send to Hughes Network that let users go in and build an e-mail account and access accounts for getting into the information portal." Once Agristar signed the contract with InfoStreet, the new portal was live in one day. InfoStreet has developed a library of more than 200 themes and tools so customers quickly can choose their colors and add their own logos. For a fee of about $200, InfoStreet will do the design work for the customeran option Agristar chose, Farah said. Users can choose whichever of the capabilities or servicese-mail, portals and bloggingthey want to use and pay only for the functionality they need. "Everyone likes a different 80 percent of the product," Farah said. "Everyone wants a different combination of features. We made it like an electronic Lego set." In its initial deployment, the company had several hundred subscribers, but it has expanded its service to thousands. "Weve grown by an order of magnitude, and InfoStreet has handled it fine," Ganschow said. When customers sign up for the Agristar high-speed Internet service, they also have access to the Myagristar.com agricultural information portal and are given an agristar.com e-mail address. "Many of our subscribers want an identity along with the service, so having our own brand of e-mail was really important," Ganschow said. "Subscribers like the agricultural-specific e-mail, but it is also a form of marketing for us." A look at the future As Agristar attracts more users, the company is hoping to provide localized content to users. "There are 300 different commodities, and 50 states in the union, so there are a lot of localized economic centers," Ganschow said. "We can start to create micro-communities that are sizable in gross number of users but are only a small percentage of the total subscriber base." InfoStreet, meanwhile, continues to reap the first seeds that it has sown in the SAAS marketplace. "We think that this year is the year of growth for us," Farah said. "Market acceptance [for the SAAS model] is much higher. We expect to achieve 50 to 60 percent growth this year and to double it next year." The company intends to expand its customer base by cultivating market awareness about the inherent affordability and scalability of SAAS. Hailey Lynne McKeefry is a freelance writer based in Belmont, Calif. Contact her at email@example.com. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.
Agristar began receiving volume discounts when it had 200 users, with per-user costs that have gone from 25 cents to as low as 5 cents per day. The highest volume discounts3 cents per dayare available when the number of users of the service reaches 10,000 users, Ganschow said.