WisBusiness: Tech CEO Preaches IT Outsourcing
By Brian E. Clark
MADISON – Craig Schiefelbein isn’t an author, yet.
But the CEO of Paragon Development Systems has been successful at most everything else he’s tried, so he figured he'd take a stab at the writing craft.
And it’s not that Schiefelbein – whose Oconomowoc-based company is a full-service IT infrastructure designer, supplier and manager – is about to pen a romance novel.
He’ll be sticking with the computer industry, an enterprise with which he has been intimately involved since he started the first iteration of PDS – “Memory and More” - from the basement of his suburban Milwaukee home nearly two decades ago. He hopes to have the tome finished by the end of the year.
“Money has never been my god, but we’ve had 19 years of consecutive growth,” said the 41-year-old Schiefelbein, whose company first evolved into a component distributor after a start as a computer memory broker. Later, responding to market changes, it built and sold computers wholesale, then became a direct seller of hardware to large companies and ultimately moved into IT consulting and outsourcing.
“Because we focused on a select group of organizations, we’ve purposefully flown below the radar. People sometimes wonder we’ve been all these years. We’ve been a well-kept secret.”
The lanky entrepreneur’s memoir and advice book will be called “Get Out of IT While You Can.”
Though the title is arguably self-serving, Schiefelbein said it will tell the stories of companies that have used information technology to make their companies more efficient, successful and profitable. Often, he noted with a wry grin, that has included a strategy of partnering with PDS.
PDS’s client list includes or has included the Mayo Clinic, Harley-Davidson, CUNA, American Family Insurance, Alliant Energy, the UW System, Marshfield Clinic, Quad/Graphics, state of Wisconsin and U.S. Government.
PDS recently partnered with Cisco in three key areas of advanced technology when it received Specialized Technology Partner Certifications from Cisco in IP Communications, IP Communications Express, and Wireless.
Local competitors include Madison’s Epic Systems, Inacom and Fitchburg-based Berbee Information Networks, Inc. – which has offices in more than six states. At times, Schiefelbein said, PDS and other rivals work together on projects.
“There’s a lot of business out there for all of us,” he said. “No one can do it all.
“But my main message is that companies should devote themselves to their core business first and not get bogged down with IT,” said Schiefelbein, whose said PDS sales this year could reach $100 million. The 2004 sales figure was $85 million.
Schiefelbein was in Madison last month to officially open the PDS Technology Center, a state-of-the-art service desk facility in the former Heroes Fitness Center building at 361 Blettner Boulevard on the southwest corner of Highways 30 and 51.
In addition to Oconomowoc, the company also has an office in Brookfield and a total of 215 employees in the state.
Schiefelbein said the modern, quirky, nightclub style of the Heroes building on Madison’s east side appealed to him and fit the company’s progressive philosophy. The 22,000-square-foot building was constructed in 1998 and earned national recognition at the time for its design. PDS spent $1.5 million to upgrade the structure, $350,000 of that for a climate-controlled, glassed wall room - complete with bold colors to match the rest of the interior - that is home to more than $1 million of computer gear.
Credit for discovery of PDS’ new digs goes to Austin Park, vice president of infrastructure development. He looked at it on a Wednesday and fell for its design. He talked to his bosses and the company put in a bid for it two days later.
The new facility replaces Paragon’s old Madison office was at 2005 W. Beltline Highway, which it had outgrown.
The former fitness center is now home to 74 employees, a figure that could double in the next 18 months as the company grows. Today, all of the workout machines are gone and the space is rapidly filling up with computer equipment and offices.
However, with its bold colors and striking architecture, it would never be mistaken for one of the region’s faceless corporate offices. After all, they kept the palm tree, the waterfall and wavy wooden juice bar, where visitors can take some libation and peck away at their laptops.
Schiefelbein said Madison is the ideal location for the company’s round-the-clock service desk, which provides clients with a single point-of-contact resource for service management.
The CEO also said he believes Madison is “positioned to become a kind of Silicon Valley of the Midwest, and our new facility is a reflection of that exciting growth in technology development in Wisconsin.
“We have tried to be one of the best places around to work,” he said. “Our attitude is open, innovative and agile. This building fits our culture. It’s a neat space. It’s fun.”
This year, he said PDS will hold its annual technology conference Sept. 28-30 at the Marriott Madison West in Middleton. Workshops will cover IP telephony, data protection, identity management and hacking.
Schiefelbein said the company has focused on large organizations in the past, but is now going after small and medium-sized businesses such as law firms, banks and health care organizations. He said the book is an effort, in part, to increase PDS’s exposure, one that has purposefully been kept low-profile in the past.
“In layman’s terms, we can help firms of all sizes access their stuff wherever and with whatever devices they are using,” he said.
Schiefelbein said he believes too many people who work in IT can be compared to workers who are laboring on a big construction project.
“The analogy is that you can ask one group and they would say they are digging a ditch – which would be accurate,” he said. “But the others, who get the big picture, would say they are building a hospital.”
“If you don’t understand what is really going on, you are probably not adding value and not helping gain market share,” he said. “My book is about how market leaders are moving their companies forward by assertively employing technology.
“It’s not enough for IT employees to want to be the best they can be in their specialty,” he said. “If they grasp the company’s greater purpose they can not only add value to their enterprise, but respect, confidence and even compensation for themselves.”
He said the book will be for anyone from top executives down to those who work at any level of IT.