What's in a name? For any company wishing to brand itself in a competitive marketplace like IT, the answer can be quite a lot. Indeed, finding the correct name can often be one of the most difficult aspects of setting up a com-pany. All the good names have been taken (especially those involving the words network and LAN).
For Network Solutions, the problem wasn't so hard. When its parent company GEC Alsthom decided to give its networking arm a distinctive moniker (it had previously been known as GEC Alsthom IT), it needed to look no further than its own heritage.
Network Solutions has been involved in managed network solutions since 1983. In 1992 it was merged with GEC Alsthom to form GEC Alsthom IT, only to re-emerge on February 1 this year, under its original name.
According to general manager Steve Shergold, while GEC Alsthom is a giant worldwide, it isn't so well known in Australia. And with ambitions to grow the company as a network integrator, reverting to the old name seemed appropriate.
Thankfully, it had retained the rights to the Network Solutions name.
So with the old name in new hands, Network Solutions is now setting itself up for growth. Shergold is looking to the recently deregulated telecommunications industry.
"I think that there will be some good opportunities," said Shergold. "We supplied AAPT with their Frame Relay switches, so we have some sort of alliance because of that."
Opportunities on the horizon
Shergold said Network Solutions will look for other opportunities to work with other people as deregulation occurs. "There are people out there like power companies that are looking at getting into offering networking services, and other people with rights-of-way coming out to see how they can take advantage," said Shergold. "And we'll be looking to work with those on some sort of basis, whether in partnership or what have you."
But while the opportunities might be there, Shergold doesn't believe deregulation will have the stunning impact on pricing that many analysts have anticipated.
So Shergold doesn't expect Network Solutions' growth to come solely through deregulation. An increased focus on voice and data integration, and network services, with an increased focus on upfront consultation, will help to continue the company's 30 per cent growth rate.
Services currently make up 20 per cent of Network Solutions' revenue, and Shergold is intent on seeing this figure rise, especially in a post-sales environment. "I think that there's an opportunity, because there is a general shortage of networking expertise. And many small organisations can't justify having networking staff on board full time, so they're looking for partners to provide that."
Shergold believes that Network Solutions can provide that expertise, and so places a strong emphasis on having well trained staff, with expertise ranging from high-end telecommunications down to the desktop level.
While believing vendor-based training is important, one thing Shergold is careful to do is to make sure that his staff do not develop a narrow focus through their training.
"We train the people that we feel are able to do the jobs that we set out to do," said Shergold. "I think there tends to be a real push from vendors that they want to put lots of people through these training programs to get accreditation, but I think that's the wrong reason to be training people.
"I think that you have to be careful in terms of when you put people through single programs - you can end up with very narrowly focused people. You have to look at how you maintain their broad perspective of the marketplace as an integrator, as opposed to just the specific skills.
"You should be training people so that they can meet the needs of your customers. And that's one sort of training - making sure they get involved in the right projects in getting solutions to work for people - which can offer more value to people in terms of developing them as opposed to just sending them on a course."
For Shergold the key is investing in people rather than investing in training certificates. "I think that putting people through some of the programs gives them a nice title, but exactly how much benefit does that give to the individual? I think it's important to actually make sure that they're getting a broad range of experience, and developing their skills is more important."
An area where Network Solutions is looking to use those skills is in upfront consultation, through working with people at the start of the integration process to help them better understand and define how businesses need to use communications.
He says that while technology is getting cheaper, the complexity that people have in their environments today is getting greater, so Network Solutions can play a greater role at the definition stage. "It's easy to do a box design, but you're not assured that that's going to work. And a lot of organisations are starting to get a hold on the notion that they'd rather do this properly and know that it's going to work from the start. And so we're looking to form better relationships with those sorts of organisations."