Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Small Amelia company takes big leaps in tech

AI Systems lands major
clients for database services

By Tim Pennington
Enquirer contributor

From left, Terry Lowe and Jason Paul, right, co-owners of AI Systems, look at a web site during a design session.
(Meggan Booker/The Enquirer)

No one would ever confuse Amelia with Silicon Valley, but score one for the little guys who ply their trade in the techno world of computer databases and Web productivity.

AI Systems, a six-employee firm housed in a small building off Ohio 125, has been quietly making a name for itself in Greater Cincinnati's highly competitive programming and Web productivity businesses.

AI counts Federated Department Stores, United Health Care and Downtown Cincinnati Inc. as its major customers.

Not bad for a company whose office is a converted house and is just 6 years old.

"I don't think location has anything to do with delivering good service to our clients and providing them with cutting-edge technology," said Terry Lowe, who co-founded the company with Jason Paul in 1998 with offices located a few miles off of Interstate 275 in Clermont County.

"I'm sure it's a convenience to be located right next door to the big customers downtown, but we earn our reputation on merit, and not where we have our offices. Our clients quickly recognize that," he said.

The duo works well together because each focuses on a unique part of the computer industry. Paul is a specialist in computer databases and making them function successfully for clients who use the Web to transact business, or who need employees to properly access certain information.

Lowe focuses on the front-end Web portion of the business, helping clients design their Web sites with both form and function, and consulting on overall graphical appeal and customer usability.

"What works best for us is to sit down with a client and see where they are and where they want to be headed," Paul said. "Oftentimes where we can be very helpful is suggesting new ideas and features that the client probably never thought about. Then we go about the programming to make it work."

'Extremely high hopes'

Lowe and Paul, both veterans in the area's computer field, met through a mutual friend several years ago and decided to go into business together.

Things didn't start out exactly the way they planned it.

"We had extremely high hopes from the start because we knew our ability, but then the calamity of the dot-com crash took place and things dried up some," Paul said. "That set everybody back some when those web businesses failed, which they should have done anyway. The ones that survived were those based on sound business fundamentals."

Last month, AI helped the Cincinnati Bengals relaunch its Web site.

AI added bells and whistles and linked the Web portal to the Bengals' databases for easier selling of apparel, souvenirs and tickets.

"It was incredible how popular the site grew in such a short period of time," said Jo Ann Ralstin, the Bengals technology director. She has been responsible for daily management of the site since its debut in 1999, in addition to her main focus of maintaining the team's overall computers and IT structure.

"We had a great response revenue-wise to our online pro shop and tickets. But it became more than I could do myself," she said.

Enter AI Systems, which helped the Bengals refine its site to help it load quicker, make it easier to navigate, and provide a more consistent graphic identity with features such as streaming video.

Ralstin said they looked at other regional computer firms to help with the site, but settled on AI because of their knowledge and ability to jump in right away.

"When you come across people who get what you are talking about and know what you want, like Terry and the AI people, that's better than any large company with a great lobby," Ralstin said. "It all boils down to the work."

Good location

Lowe, Paul and their four employees say they like their location in rural Clermont County.

"We picked this spot because it is centrally located to everyone who works here," Lowe said. "Plus, we were able to buy the building. That was important to have the ability to do what we wanted to do."

AI, which started out as Adaptive Infosystem before being shortened, is hoping to grow on a demand for business automation and simplifying back-room operations, Paul said.

"Businesses have found that they can save money if the study their overall processes and look for ways to automate them through software programming," he said. "And by analyzing processes they can also look for new opportunities for their business to grow. We just help bring that all together."

E-mail timpennington@fuse.net

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