Company moves, technology improves

 

Chuck Rathmann

Marketing Manager

Crispell-Snyder, Inc.

 

Crispell-Snyder, Inc., a municipal engineering firm with three locations in Wisconsin, has followed a conservative philosophy with regard to information technology for its entire 20-year history. Since its founding, the firm has been headquarted in a two-story brick building in Elkhorn, Wisconsin—a building that has in and of itself limited the firm’s use of technology. As the firm prepares to move into a new headquarters this June, some strategic hardware upgrades will be implemented to help Crispell-Snyder better serve its client base.

 

Crispell-Snyder will occupy about 15,000 square feet of a 23,000 square foot building now being erected in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. The remaining space will be leased out to other professional service firms until the company grows into the rest of the building. The current corporate office occupies a total of 9,000 square feet, including the entirety of the one building and additional leased office space in a neighboring building.

 

Networking Challenge

“In an older building, it’s impossible to run cables through walls,” Senior Engineering Technician John Langholff said of the current building. Langholff pinch-hits as the go-to guy for networking and computer issues at the firm. “There’s nothing available for conduits, and there aren’t many suspended ceilings.”

 

The building was constructed in 1852 and served as the Walworth County Jail until 1916, when it was purchased to house operations for the area’s long distance telephone service. The founder and current chairman of the firm, Chris Crispell, purchased the building in 1980.

 

In order to connect the 50-plus staff at the Elkhorn location to the firm’s MicrosoftÔ NT server, Langholff and the firm’s computer committee ran a single network cable from one end of the building to the next. When the firm grew into the basement of an adjacent building across a driveway, the single strand of cable made the trip as well. Cable was routed along baseboards and over doorways, with a T-connector for each user.

 

“The drawback, apart from aesthetics, is that when one user on the network goes down, the entire network goes down,” Langholff said. “The single strand of cable makes troubleshooting difficult when a problem does occur.”

 

Slow and steady

While the patchwork of network cable at the Elkhorn building will be replaced at the new facility by a series of cables through conduits terminating in a patch cable and connected to a network hub, other upgrades to Crispell-Snyder’s information technology system will reflect the firm’s slow-and-steady approach.

 

Keep in mind that it wasn’t until IBM marketed its first AT-class computer in 1985 that Crispell-Snyder got involved in Computer Aided Design (CAD).

 

“At first, we had one CAD station—an IBM PC AT 386 with Pointline CAD. It had a green on black menu monitor with a digitizing pad,” Langholff said. The switch was made to Bentley MicrostationÔ in the fall of 1991, he added.

 

One technology that will be used sparingly at the new facility is e-mail. Only select individuals will have access to e-mail at their desks, largely because of concerns about appropriate use. Currently, two designated computers in common areas are available for access to e-mail and the World Wide Web.

 

Langholff said there has not been much demand among municipal clients for more E-mail communication, but feels that the need to communicate with support departments at software companies like Bentley, Intergraph and Wind2 will make e-mail more and more important to employees. The firm’s connection to the Internet, however, will be upgraded.

 

“We’ll be adding a DSL connection, which will increase our access speed from a 56 kilobyte dial-up connection to a 768 kilobyte constant connection,” Langholff said. “This will help us in a few specific areas. We will be able to use File Transfer Protocol to exchange design documents with our Sheboygan and Racine offices. The Sheboygan office recently switched to our design platform from Autodesk to make sharing information easier. And while municipal clients account for the vast majority of our work, we do some work for the state government, and they have many requirements for exchanging information and files over the Internet.”

 

Work for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation in particular carries on-line requirements including the filing of Project Estimates and Daily Inspector Logs.

 

Two groups who are interested in more digital forms of communication are contractors and utility companies.

 

“Contractors frequently ask if we can provide our design documents to them electronically, but there are legal problems with that,” Langholff said. “We do some work with utility companies that use Intergraph, where we supply our drawings to them and they place their new facilities based on our survey drawings.”

 

In order to safeguard the data on Crispell-Snyder’s system from outsiders, Windows NT server software will be installed. This will erect a credible barrier to sensitive material. It will also allow greater protection from internal users for sensitive data like human resources files.

 

The network in the new building will be comprised of three domains, with separate areas for finance, the Internet and the rest of the company. Security for internal and external users will be set up by assigning rights and privileges for each user, Langholff said.

 

For more information, contact Chuck Rathmann at (262) 723-5600 or cs-engr@idcnet.com.