CIA reinvents itself

In 27 years, CIA Group has gone from a small Amos, Que.-based firm selling payroll software to a multi-office company providing hardware, software and services. Now it’s exploring the realm of unified messaging.

The company started in 1976, when founder Jean Claude Périgny — a computer science

graduate from Université du Québec — created a special payroll software that would run on Data General minicomputers. The software needed to be created from scratch, Périgny said, because at that time, there were no similar software products available to suit the particular needs of businesses within Quebec. In fact, companies were still using adding machines to figure out finances.

So why decide to study computers in 1971?

“”I did it because it was a new science and I wanted to explore new things in the world,”” said Périgny, president of CIA Group, and president and CEO of RDC Technologies Inc., CIA Group’s spin-off company.

CIA (which stands for Centre d’informatique Abititbi Inc.) grew quickly, by providing software and hardware to businesses in north-western Quebec, as well as Montreal and Quebec City. It has six offices throughout Quebec, as well as partnerships in Europe.

“”That brings us where we are today — mainly we are a VAR — we resell product, but we also create software,”” said Roch Bertrand, CIA’s general manager. “”We do everything related to the computer business.””

In the past five years, CIA has responded to the changing VAR market in Canada by shifting its focus more on the services and software side, Bertrand said. “”We sell a lot of computers and a lot of solutions, but our marketshare in services has grown. In our day-to-day business, we know (hardware) prices are going down. So if we still want to grow, we must find (different) solutions . . . it’s hard to sell more and more computers.””

“”So we thought we would develop a different approach for our customers — what we sell them is a complete solution and try to develop partnerships with them.”” In fact, these days, about 40 per cent of CIA’s business comes from services, he said.

In another move to offer a different approach, the company discovered through a 1997 market research project that there was “”huge potential”” for a unified messaging product, Périgny said. Enter Com4IP, its newest software product. A new spin-off company, RDC Technologies, was formed in 1999 as the development and distribution arm of Com4IP.

Originally, the software was designed to be used in-house to solve the problem of rising communications costs. Quickly though, they realized that this new software might also hold great appeal to businesses with similar cost problems.

“”In 1997, Jean Claude (Périgny) thought that our telecom costs were very, very high. In our B2B, we have four offices which are spread out, and it’s always long distance (to communicate with each other),”” Bertrand said.

“”We thought it would be good to unify all our communication in only one channel. We started creating and thinking about a product that would integrate all of our communication, by phone, by e-mail, by fax, popups and everything, under one software that would run on our existing network.””

Since using the software, the firm has saved about $40,000 a year in communications costs, and this doesn’t include immeasurable factors such as productivity gains, which were also significant, he added.

“”There are many other products doing a portion (of what our software does), but not a unified communication software where you can write e-mail, record e-mail, send and receive faxes, do IP communication or send and receive instant messaging, with this level of security,”” said Périgny.

There were a few reasons why CIA decided to create a separate company to develop and distribute its Com4IP product: Its market research indicated there was good potential for selling the product in Europe, and there was a financial advantage to launching a separate company to sell overseas.

The Canadian government offers research and development grants to new companies that sell products outside of Canada, and as a newly-formed company, RDC Technologies qualified for this financial assistance.

Com4IP is sold through distributors, rather than a direct-to-customer sales model.

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