Defying definition

Defying definition

Not surprisingly, Adam Crow is reticent to apply a single defining word to his company's operations. But one thing that is apparent is the ability to innovate new technologies without the backing of a multinational team of developers.

"We would classify ourselves as inventors," Crow said, adding that customers have come to refer to the business as Mark and Adam Pty Ltd.

"That is how our customers interact with us - they ring up and say ‘I've got this issue Adam. How do you do this?' and we put our heads together and come up with a technical solution, be it hardware, software - you name it."

The willingness to invent new technology is an inherent part of their respective IT careers - both began as engineers and between them have an impressive development portfolio, including OzEmail's phone project, and research and development for the Sydney airport tower's communications, command and control system.

"We are designers," Crow said. "We both had engineering degrees and we loved engineering design so much that we got post-grad qualifications in our mid 30s."

Working out of the same office, the two found themselves designing systems to make other people rich and decided to go into business.

"We had a lot of firsts to our credit and for some reason we ended up getting a few people on side who wanted us to get them onto a network so we needed to look after these networks and do some design for them."dcnut grew out of that most engineering of pursuits - efficiency. "The problem was we don't like wasting time so we didn't want to keep going out to offices and upgrading things," Crow explained. So being engineers, we asked ourselves ‘How do we design our way out of this?'. This is one of the big differences between what Mark [Spieth] and I do [compared to] almost all other computer support and IT departments in that rather than just shop around for solutions, we build them."

Based on their experiences designing and shipping Linux servers, the two decided to create a box for small and medium-sized businesses that would manage everything from Web mail to Java, faxing and setting up to allow remote access. But by far the most innovative feature of this integration is the server's ability to access the Internet without the need for the traditional Internet service provider (ISP).

"You would be surprised at how much work is involved in selecting an ISP when you are setting up your own server - they don't really like it because it takes away their own business. So again, being engineers, we asked, ‘what is the cheapest way of doing this?' and in the end most ISPs hook up to Telstra."

Using tricks they had learned from previous projects with the telco, the two created a box which not only connects directly to the Internet but also allows any problems with the system to be relayed back to the company.

This ingenuity is precisely what makes it so difficult to categorise the company. On the one hand, Crow and Spieth run an integration and services company, but they rely on a reseller community to sell and market their product, which intentionally bypasses the ISP channel.

"We realised long ago that we can put the power of an ISP into every person's hands and all of a sudden they are going to be a lot more flexible. It allows us to move the Internet down into their store, office or home and connect it to other appliances. Telstra keeps talking about an Internet fridge but they are not doing a damned thing about implementing it. Mind you, an Internet fridge is a pretty silly idea. But take a video recorder - most people don't know how to program a video recorder - or home security systems integrated through the Internet, then it starts being useful."

Part of the problem, he says, is an industry which is largely populated by people who don't have the necessary technical expertise.

"The Internet is shifting so fast for many people that people aren't learning - they are not going back and asking what the formal understanding of this topic of computer science and communications in general is. Instead, you are finding people are going through high school then going straight into an e-commerce learning environment. Last year it was the Internet - Web-based products, then it was ASP products and now it is e-commerce - B2B, B2C. So many young people are saying they haven't got time to learn the fundamentals - they are not learning the physics behind it, if you like. They just want to get out there and try to become middlemen. There are hardly any primary producers anymore."

And while many high-profile IT execs have been pushing the broadband line, Crow maintains this is largely unnecessary.

"Government strategies regarding the Internet push broadband to Australians and make them consumers. Our box is a stand against that," he said. "Our vision is that ISPs will die because the services they offer can be done by any computer. Why pay to use someone else's computer to store your e-mails when, if you have a permanent connection, you can do it yourself? Most users have never actually tried to move their domain name - there are a lot of problems with that and they don't know this yet. Try deleting an e-mail account quickly from an ISP."

So in just over a year, two engineers from Melbourne have built a company that now services dcservers as far away as the United Kingdom and Indonesia. Their only concession has been to employ marketing manager John Smith to help drive sales.

"We have huge overseas joint ventures going now. We run Web-based operations, development operations - in the space of a year, two ordinary engineers with a rather modest lifestyle are suddenly involved in this huge international operation," Crow mused. "A lot of the friends we went to uni with love talking to us and hearing how we are going because it is like the slaves escaped from their masters. We travel all over Australia meeting the customers and every box that is connected. We have been taken overseas and shown the sites because we have boxes all over the world now."

And the innovations will continue. "We want to totally overturn the world of PCs. We used to be hardware designers but we are sort of going back to it, I guess, to prove things," Crow said.

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