Spokane Journal of Business

Strategic Integrators: Integrating growth

Company owner says data security remains driving concern

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-—LeAnn Bjerken
Strategic Integrators Inc. CEO Stewart Sonneland says the company recently changed its name to reflect its offerings.

Now at the start of its 11th year of operations, Spokane-based information technology company Strategic Integrators Inc. continues to grow, evolving to meet the needs of its clients.

The company, which started as Strategic Hardware LLC, changed its name recently to reflect its offerings better, says company CEO Stewart Sonneland. 

“I started this company in my den in 2006, selling hardware over the phone,” says Sonneland. “Now we offer infrastructure software, data storage, business continuity and disaster recovery, and security products.” 

Essentially, Sonneland says, Strategic Integrators designs and builds computing systems to match client needs, by combining hardware and software products from multiple vendor partners.

Although the recession hit the company hard in its early years, he says it was able to bounce back and has been growing ever since.

 “I’m pretty bullish about growth and our company’s potential for growth,” he says. “Last year’s revenues totaled $4.5 million, and this year I’d like to see us make $8 million.”

Sonneland says the company has 10 employees, seven of whom work in its Spokane office, a 1,000-square-foot space in the Tapio Office Center at 104 S. Freya. The company’s other three employees operate its branch offices in Seattle, Denver, and Boston. 

This past year, Sonneland says, the company has seen a significant number of clients interested in improving data storage capabilities and secure data storage in case of natural disasters.

“We’re seeing more demand for better data storage for some of our federal lab clients,” he says. “Disaster recovery and business continuity plans are also still important for those clients whose industries have strict compliance regulations.” 

While most businesses plan for data backup in case of a fire or natural disaster, he says many don’t stop to consider how they’re protected against data corruption or theft. 

 “Many don’t realize the number of devices their employees interface with daily, such as laptops, tablets, and others, which can be entry points for potential security threats,” he says. “You could also have a disgruntled employee who’s interested in stealing or leaking information. Just having a protection plan in place makes it much easier to see breaches quickly and stop them from happening.” 

As for security, Sonneland says one of the bigger issues for businesses currently is ransomware, a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid. 

“This kind of thing can be devastating to a business,” he says. “Most need their files and systems in order to operate, so they’re losing money the longer they go without access.”

Sonneland says security concerns also are a big driver behind most client’s growing interest in what’s called virtual desktop interface, or VDI, software.

With a virtual desktop, he says, an individual user’s desktop features—icons, wallpaper, windows, folders, and toolbars—are stored remotely on a server, rather than on a personal computer or other device. Users access their desktop by logging in via the internet, and saving information to the virtual server rather than one physical device.

Having all of that data on a virtualized server, Sonneland says, “eliminates the need to connect to one specific physical device, and keeps data more secure as it’s stored separately.”

“A lot of our current work involves helping clients improve their infrastructure software,” he says. “We consider VDI a part of infrastructure, meaning programs that help a business with daily operations. These are things like databases, email servers, and systems for managing networks and security.”  

Most of the time, Sonneland says, client issues with infrastructure programs can be solved with a simple update or hardware replacement, but occasionally projects can be more complex. He says most of the company’s client projects take from six to nine months to complete.

“We start by examining each client’s environment and working out what might need to be changed for things to operate more smoothly,” he says. “Once we’ve determined those needs, we can set about design and planning, using our partners products to create the solution. Usually, that means integrating several technologies together to achieve the desired result.” 

Sonneland says 60 percent of Strategic Integrators’ revenues last year came from repeat clients, something he’s proud of. 

“It’s important to us to develop lasting relationships, not just sell a product,” he says. “The more we learn, the better advice we’re able to give our clients.” 

Sonneland says the key to the company’s growth is its strategic partnerships with vendors such as Microsoft Corp. and International Business Machine (IBM) Corp.  

  “We’re partnered with over 80 different IT vendors currently,” he says. “We try to partner with as many different vendors as we can in order to gain knowledge of and experience with their products. The more we learn and grow, the better we’re able to understand and match products to clients’ needs.”

Sonneland says the company started with clients in the higher education sector, but it has come to include the commercial and health care industries, as well as local, state, and federal governments.

 “We serve about 100 different clients all across the country,” he says. “These are both large and small companies, some of whom we work with on multiple projects throughout the year.”

Some of Strategic Integrators’ more well-known clients include Bonneville Power Administration, Gonzaga University, the Federal Reserve Bank, the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, Denver Health Hospital, and even World Wrestling Entertainment. 

“Our only two local clients are Gonzaga and Allied Safe & Lock,” says Sonneland. “It would be nice to have more, but that’s not our focus right now. Many companies like ours limit their focus to smaller, regional business. We go where we’re needed.”  

Looking ahead, Sonneland says his plan is to keep growing the company, adding both more employees and clients.

“While I love our current team, I am hoping to add more salespeople and create additional branch offices,” says Sonneland. 

He says one additional goal the company is working toward is obtaining more government contracts, hence it’s relocation this past summer. 

“We used to be in an office up on the South Hill, but this location falls within a HUBZone, or historically underutilized business zone,” he says. 

The U.S. Small Business Administration offers a special program for small companies operating and employing people within HUBZones, aimed at helping businesses in distressed areas gain access to federal procurement opportunities. 

“The move was somewhat strategic, as this location gives us a better chance of qualifying for more federal contracts,” says Sonneland. “Overall, we’re always looking to add to our experience with less cost to the client. It’s about finding talented people and building relationships, then the growth will follow.”

LeAnn Bjerken
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Reporter LeAnn Bjerken is the most recent addition to the Journal's news team. A poet, cat lover and antique enthusiast, LeAnn is also an Eastern Washington University alum.

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