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Firm building business with tech skills and customer service

STARKVILLE — The turning point came in 1998, when a couple of entrepreneurs — a management information systems professional and an industrial engineer — landed contracts with the City of West Point and Community Counseling Services, a division of the Mississippi Department of Mental Health.

Since then, the principals that comprise Synergetics Diversified Computer Services Inc. in Starkville have nurtured the company’s growth from a local three-man office with revenues of $550,000 in 1999 to a statewide $7.5-million consulting firm with 27 employees servicing roughly 200 long-term accounts in nearly all 82 counties in Mississippi.

“Our idea is to become the information systems staff for organizations that do not have the need or resources for a full-time information systems department,” said Synergetics CEO David Palmer.

This year, Synergetics expects to open five branches, including immediate openings in Jackson and Cleveland, with revenue projections between $10 million and $12 million. Next, they’ll target Alabama and other areas in the southeast with a goal of becoming a regional consulting company and service provider.

“I’m certain our services are comparable to any of the large firms in the state,” Palmer said. “But in comparison to most firms, we’re more diversified.”

As a consulting firm and service provider, Synergetics handles it all: design, installation, management, cabling, training, application development, Internet/Intranet development and management, hardware sales, service and support and software sales service and support.

“Service is really where the computer industry is going,” Palmer said. “Anybody can buy their computers and equipment on the Internet. The difference is having somebody like us who can go out at two o’clock in the morning and replace the hard drive on your server. But that alone doesn’t do anything to restore your applications and data and get your business back up and running. That’s where the relationship with our company comes in. I think that’s why we’ve seen so much growth. Our company was founded on customer service.”

Before Joel Hussenet, an electro-mechanical engineer, joined Synergetics in 2000, he was CEO of Cataphote. That year, annual revenues for Synergetics were $4.5 million.

“Joel has put in place the structure to support the expected growth of the company,” said Palmer. “At $4.5 million, you can manage by the seat of your pants, but at $7 to $10 million, you have to have more structure and organization.”

About 87% of their work is for educational institutions, including school districts in Clay, Chickasaw, Oktibbeha and Noxubee counties, the Houston Public School District and East Mississippi Community College. They have primarily implemented solutions to provide for technology in the classroom in elementary and secondary school systems. Other specialized programs include BusWorks, software for K-12 school transportation, payroll and school maintenance and supply.

“We know what programs educational and government customers need for state and federal reporting so that when they have a problem, we don’t have to tell them to call their software company or some other vendor,” said Palmer. “We’re right there.”

Kathy Davis, superintendent of Chickasaw County School, said, “We started working with them while they were still moonlighting, before they became a full-time business. They’ve been extremely important to what we’ve done with our school district. We had to start at the bottom because we didn’t have anything. Now they probably know more about our district than we know ourselves. We’ve been very pleased.”

About 10% of Synergetic’s work is government-related, such as providing project management for individual municipal agencies and complete citywide networking solutions to include data center management and information distribution. The firm also coordinates implementation and integration of county agencies and third-party specialized hardware and software, and designs fiber optic backbones for present and future infrastructure needs and integrates microcomputers and mainframes into LANs and WANs.

“They were instrumental in putting together our system,” said Dewel Brasher, city manager for West Point. “We chose to do the actual work of running the fiber but they provided the oversight and management and computer ‘guru-eese.’”

Law enforcement divisions, such as the Clay County Sheriff’s Department, the West Point Police Department and the Starkville Police Department, have hired Synergetics to consult with and recommend hardware and software solutions for computer-aided dispatch, criminal booking, jail management, records and court management. The company has provided network design, installations, management and training services.

“We’re affiliated with all the major players in the hardware end so we don’t push any particular brand of equipment,” said Palmer. “For the first five years, we didn’t even sell equipment. We consulted with clients on their purchases, but after a while, they pushed us to start selling these products so now our line card is pretty nice — Microsoft, IBM, Novell, Acer, Cisco, Compaq, Hewlett Packard, 3Com, ISP Channel, Dell and Gateway.”

Only 3% of their accounts are commercial, an area they plan to broaden this year, Palmer said.

Palmer said attracting “good quality personnel” has been challenging.

“We’ve been fortunate to be able to hire computer students from Mississippi State University on a co-op basis for on-the-job training,” Palmer said. “We’ve also helped graduates get industry certifications by paying for their exams and developing their skills. We’re developing our workforce internally while we search for others who are developed, but they’re hard to find.”

Synergetics has four full-time network engineers on staff, including Compaq Systems engineers, and many certified technicians with Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), Certified Netware Engineer (CNE), A+, Network +, and Server + ratings. Numerous employees have manufacturer authorizations from Gateway Service Providers, Gateway Network Providers and Dell Premier Access Partners.

“Our commitment is to stay true to what’s made us successful — customer relationships and service,” said Palmer.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com</a.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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