Hapeman: Remaking IT

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What do you do when you take over a successful technology program at a large regional firm? In Jeff Hapeman's case, you make sweeping changes. Early last year, Hapeman took over the position of chief technology officer at Clifton Gunderson, the Peoria, Ill.-based accounting firm, from Matt Camden, who had run the operation for 13 years.

"I think the major shift was that Matt's goal was to build this practice. The shift because we needed to focus on profitability and practice development," says Hapeman, who heads reselling/consulting business and the internal IT operations.

The unit, Clifton Gunderson Technology Solutions, employs 72, and expects about $15 million in revenue for the fiscal year ending in May.

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Before joining the firm, Hapeman ran a reselling/consulting firm Network Technology Solutions, that focused on infrastructure products and merged with CGTS in 2003.

Hapeman, who is not a CPA, notes, "I am married to one". But what Hapeman says he brought to the job because of his background as a business owner was a business sense, more than an IT sense. "I look at the business side first and at the IT side second," he says.

That orientation led him to "purge the Novell network," in favor of going completely Microsoft. It was a business decision based on the belief that having one vendor providing the networking would provide savings in such areas as operations, recruiting, and training.

Meanwhile, an IP-based Cisco telephone call manager system is also being rolled out firm wide. CG is moving its frame relay system to the MPLS format, a virtual private network from AT&T that will provide quality voice communication in the IP environment.

Among the features being rolled out are firm-wide paging and a unified messaging system. "We have seen tremendous reductions in long-distance charges," he notes.

Although estimates of annual savings range from $50,000 to $100,000, the more important aspect of moving to IP-based telephone is the ability to have employees in the firm's 40 offices collaborate. "It's not just about saving money," says Hapeman. "It's about increased productivity and collaboration."

Structurally, IT jobs have been redefined to "more tightly line up with people's expertise" and with the long-term business strategy. Hapeman says. Two new divisions have been created under new directors. A new group has also been added for internal information security and the position was being advertised in January.

On the external side, the firm derives about 55 percent of its revenue from selling infrastructure services.

But the fastest growth is coming from the security practice. That staff has doubled to about 11 in a year, and client interest in compliance work, including SOX engagements, continues to grow.

"We do a lot of compliance work: general control testing, penetration testing. We ask clients, 'Are you properly prepared for disaster recovery?'" he says.

Long a strong Sage reseller, CGTS is seeing its strongest growth from Microsoft's Dynamics NAV (formerly Navision), largely because of that package's source code.

"Customers are much less leery of application- development and customization," says Hapeman. With Navision, he continues, "You don't have to rely on third-party add-ins. We can keep control."

The firm had employed Navision consultants in the Southwest. But client demand in the Midwest has led it to hire a Navision staff in that region.

Hapeman notes that the increased Navision effort hasn't pleased Sage. But he believes that at Clifton Gunderson's size, "We have customers that demand all the solutions and we like to be a little vendor-neutral. No one vendor has a product for everybody."

CLIFTON GUNDERSON TECHNOLOGY SOLUTIONS SNAPSHOT

HQ: Peoria, Ill.

Offices: 10

Employees: 74

Annual revenue: $15 million

Accounting software brands: Dynamics GP and NAV, MAS 90/200/500, MIP, Timberline, Platinum, BatchMaster, Traverse

CRM brands: Dynamics NAV CRM

HRMS brands: Abra

Other software brands: Citrix, FAS, Microsoft Server, Cisco Systems

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