September 29, 2008

W.Va. Firm Focuses Strictly on Bringing Technology to Business

By Darst, Paul

HUNTINGTON - Since it was founded in 1985, Strictly Business Computer Systems has traveled a long road with a lot of twists and turns.

The company that started out providing computing services to small businesses in the Huntington area today does work for one of the world's largest banks, and its products can be found on equipment used by U.S. troops and in orbit, said Strictly Business's President Michael Owens.

"We've changed direction a few times," he said. "... We started out providing networking systems and corporate accounting systems."

That limited focus would soon change, Owens said.

"In 1989, we shifted gears and ... established a software engineering division," he said, adding, "We primarily provided services to federal government customers like the Army. We also partnered with Boeing on projects including the international space station."

Strictly Business engineers developed an environmental control system for the space station. For the Army, the firm developed systems used on the M1A2 Abrams tank.

Although their focus has shifted further since 1989 Strictly Business continues to have two distinct divisions: One is dedicated to the commercial market, the second is software engineering services, he said.

Strictly Business shifted gears again in 2001. Before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, 65 to 70 percent of the firm's business involved government contracts.

"After 9/11, the federal stuff dried up," he said. "It was like somebody turned a faucet off. The Army Corps of Engineers had to redirect their funds to fight terrorism."

So, the firm's engineers started directing their efforts toward developing software packages, Owens said. Those products allow Strictly Business to work with industries in West Virginia and beyond.

"We're working with the mining industry," he said. "We're working on a project that will greatly enhance safety and communications. That's a direct result of the reduction (in federal contracts) since 9/11 and of the Sago mine disaster."

Since the company was founded, computer technology has made major advancements, Owens said. He has seen Web technology, Y2K and now the ad-vent of things like Voice Over IP and Web 2.0.

"With Web 2.0, everything is designed to work with the Web," he said. "It doesn't make sense today to develop technology that can't take advantage of the Web. ... You need to be able to access applications on Blackberries and other portable devices."

West Virginia businesses, Owens said, demand the same sorts of technology as those in other parts of the country and the world. Although the state's Internet infrastructure still lags behind other areas, it is get-ting better.

With about 40 employees and a payroll of about $2 million annually, Strictly Business has grown so it now is bringing money in to West Virginia, Owens said. Today, the firm's largest customer is a major international bank. Owen said confidentiality prevents him from disclosing which bank, but said the partner-ship has taken Strictly Business technology around the world.

"We're bullish on West Virginia," he said. "We feel like we're right where we need to be. We believe that West Virginia's ... economy is moving forward."

Copyright State Journal Corporation Aug 29, 2008

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