Stay in Step with an Extranet

How one sign-related company scores with its clients
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"We're a sports signage company that specializes in sports marketing," says Jerry Cifarelli, president of ANC Sports Enterprises (www.ancsports.com), a Purchase, NY-based company that produces rotational and LED signage systems for sports and entertainment facilities worldwide. The nearly six-year-old company -- whose founding executive team comprises individuals with more than 15 years' experience in professional sports man- agement, advertising sales, broadcasting and technical operations -- creates turnkey signage solutions for more than 100 arenas/stadiums and grosses approximately $20 million annually.

Not surprisingly, ANC Sports takes its commitment to customer service seriously. Shortly after its founding in 1997, the company sought ways to facilitate and improve its transactions with clients and business associates. According to Jerry, due to ANC Sports' growing client portfolio, the number of faxes, e-mails and express mailings the company generated daily were becoming unwieldy and costly.

"Initially," he explains, "it was about finding an easier way for clients to view and approve artwork. We create artwork for 100+ stadiums/arenas. We had to simplify this task."

With help from New York City-based Mediapolis Inc. (www.mediapolis.com), a Web-software developer whose primary goal is to streamline and organize a company's project-management process, ANC Sports remedied the situation by integrating an extranet with its new Website, where clients could access a private directory and view their artwork layouts, specifications, timesheets and signage schedules. Although the service proved to be beneficial, the company felt its communication process was still too burdensome -- clients printed their layouts and faxed them (along with a signed purchase order) to ANC Sports before a job could be started. Eventually, the company opted to upgrade its existing extranet.

Jerry says, "Because we had already made a major, six-figure investment to implement the service, we felt it was necessary to spend more money on upgrades. By constantly evolving it, we could make the service even more user friendly to our clients, advertisers and staff."

Extranet revamp

Once again, ANC Sports summoned help from Mediapolis, whose president, Carl Pritzkat, sought to develop a fully automated system that would streamline ANC Sports' entire workflow process.

"ANC Sports is special," he says, "because it knew exactly what it wanted to accomplish. The company was willing to take the time to learn and adjust to the new system."

Launched earlier this year, ANC Sports' revamped extranet allows clients to send files, receive immediate notification, set up individual profiles and receive online profiles. By accessing the hands-on database via ANC Sports' Website, clients can monitor projects from inception to completion.

Carl explains that, for many companies, evaluating project workflow is a very difficult first step in automating project management. The second step -- creating extranet software that will successfully automate workflow -- can also be challenging and time-consuming for shops leery of "breaking old habits." To make such a conversion easier, Carl recommends "getting everyone involved," including a company's employees, vendors and clients. By doing so, all parties can participate in the new service and provide necessary feedback to ensure a successful transition.

"These steps are difficult," he admits. "However, such a change could save a company lots of time and money, especially when trying to get approvals from clients throughout the design process." He adds that the time required to establish an extranet depends on a company's goals and its enthusiasm to implement and learn the new process.

According to Carl, an extranet should help any company (small or large) interested in improving its production flow and how it communicates with clients and vendors. In addition, aspiring businesses should have access to a commercial-grade/ enterprise server with a large hard drive and hard-drive protection. Finally, interested companies should seek a Web-software vendor that not only has strong references, but understands its clients' needs as well.

"I've seen lots of people waste lots of money attempting to convert," Carl says. "They went with a vendor who either didn't have the know-how or didn't really understand its clients' needs. Taking the time to choose the right vendor will be one of the most important investments in the entire process."

Over the years, the business relationship between ANC Sports and Mediapolis has matured. And, if you ask either company about the other, you'll learn that mutual respect and trust comprise this partnership's strong points. Jerry raves about ANC Sports' transactions with Mediapolis and says, together, the companies have created an extraordinary service.

"I don't know what ANC Sports would do without the extranet," Jerry concludes. "It has given us a significant advantage versus our competition. We're giving our clients a tremendous amount of information, and we can do all this with minimal investment of people on our end. It's unbelievable."