Published In June 2001
Peter Lok had a choice when his law office joined the national trend of acquiring network services. His growing law firm of Day, Berry and Howard, LLT, had used Woods Electrical Co. (WECO) for the group’s electrical work since the late 1970s when Lok came on board as information systems (IS) director. He knew his preferred electrical contractor offered networking services, but he still associated the company with wiring, lights, and electrical power. So he chose against them. That, he learned, was a mistake. After experiencing frustration with several networking companies, Lok called his old friend and associate Jim Woods, owner of WECO and Woods Network Services (WNS). “The people they have (at Woods) are very knowledgeable. I think Woods is very committed to maintaining training—more so than most networking companies,” Lok said. When Lok came to Day, Berry and Howard 23 years ago, WECO was already firmly established as the company’s electrical contractor. The challenges then were with lights and power, and Lok described the services they provided as “excellent.” “We think of ourselves as demanding customers,” he commented. “Law firms have difficult deadlines—we can’t wait for things to be fixed.” In addition, if something needs service, it has to be done at night. About 15 years ago, when the law firm moved into a new building, Woods did the computer wiring. WNS has now become as valuable to the firm as the electrical division has been for decades. Fast and knowledgeable service is the selling point for Lok. He pointed out his most recent example. The law firm, which includes 230 attorneys, suffered from traffic problems after acquiring a new accounting system in August. The system functioned, but it took too long to bring up an application and to do simple functions. When Lok called WNS he needed the problem solved fast and at night. “We can’t afford to take our network down (during the day),” Lok said. “We’re not making any money when we do that.” Woods engineers came at 3 p.m. and diagnosed several problems by 5 p.m.—a configuration problem with the new application and the need to move two servers onto a 100-megabit switch. Woods worked from 10 p.m. to midnight to resolve the problem. The responsive service plan is no accident for Woods, Inc., the parent company for WNS and WECO. Since the company’s inception, it has focused on offering consistent, reliable, and personal support that only a smaller, local company can deliver. The second aspect of that plan is to offer full service. Jim Woods made that commitment in 1986 when he first realized technology was changing and he could use that transformation to the company’s advantage. Many companies in and around Connecticut perform electrical work. Some sell network hardware and software products, while others engage in customer service agreements or install copper and fiber optic horizontal and backbone network cabling systems. But, Woods Inc. may be the only company in the area to offer all these services. Many electrical contractors are striving to catch up now with the explosion of networking, but Woods is in the enviable position of being years ahead of the trend. The company was born in 1975 with Jim Woods at the helm. He had spent five years as facilities engineer at General Motors and five years in electrical contracting. He enjoyed the construction industry and saw the opportunity to draw in some good employees. From its inception, Woods Inc. had a special focus—offering personal service to Connecticut businesses, without offering preference to larger companies. Forward-thinking philosophy WECO, the electrical division, still offers highly trained field personnel who work with everything from major new construction and renovation projects to basic service calls for incidental adds, moves, and changes. Woods’ experience with local area networks (LANs) has made the company specialists in identifying and preventing power distribution effects such as harmonics that can cause network failures and downtime. In the mid-1980s, by accident, Woods found itself poised to branch out. The company completed a cabling project for IBM in which the company opted for something new—the IBM Cabling System instead of the traditional coaxial cable. Not many in the business had heard of it and Woods found himself considering whether this was the wave of the future. Lew Kreger, regional designated LAN specialist for IBM, convinced Jim Woods that networking was going to be big. Woods and Kreger traveled to Raleigh, N.C., where they met with IBM researchers to learn more about networking and the new IBM Cabling System. With a staff of six in his office and a vision to expand the company, Woods launched Woods Network Service (WNS) with Kreger as part of the company. Today Woods has an office staff of 22 and 90 people in the field performing work on electrical/communications projects. Since Woods Inc. diversified, it has not been totally dependent upon traditional electrical contracting. When a customer constructs a new building the electrical work is done once, but network cabling is redone about every three years. The networking side of the company allows that service to expand inside the offices. Through its two divisions, Woods Inc., can deliver complete integrated systems solutions—electrical, alarm systems, environmental controls, video systems, structured cabling, fiber optic backbones, wiring closets, network design, LAN installation, and network equipment configuration—with its own engineers. Those engineers, and the other employees at Woods, envision themselves as the people who keep their customer’s businesses running, providing services behind the scenes so business owners and personnel don’t have to think much about it. One such person who lives by that philosophy is Ken Batorski, who joined the company about 10 years ago as vice president of marketing. He doesn’t recall exactly when he was promoted to president of WNS. Woods is not the kind of company that emphasizes titles. “We don’t get hung up on that much,” he said. “People just work hard. Our sole mission is satisfying customers. Nobody worries about protocol.” WNS is a relatively efficient operation with 15 employees. Those employees work in connection with Woods Electrical, but personnel do not cross over from one group to the other. Typically, a network service job may call on Woods Electrical for work such as mounting its system on racks. WECO usually takes on the structured cabling system and WNS gains its sales leads from there. Commonly a customer will be considering a network system from Cisco Systems, Inc., and WNS steps in. Once operations are in place, Woodand network business, Jim Woods argued, current industry knowledge is the essential advantage over competition. Each member of Woods’ field labor force holds an individual E2 electrical license and has been further trained and certified by Woods in copper and fiber communications cabling. About 20 percent of the company’s business involves moves, adds, and changes. That represents a noticeable increase—10 years ago, that figure was zero. Much of that growth can be attributed to the increasing need for information technology (IT). Demands on customers are increasing, forcing them to search for qualified people and sometimes come up short. WNS provides design, installation, sales, and service for data communications networks. The staff is trained in hardware and software products from companies such as Nortel Networks, Cisco Systems, Compaq, Marconi (formerly Fore Systems), Microsoft, Novell, and 3Com. The company’s full service is hard at work on a major expansion in Uncasville, Conn. Jake Star is director of technical services at the Mohegan Sun Resort there. He has seen his share of electrical contractors, but has never run into a company that can handle his needs with full service. The resort is in the midst of an $850 million expansion scheduled to be completed in September 2001 with the exception of a 35-story hotel, which will be completed April of 2002. (See related project profile on page XX.) Woods has undertaken the voice and data portion of cabling with miles of copper and fiber. By September of this year they had set up an employee center and two data centers. The technology must be operational seven days a week, 24 hours a day with no flexibility for downtime. Woods cabled a secondary data center to provide full redundancy in the system. They also advised the resort to protect itself further by running redundant cable paths in some cases, eliminating any single points of failure that could be caused by a backhoe or any other simple accident. “A big part of what they do is providing a sanity check,” Star commented. Woods engineers sat down with resort authorities and reviewed blue prints, examining the designs and offering ideas to save money. One such case was the design of 4-inch sleeves that were part of the blue prints for the future resort hotel. The sleeves were designed to carry cables up the entire 35 stories of the hotel. “They suggested a boxed-in chase,” Star said, something that provided ample space for laying out and running cables. “They’ve also looked at voice and data, fire alarms, security, and surveillance,” he said. “They’ve helped us find ways to share fiber.” The resort is running 14 million feet of copper and 70 miles of fiber that are being used with no wastage. The wiring rooms, Star noted, are neater and the cabling layout is straightened out. “They just have made life so easy for us,” said Star, who has become a veteran of dealing with contractors. “They’re super responsive—when you give them a job you don’t have to supervise them at all.” One of the greatest advantages of working with Woods, he said, is the company’s collective understanding of the networking side of their business. “That is really unique in the industry,” he said. SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in Somerset, N.J. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.