YoCream International, Inc., with headquarters and a dairy and manufacturing facility in Portland, OR, is a pioneer and leading producer of frozen yogurt. Founded in 1977, YoCream produces, markets, and sells frozen yogurt, ice cream, and frozen custard mixes as well as fruit and dairy smoothies and frozen beverages. The Company has 30 years experience of providing solutions to the away-from-home foodservice market.
When YoCream I S Manager Brad Gaylor was looking for an IT service provider three years ago, he turned to Polar Systems.
As the company’s lone IT specialist, Brad doesn’t have the time to get involved in the nuts and bolts of network hardware and software management. He looks to Polar Systems to provide that help.
“I didn’t have enough work for a qualified IT person,” said Brad. “And I was concerned about one individual having the diversity of experience that I needed to support our department. Polar Systems was recommended to me by another IT company as being the right size organization to meet our needs.”
YoCream signed up with Polar Systems for its PolarStar network services support program, which includes remote monitoring of YoCream’s network on a full time basis, plus problem troubleshooting, connectivity assistance, and software and hardware upgrades as necessary.
“They provide all the support that I need,” says Brad. “I rely on their technical expertise. Whenever I need an upgrade of network hardware they handle it for me.”
“For example, we do electronic invoicing with one of our customers,” continued Brad. “The service requires that we have a secure communications line. Polar Systems made a recommendation of a device that would provide this and we contracted with them to purchase and install the solution.”
“A year ago, Polar provided us with backup hardware and software when we needed to upgrade our system, and ever since, the system has been safe, secure, and reliable,” says Brad.
“The remote monitoring that Polar Systems provides with the PolarStar program has been particularly valuable,” noted Brad Gaylor. “A Polar engineer notifies me whenever they see irregularities in our system operation or issues that need attention.
“For example, we recently ran into a problem where we were reaching capacity on one of our servers,” Gaylor continued. “Polar flagged the problem and recommended a long-term solution, and they are currently helping us put that solution in place.”
The PolarStar remote monitoring service also helps YoCream by updating the service patches and cleaning up files remotely. “There is very little that they can’t do remotely,” says Brad.
When an on-site visit is required, someone drops by from Polar to install hardware or make an update as needed.
“I see Polar Systems not as a vendor but as my expert IT partner,” concluded Brad. “Polar is very good at what they do and are highly responsive to my needs.”
A family-oriented business, McGee Financial Strategies, Inc. has been serving the financial planning and wealth management needs of clients in the Northwest for over 30 years. Through a comprehensive process they design and implement financial plans based on their clients’ unique goals and values and those of their families and businesses. The firm is known for taking a holistic approach to planning, considering the needs of the entire family across multiple generations and for building strong, lasting relationships that are based on mutual respect and trust.
As with many relatively small service companies, one of the principals at McGee played the role of company “IT person” for a while, and that was satisfactory as long as the network remained relatively simple. But things changed as the company’s information needs grew. “We needed to go from a peer-to-peer network to something more sophisticated,” said Linette Dobbins, McGee Financial’s President, “and we recognized the need for professional help.”
“We asked around and talked to other people who had bad experiences with network consultants,” continued Linette. “And then a friend of one of our employees referred us to Polar Systems.”
“We didn’t consider hiring an inside IT staffer for two reasons,” said Linette. “First of all, we’re too small. There are just 17 of us. Secondly, we like outsourcing because having an outside firm manage our system keeps our information secure. We would rather not have an employee responsible for this. By outsourcing to someone we can trust, we keep our information confidential.”
Polar Systems’ support role at McGee Financial extends beyond data networking to other critical areas of the enterprise. Within the last 12 months, Polar installed a Cisco VoIP phone system to replace a conventional system that had been working since 1992. Considering the importance of a phone network to financial planners and considering that conservative financial people are often wary of technology change, the fact that the conversion went smoothly was a good thing. Polar made the new system work side-by-side the old system for a period of time in order to make sure there were no problems. “Our transition went miraculously smoothly,” concluded Linette Dobbins.
During the early years of their relationship, Polar Systems billed McGee by the hour for the service they provided, but recently McGee has signed up for Polar Systems’ PolarStar network service, whereby for a regular monthly fee, Polar handles routine maintenance of McGee’s system and automatically takes care of things such as managing backups, maintaining system security, and making software updates. As a standard part of the service, Polar Systems remotely monitors McGee’s network to insure that any potential problems are addressed before they threaten the integrity of the system.
“We know we’re getting value from the PolarStar system because the polar guys meet with us regularly to prove it to us,” said Linette. “Coming out to visit us quarterly is part of the service.”
“Trust is a critical element in our business,” reiterates Dobbins. “Because our clients demand a financial services provider that they can trust, we in turn demand that our service providers be equally trustworthy. And Polar Systems has honored our trust.”
“We have had only good experiences with Polar,” Dobbins continued. “They share our core values. As a result, I have referred them to many other people.”
Cowlitz Family Health Center
The task of updating a network infrastructure can be daunting, and is one that is often postponed because it can be like peeling an onion – you get through the outside layer only to discover that a simple update may not be sufficient and a more complete overhaul is needed. For Cowlitz Family Health Center (CFHC) of Longview, Washington, that proved to be the case as they undertook a program to modernize their email and practice management systems. In the process, CFHC realized that their in-house IT person was not going to be fully capable of handling the upgrade alone.
The project began when clinic managers decided that they needed to revamp their 25-year-old system for keeping patient records. To get recommendations on how to proceed, they hired a national medical consulting firm with expertise in the latest electronic medical records (EMR) and practice management systems. Along with making a recommendation on what new scheduling and billing system to use, the consultants recommended that CFHC hire an IT management firm to assist Cowlitz’ internal IT staff with the installation. Responding to Cowlitz’ RFP, Polar Systems, Inc. was selected to partner with the clinic for the upgrade.
At the time Cowlitz started working with Polar Systems, their whole network (all software and hardware) was contained at the clinic’s Longview, Washington headquarters. The Longview network consisted of a patchwork of two mid-sized servers, with five PC workstations that also worked as servers, and a virtual network. The Longview staff, as well as personnel at the clinic’s two remote worksites (there were approximately 125 users in total, spread between the clinic’s three locations) needed to go through a very cumbersome process to access records at the main site which included logging into multiple software applications separately. In addition, the clinic’s email software was archaic and didn’t offer the functionality of contemporary email systems.
The first step for Polar Systems was to evaluate the existing system framework and assess the client’s needs. As part of the company’s PolarStar service, Polar provided a team of ‘CIO-level’ analysts with the expertise in system design and implementation that enabled them to quickly calculate that CFHC’s current infrastructure would not support what they wanted to do. A complete rebuild of the clinic’s IT system, from top to bottom, was launched.
The rebuild was broken into three phases, and during the process Polar managed and maintained Cowlitz’s existing network so as not to disrupt on-going daily work activity. “During this process our team was onsite at CFHC’s two or three full days per week,” says Ken Colton, Polar Systems’ Director of Operations. “In phase one, we moved their current applications without change to a more robust infrastructure. In phase two we converted CFHC outdated email system to Microsoft Exchange, and in phase three implemented a single log-in for all applications based on thin client computing. This simplified and streamlined how the remote sites connected to the main site.”
Cowlitz’ in-house IT person had begun implementing a server virtualization environment, but had made some incorrect implementation decisions. Based on Polar’s core competency in this area, they decided to unravel what had been done and re-implement the virtualization using VMWare, a more standard and robust architecture. The new system uses fewer servers than the previous one, but uses them much more efficiently. “Virtualization was key to the successful restructure of Cowlitz’ network,” says Ken Colton. “It enabled Cowlitz to cut server and space costs and energy usage, and it will allow them to grow and expand their data-driven business with relative ease.”
The entire process took approximately five months, and was worth the time and financial investment. Cowlitz’ Finance Director Norm Kraft says, “Before the upgrade our IT person had to run all reports himself using our 25 year old practice management system. Now anybody that has authority can run a report, and they’re produced in real-time. We can view the information on the screen, create a PDF, or create an Excel spreadsheet. This upgrade has made our business more efficient.”
Polar Systems has recently been able to change their focus at CFHC from improving the clinic’s network to maintaining the network and taking care of employee needs that arise. This is all part of the PolarStar network management service, which includes an on-call help desk, with the ability to perform remote diagnostics and servicing of clients’ networks whenever necessary. To ensure that face-to-face contact is maintained, and that Polar is kept up to date on Cowlitz’ IT needs, Polar Systems engineers make on-site visits to CFHC at least once or twice per month.
“Beyond solving the clinic’s system reliability issues and bringing them into the 21st century and to the leading edge of technology, our continuing involvement as part of the PolarStar service ensures that CFHC’s IT system will continue to thrive,” says Ken Colton.
Norm Kraft adds, “One significant advantage to outsourcing this work is having a team that responds to the projects that we have prioritized. No task is too vast or gets pushed to the back burner. This work has created a lot of stability and reliability within our system. The investment we made, and continue to make with Polar is money well spent. We’re confident that the support that Polar provides will serve us well into the future.”
Cowlitz Family Health Center is a community health center that provides medical, family planning, dental, WIC (women’s and infant nutrition program) and First Steps (case management for pregnant women). For more information about CFHC visit their website at www.cowlitzfamilyhealth.org.