Datamaxx delivers a secret, crucial service
Very few people in Tallahassee are aware Datamaxx Group exists, much less understand what this privately held company does. And that is intentional. Datamaxx develops crucial software that allows law enforcement agencies to communicate and share information with one another.
Security Speak Datamaxx develops communications tools for law enforcement By Lilly Rockwell Originally published in the Feb/Mar 2011 issue of 850 Business Magazine
Very few people in Tallahassee are aware Datamaxx Group exists, much less understand what this privately held company does. And that is intentional.
“We keep a low profile,” said President and CEO Kay Stephenson. “No one knows the depth of what we do.”
The 20-year-old company is based in a master planned community in Florida’s capital city. Their three-story headquarters has opaque windows and guests must surrender their driver’s licenses at the front desk. Contractors have to pass a security clearance.
Why all the caution? Datamaxx develops crucial software that allows law enforcement agencies to communicate and share information with one another. For instance, a police officer pulling over a driver in Florida could discover whether that person has an outstanding warrant in New Jersey using Datamaxx software.
“We house critical information for our customers,” Stephenson said. “Our servers are in a secure biometrically controlled area. You can’t get into the server room here unless your fingerprint is in the system.”
Datamaxx, which has annual revenue of $12 million, has a long list of national and international clients, including the FBI, New York City Police Department and the U.S. Department of State.
In total, Datamaxx has 2,500 clients. “We do a lot of travel,” Stephenson said, mentioning she just sent a half-dozen employees to the FBI in Virginia.
“They are a national company,” said P.J. Doyle, the president and CEO of CJIS Group, an information technology consulting group that works with Datamaxx. He estimates the total size of the law enforcement IT industry is $12 to $18 billion annually.
A Woman in a Man’s World
Stephenson is petite, with graying hair and in her 60s.
She is also the co-founder and public face of a multi-million-dollar company that works with the male-dominated law enforcement and software development industries.
In the mid-1980s Stephenson and Jonathan Waters, an engineer, worked for a company called Datamaxx USA. They were doing similar work, which was developing software to enable communications between law enforcement agencies.
Their company was acquired by California-based Zentec, which was more interested in developing hardware than software. They decided to buy the software business from Zentec and opened their doors in September 1991.
They stuck with the name Datamaxx, calling it Datamaxx Group.
Waters was the technical mind (his title is now executive vice president and chief technology officer) and Stephenson was the business brains. Starting out in a tiny 600-square-foot office that Stephenson calls a “dump,” the two had only three clients: the states of Michigan, Massachusetts and Nebraska.
The two built the company, steadily adding more clients to their roster. Some of their early success was a result of good timing. “When we started, we were the only game in town,” Stephenson said. “Years ago, communications protocols were so ancient and old nobody wanted to venture into that business.”
Customer service was emphasized.
“There is product loyalty and there is company loyalty,” Stephenson said. “We work hard to provide high quality service because that’s what it’s all about. We try to be very responsive to our customers; they say ‘jump,’ we say, ‘how high?’”
Datamaxx has someone on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year for technical support. Doyle experienced Datamaxx’s customer service firsthand when he was the information technology director for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. “She was always on budget and ahead of time. I knew if I needed something, I could call her and get it right away,” he said.
When the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks occurred, Datamaxx found itself in crisis mode, helping the New York City Police Department communicate with other agencies. The cell towers became jammed and the New York fire and police departments could not communicate. Datamaxx employees worked with Cingular (now AT&T) to establish mobile cell phone towers and provided 200 extra devices.
“We got them back up,” Stephenson said. “That was the only way they could talk to each other.”
Following Sept. 11, Datamaxx became the unexpected beneficiary of a new flow of money going into law enforcement efforts. “Nobody really cared about criminal justice and public safety until (the terrorist attacks),” Stephenson said. “Then, when all the government funding came out, everyone became an expert.”
A perfect example of the increased security concern: the federal air marshal program. Prior to the terrorist attacks, there were only 32 air marshals, Stephenson said. Now there are close to 4,000. While not a client anymore, Datamaxx won a contract in 2002 to put its software onto handheld smart phones that air marshals could carry with them.
Besides working with local and state law enforcement, Datamaxx also provides its software to prisons, courts, emergency management systems and the newly developed homeland security agencies and departments. The company is also a subcontractor to big defense contractors, such as Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman.
Datamaxx doesn’t just develop software that helps agencies communicate. They also can help track, analyze and share data, known as “intelligent policing.”
“Instead of reacting to a situation, you can be proactive,” Stephenson explained. Though Stephenson has no law enforcement background, she often works with and hires former law enforcement officials to work as consultants. These consultants help educate the company as to what law enforcement agencies need to do their jobs better.
Though Datamaxx wants to keep a low profile to protect its clients, it may have a case for belonging on those “best places to work for” lists.
When Stephenson and Waters built the new 34,000-square-foot headquarters in 2001, they decided to install a gym, a large, updated kitchen and an auditorium with high-tech capabilities.
“This is a family oriented company,” said Larry Allen, the Datamaxx director of human resources. “The gym is designed exclusively for the employees and their spouses.”
Because the Tallahassee office employs only about 50 people locally, most employees have the gym (open 24 hours a day) to themselves during their workouts.
Datamaxx also has a liberal policy on working from home, keeping flexible hours, or bringing your pets or kids to work.
“Everybody here is a professional,” Stephenson said.
The bulk of her employees are engineers, sales and technical support.
Stephenson also doesn’t mind if employees bring their kids to work. “A lot of people here have children and if school is off for the day, they can bring their kids here, I don’t care,” Allen said. “They can play around on the computer or do whatever they want to do.” Like Stephenson, Allen said he trusts in the self-discipline of each employee.
Stephenson said managers try hard to keep their employees motivated by nominating one person each month to a “job well done” award, which culminates in a coveted annual award.
“We have a really good retention rate,” Stephenson said. “We don’t have much turnover.”
Even a company as successful as Datamaxx, with a geographically diverse client list, has hit a few bumps in the road in this sluggish economy.
Stephenson said in 2005 the company had annual revenue of $30 million. Allen said at its height, the company employed 120 people. But when the contract for the federal air marshals ended, and the economy began collapsing, “we got hit bad,” she said.
“Because when governments cut back, the first place they look is to their vendors,” Stephenson said. Many wouldn’t outright cancel the contract, but they would ask for discounts. “We were discounting 20 percent,” Stephenson said.
After conducting some of its own cost-cutting measures, such as trimming its employee count by half, Datamaxx has returned to profitability. “This year is going to be a good year and last year was a good year, as far as profitability.”
Datamaxx By The Numbers
- $12 million in annual revenue
- 58 employees
- Founded in September 1991
- 2,500 clients
- 500,000 end users
- The total size of the IT law enforcement industry is $12 to $18 billion