By Erin Joyce
While the electricity generators that line the streets below Starpoint Solutions‘ offices in lower Manhattan drone on around the clock, over 550 employees of the technology consulting firm are hard at work.
They were on the job within days — hours even — of the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center that sent the firm’s employees running from their building at 115 Broadway that bright morning as the towers collapsed.
Starpoint’s offices are inaccessible, still part of a crime scene in an area now known as ground zero. Yet the firm is back on its feet, virtually, after most of its network was shifted electronically to other locations, explained CEO David Moxam.
Accounting systems have wended their way to Starpoint’s temporary headquarters in Iselin, N.J., thanks to round-the-clock work of employees such as Paul Wanuga, who has helped design the trading and information systems of some of Wall Street’s biggest names.
Software development systems for client projects were re-routed to the firm’s Westchester County office along with the firm’s FLITE system, which helps clients virtually roll out new applications for testing and de-bugging before launch.
By Thursday of that unforgettable week, as it was rolling over its e-mail system and moving other systems to offices on Long Island, the firm had provided its clients a status report on where projects stood and their activities.
Starpoint’s story is one of thousands of improbable information technology feats that many firms, immediately cut off from their businesses, pulled off in the days following the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.
But despite its success in getting itself back on its virtual feet within days of the tragedy, Starpoint’s odyssey of re-building is bogged down by a similar dilemma of many displaced businesses: finding temporary office space while they ponder their options.
“One of the biggest problems we have right now is we don’t know the date we’ll be back in the building,” Moxam said. “And people don’t know how to reach us.” (The firm’s temporary number in Iselin, N.J. is 732.494.2210.)
Busy With Basics
Perhaps the offers of free, temporary, wired office spaces that popped up right away went untaken because many businesses, working to re-route their networks, were only lifting their heads to look around by the end of last week.
“The help is out there, but it’s not happening as quickly,” said Jeffrey Moerdler, a partner in the New York law firm of Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, which specializes in communications and real estate.
“It’s a very catch-as-can thing about how people are hooking up with others,” said Moerdler, who heads the firm’s real estate and communications section.
After the attacks on the World Trade Center, he was on the phone with clients and contacts with offers to use his firm’s extra space in the Chrysler East Building on 666 Third Avenue. “I spoke to probably 15 or 20 different companies and extended that offer.”
By Thursday, Moerdler had a handshake from one financial services firm impacted by the disaster and by Friday, 53 investment bankers from the World Trade Center were back at work, virtually.
They’re using about 14 rooms, including small offices, large offices, conference rooms and secretarial stations in the firm.
Using the law firm’s Internet access, they connected with their own company’s gateway and back into their networks.
“Their system is operating. We separated them out from our system,” said Moerdler. So now, “instead of each person operating out of their homes, they’re able to work together on two different floors on our office, get on conference calls together and achieve synergies of working in the same space.”
But even when they find the right temporary space while awaiting word on their buildings, companies and firms such as Starpoint, which counts major broker dealers and financial services firms among its client base, have massive issues to work out while keeping their businesses rolling.
“If you’re moving into a new space (temporarily), how do you go through the technical configuration and transition management,” explained Starpoint’s Moxam.
Other questions, taken out of disaster recovery drills, include: How do you do the economic estimates for one-time charges? How will telephone switches be reconfigured? What about DNS re-routing? How do you switch over for intranet and Internet addressing?
The questions help explain, to some extent, the dichotomy in the real estate market right now. Many offers of space for smaller companies sat untaken in the first week after the attacks, as larger firms scooped up whole swaths of available space in what one real estate executive describes as a feeding frenzy.
Carmel Kashani, executive vice-president of KickstartUSA (212.994.1000) is one of those businesses with some lookers but not many takers on its free offer of two months of pre-wired, ready-to-go office space.
The company, whose business is to provide temporary space to smaller businesses, has 65 units located at 535 West 34th Street, which encompasses 40,000 square feet.
After extending the offer, Merrill Lynch officials walked through and looked over some of units, but had to go with a bigger space in New Jersey. Same too for Oppenheimer, another former WTC tenant; another firm needed 100 desks and had to take space outside the region.
“This could work for someone with 20 or 30 people, while they’re waiting to get back into their building,” he said.
“We’ve been able to help one company get in, Burnham Online.com, a building permit expediting service. “They got their servers and computers moved in and have started working” while they search out new office space.
“Some people, by the luck of a draw, will be able to quickly find space,” added Mordler. But “not every company has disaster recovery procedures in place, or has pieces of one but not a completely formalized system in one place,” not to mention the less-networked businesses, particularly retail businesses, he added. “They are going to suffer tremendously.”
Moxam spoke of similar concerns. “I’m fearful for a lot of $5 million to $50 million revenue companies, whether they are as agile as we are to run their business virtually.”
The concern is also reflected in a full-page advertisement that the city of New York took out in the New York Times on Monday, with the heading: “New York City is Committed to Helping Your Business.”
The ad provides a number of Web sites and hotlines for helping businesses deal with the crisis, starting with general business assistance (http://www.newyorkbiz.com). The real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) is also included in the ad, and asks that emails to [email protected] include 24/7 contact information, square footage to lease of offer, and any spacial space needs or restructions. The number is 212.621.9502.
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