High-end Caterer Orders Out for IT

Communication glitches and data loss were as unacceptable as rubbery chicken, so Abigail Kirsch turned to IT outsourcing to keep operations smooth and saved money in the process.

When executives at MTV wanted to throw a bash to celebrate the MTV Music Awards, they knew just where to turn. Ditto for American Express, Coca-Cola, and Jaguar. When these groups want to throw a party, they turn to high-end caterer Abigail Kirsch.

To satisfy these clients, the caterer, based in Westchester County, N.Y., offers top-notch food, service and atmosphere at venues like Lincoln Center and the New York Historical Society.

Planning events for New York royalty means that no glitches will be tolerated. High-end clients require that everything be perfect—no problem left unsolved solved and no request not granted.

Achieving that kind of excellence means more than great food—it means having the technology to make sure that communication between locations is immediate, that specialized catering and event planning software is running well, and that data is backed up.

Because the focus is squarely on food and service, executives at the catering company long ago decided that turning to a third-party IT provider was the way to go. After a short stint with one company that provided inadequate innovation and delayed response times, four years ago Abigail Kirsch turned to Sinu, a managed IT services provider.

Unlike many of its competitors, the company offers its comprehensive Sinu IT Service plan for a fixed, monthly fee assessed on a per-person basis. That way, according to Sinu founder Larry Velez, "We can tackle root problems that can be connectivity-related, e-mail-related, involve understanding an upgrade path, or deal with file-sharing issues. Because were not billing for hours, we can focus on the issues."

Sinu also offers its clients a single point of contact, quickly dispatching technicians to any location necessary, without the fear of escalating costs.

That suits Abigail Kirsch just fine. "I was looking for an IT partner rather than an IT repairman," said John Delahunt, the catering companys director of finance who also oversees IT at the caterer. "We wanted them to be part of our team, providing us with a dedicated team of multi-skill professionals, ready to help plan strategic growth, engage in preventative best practices, and tackle issues as they arise."

Fixing a broken system
At the time Sinu came on board, the 350-employee company had no e-mail system in place, no wireless support, little backup, and no cohesive way of accessing the data from its specialized accounting, billing and catering or event management applications.

Accessing specialized applications seamlessly was a particularly important problem to solve. The servers on which the software resides are in scattered locations, and the company needed a way to make access seamless so that staff in different locations could access all resources on demand.

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The first thing Sinu did was migrate the company to Microsoft Exchange, giving managerial staff the full power of Microsoft Outlook, the full mobility power of the Exchange platform, and full access to wireless synchronization for users of BlackBerry devices.

For the companys mobile catering staff, Sinu implemented an inexpensive, Web-based e-mail system with much of the functionality of Exchange but more flexibility. The system is easy to use and maintain and allows staff to quickly access their calendars, e-mail and contacts from any computer.

Backup also was a major issue. Sinu solved it by moving the company to online backup, which solved the problem of having multiple servers in multiple places. The move dropped Abigail Kirschs backup costs from $20 to $1 per gigabyte.

In addition to greatly improved reliability and peace of mind, Sinu has also saved the company quite a bit of money apart from those storage savings.

For example, Delahunt compared the cost of Sinu versus the cost of hiring a dedicated IT manager.

"I would estimate that I save at least $25,000 to $30,000 annually, on top of the performance and stability, which is difficult to quantify," he said.

As for Sinu, the company intends to keep on top of technology trends, innovating when possible for the benefit of its customers. For example, Velez is watching how the war between Google Apps and Microsoft SharePoint pans out.

"We think Google Apps might be very interesting for smaller businesses because it takes so much risk out of the company," he said.

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Hardware-for-service is another emerging trend Sinu is following.

"Right now businesses are flirting with buying new computers and dont know how to spec them or when to replace them, and they have to pay up front for hardware purchases," Velez said. "At some point we should be able to evolve our services to include desktops as well, so it will be like a cell phone plan, where users get a new one every few years."

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