Collaborating on different efforts is not something new to businesses, but there are some businesses out there that are making collaboration their mission to provide better products and services to customers.
Saber Systems & Consulting Inc., a locally-owned and operated technology consulting company providing custom application development, networking solutions, staffing and hardware procurement services to government agencies and private industry, and information technology systems consultants 121 Micro are two such companies that have collaborated their efforts.
Lately, the two companies have been working together to build a customized system to track, organize and manage investigations conducted by the Mississippi State Tax Commission, Office of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Bureau of Enforcement. The two are also working on an electronic criminal investigation software package that will organize, track and manage the investigations conducted by the agents.
“121 may not have even known about this project, much less bid on it, unless Saber had come to us,” said Randy Russell, CEO of 121 Micro.
Ravi Raju, 121 Micro’s director of technology, said the relationship between his company and Saber Systems is important because the two companies can combine their talents to provide a better product to their clients.
Brandon J. Manley, vice president of Saber Systems, said his company’s relationship with 121 Micro began about two years ago. Not only did Saber Systems feel confident with their partnership with 121 Micro; the company also has confidence in their abilities.
“121 Micro has a good reputation for getting the job done,” Manley said. “We want to bring on someone who can add to what we can do versus be a hindrance, and I think that would be true with anyone.”
121 Micro reciprocated that feeling. “This is the epitome of a relationship that has developed over the past several years,” Russell said. “The real win is for the state.”
Russell believes collaboration, or “clustering,” — as it is called between technology and other companies — is about economic development. The concept was initiated by the Communications and Information Technology Organization of Mississippi, or CIT.ms.
“The real philosophy is to create symbiotic relationships between companies so that when they’re combined they’re able to do things they wouldn’t be able to do apart,” Russell explained. “This shows it works,” he said of the alliance between Saber Systems and 121 Micro.
Dr. Angie Dvorak, president and CEO of the Mississippi Technology Alliance (MTA) of which CIT.ms functions as an initiative, said clustering is a matter of setting up competitive advantages for an area.
“It’s so simple but it works because you create a core industry and then look at different types of industries and businesses that support that core industry focus,” Dvorak said.
Dvorak recalled what Dr. Michael Porter, one of four Harvard University professors who came to Mississippi in 2000 at the request of the MTA, said about technology as it relates to economic development.
“Dr. Porter said when you think about what technology is, there is very little economic development not technology-related or technology-affected,” she recalled. “There is no such thing as a low-tech industry.”
Clustering gives Mississippi a vehicle with which companies can compete more effectively.
“We want Mississippi companies doing business with Mississippi companies,” Dvorak said. “A cluster helps identify people within that industry sector and helps them to build a relationship with one another.”
The MTA is focusing on five specific cluster areas: CIT.ms, remote sensing and geomatics (a broader base of remote sensing), advanced materials (i.e. polymers), life sciences (i.e. agricultural and forestry sciences, plant and animal sciences and human medicine) and transportation.
“We feel that much of this is going to be community-driven for community and local economic development,” Dvorak said of clustering. “That’s the message we’re sending.”
As part of the MTA Tour program called @Home in Mississippi, the organization is visiting 16 Mississippi communities to promote the clustering idea. From there, Dvorak is hoping community collaboration will build to a regional one. Already MTA has visited six Mississippi communities.
“Our organization will continue to promote cluster development and CIT.ms is fully engaged as an organization in promoting that particular cluster,” Dvorak said.
Dvorak said communities have had a tremendous response to the tours.
“People seem generally interested,” she said. “Communities are interested in how they might integrate technology initiatives to achieve economic development goals and how it’s necessary that they do.”
Dvorak said clustering is important for Mississippi because “it’s a very workable approach and it gives us the ability to maximize the state’s strength.”
Russell said the ultimate goal of clustering is to keep the state business in the state.
“It’s keeping people at work and close to home, which is where we want to be,” he said. “We’d much rather work in Gluckstadt or other local areas than have to travel over a two- or three-state area.”
Russell explained that the major goal of CIT is to have a group of people noncompetitive in nature team up to go after contracts. The concept of clustering is not new per se, but is fairly young in Mississippi.
“This concept has made a material difference in our company and how we look at solving problems,” Russell said. “It’s tremendously affected us in a positive way.”
Russell said the relationship between Saber Systems and 121 Micro is a relationship not between companies, but people.
“People make the deal happen,” Russell said.
He advised other companies to collaborate on projects as well.
“It’s about quit talking about it and go make friends out there,” he said. “Share your leads list. It’s a paradigm shift. We have to learn to open up a little bit and ask, ‘How can we leverage and go forward?’ That’s what I’d advise anybody: open up a little bit with people you trust and it’ll work out.”
Raju said, “As we are successful doing this others are going to have to follow to be successful themselves. The clustering initiative is relatively young in this state but two years from now it might be unheard of for people not to have these symbiotic relationships.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 364-1042.