Out of the Shadow, Onto The Catwalk

RDA Enterprises Escorts a mmdeling agency out of technology's dark ages and into the haute couture of integration.

Growth can be messy, as Next Model Management (NMM) learned during its drive to become the second-largest modeling agency in the world. Fortunately, the beauty broker found a makeover artist in network integrator RDA Enterprises.

NMM has grown from "a few girls in 1989" to more than 200 models of both sexes today. The agency has offices in New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Milan, Paris, London, Brazil and Canada. Sales reps—called "bookers"—comprise the majority of the firms 100 employees. Most of them work in the three U.S. offices and talk with models and customers throughout the day.

But despite the glamour of its industry, NMM is much like other small businesses: short on in-house IT talent and infrastructure.

"We had very basic technology. Each office operated independently. We didnt even have e-mail," says business administrator Millie Pellet. NMMs core applications—models portfolios, scheduling and billing—all were kept at the New York headquarters. That caused a lot of bottlenecks.

"Bookers would have to call or fax New York all the time," explains Pellet. "We spent a fortune on long-distance calls and FedEx" to get portfolios into the hands of potential customers.

The "ancient" IBM PC that stored scanned copies of models pictures was another problem. "There was lots of downtime and server crashes," says accounting manager Laura Fischer.

NMM went through a couple of system integrators in search of one that could just keep the companys computers running, and hopefully tie together all of the offices in a unified modern e-business. Pellet and Fischer prefer not to name those contractors because they just didnt get the job done.

"Our experience with other vendors was not so positive," admits the diplomatic Fischer.

Then they were introduced to Robert Diaz—co-founder, president and CEO of RDA Enterprises—by a developer of modeling agency software who partnered with RDA for integration services.

Veteran Integrator Favors NDS Founded in 1986 by Robert Diaz and his brother Ron, Manhattan-based RDA Enterprises is a full-service network integrator with additional offices in Los Angeles, Miami and Bucharest, Romania. They do it all, from building custom white boxes to designing and hosting Web sites, upgrading existing infrastructure, designing and implementing new Internet infrastructure and providing remote or on-site maintenance. RDA has developed vertical accounting solutions using Crystal Reports for graphic arts businesses and trophy shops (an interesting niche).

A Novell Platinum Partner as well as a Microsoft expert, RDA often employs the power of Novell Directory Services (NDS) in its solutions.

"NDS is a very mature technology compared to MS Active Directory, says Robert Diaz. He notes that NDS "is robust, scalable and stable. Its available on a variety of operating systems including Windows NT and 2000, Linux, and Solaris." Microsofts Active Directory, by contrast, is available only for Windows 2000 and has several well-publicized problems.

Getting Organized After upgrading all of NMMs Windows NT workstations to a common performance standard, RDA installed a standard suite of applications and configuration settings on each workstation. Customized workstations and file servers were built for accounting, scheduling and image processing.

Then RDA installed a custom-built Novell NetWare 5 server at each of the three U. S. offices. NetWare 5 includes several NDS-enabled applications, which helped get NMMs IT infrastructure organized and standardized.

BorderManager, Novells VPN/firewall software, enabled secure VPN connections between all three locations. Internet solution provider Verio Inc. supplied T1 connectivity to each office, and DSL lines for backup.

"We looked at frame-relay VPN, but it would have cost $400,000 per year," says Diaz.

The Right Direction Directory services in general are extremely helpful to firms like RDA, which offer remote maintenance and managed services.

"Policy-based directory services make things so much easier," says Diaz. For example, NDS gave RDA centralized control over which individuals and groups at NMM had access to e-mail, model portfolio files and scheduling applications.

NMMs management "wanted control over which employees could browse the Web at all, which could browse only approved sites, and who could surf without restriction," adds Diaz. Implementing policies via NDS enables such restrictions to "follow" an individual user no matter which machine on NMMs network he or she logs on to.

Using ZENworks Starter Pack, also included with NetWare 5, RDA is able to remotely manage each workstations e-mail, configuration and application updates.

"ZENworks also has self- healing functions built in," notes Diaz, further automating the maintenance of desktop applications.

Mail Model Is a 10 "The biggest gain for us is the e-mail system," says Pellet. Bookers now e-mail scheduling and billing queries instead of sitting on phone hold.

A booker can e-mail a models digitized portfolio directly to a prospective client instead of faxing requests for FedEx-ed packages to New York.

As for the infrastructure itself, "It just works," says Pellet. "Robert [Diaz] really knows his business. Hes very hands-on, and he gives you a sense of security and comfort. Sometimes owners or presidents [of IT services firms] dont have the hard knowledge. But Robert gave us his personal attention every step of the way. You can tell he really cares."

"All his technicians are the same way," adds Fischer. "When they come out to fix a problem, they have great response time and attention to detail."

A simple e-mail system is the most visible benefit for this customer. But the "invisible" benefits of trouble-free network operations and remote maintenance undoubtedly contribute equally to NMMs bottom line.

A caring solutions provider can leverage directory services to keep clients blissfully ignorant of all the problems he prevents for them.