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As we learn new ideas about how to more effectively run our business, we share it with our clients and friends. Some ideas will be new to you, others might be old information. The ideas might come from somewhere else, but the posts come from our talented team of problem solvers.

API Digital joins the Neo Nova Family

posted May 4, 2017, 3:53 PM by Scott Pell

RALEIGH, N.C. and HUNTSVILLE, Ala., May 4, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- NeoNova, an NRTC company, today announced it has acquired API Digital, a leading rural broadband solutions provider. API Digital will continue to operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary of NeoNova while maintaining its headquarters in Huntsville, Ala.

NeoNova and API Digital customers will not experience any immediate changes to their services or billing relationships. The price and terms of the transaction were not announced.

NeoNova CEO Jason McGinnis explained the benefits of the acquisition.

"We believe strongly that by combining our two companies, we can offer our customers and other rural broadband providers better service and a broader range of solutions," said McGinnis. "API Digital's services, such as their network operations center and their call center, will add a new dimension to our capabilities, and we're really excited to have them join us."

According to API Digital CEO Greg Engle, NeoNova is a great fit because of its outstanding culture of customer service. Added Engle, "API Digital has always respected NeoNova and its commitment to customers in the marketplace, and we recognized the opportunities for synergies between our companies. Together, we will maximize the benefits of our combined strengths in the services we deliver for our customers."

NRTC CEO Tim Bryan noted that NRTC's focus remains on providing outstanding, affordable technology solutions that help members grow their businesses. "By adding API Digital's core services to NeoNova's already strong service portfolio," Bryan explained, "this acquisition helps us offer even better managed network services to rural America."

NeoNova's 144 employees nationwide provide help desk, networking and revenue-building services to 230 rural broadband affiliates in 44 states, while API Digital and its 60 employees already serve more than 100 customers across the country.

About NeoNova
NeoNova, an NRTC company, helps rural service providers grow by delivering a wide array of subscriber, network management, and professional services leveraged by a powerful service delivery platform and backed by the industry's top professionals. Today, NeoNova serves 230 affiliates, helping them provide exceptional service to more than one million subscribers across 44 states. NeoNova's parent company, NRTC, is a not-for-profit cooperative that provides technology solutions to more than 1,500 electric and telecom members in 48 states to help them bring all the advantages of today's evolving technology to rural America. Visit www.neonova.net, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+, and follow @NeoNova_NNS.

About API Digital
Founded in 1999, API Digital is a networking communications and managed IT services provider supporting hundreds of thousands of users across the US and internationally. Leveraging our own network and data centers in cooperation with the world's leading network providers, API Digital delivers carrier-class connectivity and colocation. From our 24x7x365 Network Operations Center, API Digital also provides live support services including proactive monitoring, network engineering, and end-user support.

Learn to Climb a Hill

posted Jun 18, 2015, 12:55 PM by Scott Pell   [ updated Jun 18, 2015, 2:14 PM ]

If you've ever read a good management book, it is usually packed with great, simple analogies. Business, as it turns out, is mostly the application of common sense and wise experience. Most of us have to get our head out of the weeds to be able to come up with good ideas and apply our learned common sense. These opportunities can be few and far between, so you have to take advantage of any opportunity to lift up your head and put down your pencil.

Throughout my career, I've always had something to divert my attention for an hour or so. It has normally been some sort of exercise. When I was younger and a bit more daring, it was cycling. During the week, I would get 20 miles a day, or so, and on the weekend I would get in a long ride. It is certainly a way to clear your head, but it does take a good bit of time. The biggest benefit of cycling is the challenge. There is always something to challenge you, like scorching heat, a nagging headwind or a faster rider that you are trying to keep up with. The biggest challenge is facing a big climb. To survive, you have to learn to climb a hill.

Now, my diversion is Iron Tribe. I've definitely upped the ante on challenges, while reducing the amount of time required. Who knew that 45 minutes could kick your butt more than anything else. But like cycling, there is always a hill to climb. My latest hill was to perform my first unassisted pull-up. Cyclists aren't known for arm strength. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever spent any significant time with any weights that weren't attached to me. On June 9, 2015, I performed my first unassisted pull-up. Now, every day I start and finish the Iron Tribe workout with a pull-up or two, just to make sure I can still do one.

Pull-ups, hills and business problems go together hand in hand. They are challenges that you may or may not be able to overcome, right now. If you want to succeed, you have no choice but to press on. This is why you need to learn to climb a hill.

Climbing hills on a bike are unique, because you cannot quit. If you want to get where you are going, you have no choice but to continue climbing the stinkin' hill. Quitting in the middle of the hill only signs you up for a long walk in cycling shoes, dragging or carrying your bike. If the hill is steep enough, you might need to turn around, just to get the momentum to get up the next rise. Add a few turns to the hill and it feels like it is never going to end. Add a hairpin and you quickly find out about O2 debt. Add a cemetery sign to the route and you have the makings of a great de-motivational poster.

To climb a hill, you have to develop a strategy. Conditioning is necessary, but if you don't have a strategy, you will fail...and you will still have to finish going up the hill. There is always going to be a hill bigger than what you trained to climb, so always have a strategy. Mine is easy:
  1. Know the goal. We don't climb hills, just to climb hills...well, except for a few buddies of mine. The rest of us climb a hill to get it over with then continue the ride to the finish. By the way, races that end at the top of a hill? They really suck.
  2. Don't die. If you die, then you'll never climb the hill. People run out of gas on a hill because they started way too strong. There comes a time when "I got this" don't got this. If you can't see the top, don't climb it like you can see the top. Start slow, conserve energy for when you need it. Believe it or not, you can climb a hill faster, if you have something left in the tank. Sprinting at the end carries much better results than sprinting at the beginning.
  3. Establish a rhythm and stick with it. The best way to keep up a pace is to create a simple rhythm that you can repeat, a whole bunch of times. My rhythm ends up being a 4/4 kinda thing. Then, I get a song stuck in my head, like a hymn in which I can't remember all the words. Humans are creatures of habit, so create a habit and take advantage of it.
  4. Don't stop. The single hardest thing to do on a bike is restart after stopping. Once you restart, you wish you'd stayed by the side of the road a little longer. If you're going to die, well then stop, but make sure you only give yourself a little bit of time. Once you are in a rhythm, it is easier to keep it than start all over.
  5. Get help. I don't care if you like Lance Armstrong or not, but the dude can ride a bike. He also needed help the whole race. Teammates would play their part to get him to the next spot where he could use his strengths. He was pretty awesome on hills, but he relied on people to get him to the point where he could turn on the jets. The helper can help by giving you pointers and advice that make the job of climbing the hill easier.
  6. Be help. Return the favor, do not leave your climbing buddy partway up the hill. The easiest way up a hill is to coach someone up a hill, really. If you're cheering someone on, it is more genuine if you don't look like you're going to pass out. So, suck it up and coach someone up a hill, as you ride alongside.
  7. Repeat. In a tough climb, you have to re-convince yourself that you are going to finish...not just the hill, but the race.
Interestingly enough, this strategy helped me with my first pull-up. I actually did that first pull-up, while showing someone the technique. After working on form for months, a few of us were trying to figure out the timing of a kipping swing. The coach demonstrated, then I helped explain to another person, who was struggling with it. Step one, then step two, then pull-up. "Hey! You did it!!" said the coach. I did it.

Hills and pull-ups, big deal. Do you have any goals at work that look like really big climbs? Same strategy. Personal battles that need to be won? Same. Raising kids? Yep. Exercise goal? Proved it. Now, go climb a hill.

FSO and MSU

posted Jun 10, 2015, 2:33 PM by Scott Pell   [ updated Jun 10, 2015, 2:55 PM ]

Turns out, making videos for a company website can be easy and fun. We spent a little bit of money to give our folks the tools to make good videos. Our goal was to create a process that was polished, but allowed the use of the standard issue smart phone. This is a great way to get fantastic ideas from some of our really smart people.

In this video, I was asked to talk about FSO and MSU. We didn't post this on the main website, because if one don't understand what we mean by FSO and MSU, folks might get a little nervous.

FSO = Figure Stuff Out. We take care of some very large networks. Frequently, we run into issues that 'no one at <fill-in-vendor-here> has ever seen before.' Router bugs? We find them. BGP oddities? Every day. Redundant routing engines that lose their config? 2 days ago.

When the equipment vendor shrugs their shoulders, our clients count on us to jump in and figure it out...especially when thousands of end-users are depending on the service. Day or night, mostly night, we have to figure stuff out, when others cannot.

MSU = Make Stuff Up. Really! Back when we first started, there was no instruction booklet, no how-to manual and certainly no YouTube. Today, there is a lot more documentation, but most of it is the 'no kidding' stuff that we already know. Our business depends on solid, tested process and procedure...and we have to build it from scratch.

Need to reconfigure an Aastra or a Polycom phone to work with a MetaSwitch Hosted PBX platform? We have what to do...and what NOT to do in our documentation. In fact, everything that we figure out or make up goes into our process and procedure system. 

When you visit, make sure you ask us to show you Three Clicks. You can see a little bit of what we figure out or make up, every day.

On Building a New Website

posted Jun 3, 2015, 4:43 PM by Scott Pell   [ updated Jun 3, 2015, 4:43 PM ]

Build versus buy decision are made every day, here at API Digital. We are technical people, so building something is in our DNA. But then again, we are technical people, so there are many things that we build...that we should never have attempted. Others we start but never finish.

We've changed our website a total of 4 times in our 16 year history. Our first site pitifully demonstrated that we are engineers, not artists. We used Microsoft Front Page to build the site and man, was it terrible. Every time we updated the site, something would break...so, we gave up. We had several customers tell us they were going to do business with us, despite our website.

Our second site was a little better with professional graphics provided by a friend of mine. We used a Content Management System to drive the content and then used some scripting to pull the content into our site. It was really cool...but no one wanted to keep it updated. Driving existing content was simple, but if we wanted to add a new page, I was needed to pull the template pieces together.

The next site took us a giant leap forward. The idea was to quickly pull together a professional site that would tie us over for 6 months or so, as we gathered content. The project was even called API Digital 2.5. We opted for a cool techie design with WordPress as a backend. Announcements, jobs, blogs, oh my! We had features for days and ease of use, like never before. We employed a copywriter to develop material for us and our marketing coordinator published several blog posts. We had the content, just never got around to the next step.

Over the past 14 months, we have invested most of our time into our Operations and Client Documentation Site. We call it 3 Clicks, because it is designed to be 3 clicks to anywhere, ain't that a geographical oddity? The Intranet site was built entirely on Google Sites. Easy to use, simple to update and even easier to add content. When our employees and clients give us feedback, our TAQ Team can update the site in minutes. If you are a client, you can click on Client Access to see 3 Clicks from Anywhere.

So, that brings us to today...a trendy website needing an overdue refresh with a solid dose of maturity. Our clients are getting larger and they expect to see something beyond our nifty billboard. Greg and I discussed a dozen possibilities, most of which meant wisely outsourcing some or all of the work. 

Our biggest hurdle was the creation of content. Copywriters could come up with a story based on our messaging, but our experience was that much would be lost in translation. We quickly realized that what we had to say took precedence over how it looked. We also had a good track record in 3 Clicks. I asked Greg if he liked the layout of 3 Clicks, he said yes. In about 15 minutes, the structure for this site was built.

Easy to build, easy to manage and we even eat our own dog food. We support Google Apps for several clients...so, we're just proving how powerful it really is. Great website and fantastic demo, all in one. The new site is complete with authenticated access to the Intranet and a fancy new careers module from Paychex. If we get tired of the template, we can apply a new look and feel in a matter of minutes. Form is now separated from function, finally.

I have to give a special thanks to my business partner and best friend, Greg Engle. One day, I asked him if this rag smelled like chloroform. When he woke up, he was sitting on my back patio in front of his laptop. We spent the next four days hammering out content for the site. The brilliant ideas in this site are his, I just supplied the canvas...and the proofreading.

If Google cancels Sites, then we're screwed. Until then, it will be the canvas for API Digital 3.0 and beyond. Rich in content, easy to use, easy to update...who knows, we might be able to delegate all of this stuff.

Downtown Tech Tour

posted May 19, 2014, 2:11 PM by Scott Pell   [ updated May 19, 2014, 2:11 PM ]

On January 30th, Downtown Huntsville, Inc. partnered with the Huntsville Chamber of Commerce and five local technology companies to host the first Downtown Huntsville Tech Tour. The tour will begian at 2:00PM. Attendees walked through each office space and learn about about why the following companies chose Downtown Huntsville as their hub:

AL.com
API Digital
Curse
Zero Point Frontier
Solid Earth

The tour will concluded with an after gathering at Amendment XXI. Did you miss out on this tour?

This event is sold out. There is not a set date for the next tour, but the Huntsville Chamber of Commerce will announce the next tour dates as they become available.

Why We Built a Better Technology Support Business Model

posted May 19, 2014, 2:06 PM by Scott Pell   [ updated May 19, 2014, 2:08 PM ]

“The goal in blogging/business/inspiring non-fiction is to share a truth, or at least a truth as the writer sees it. To not just share it, but to spread it and to cause change to happen.” -Seth Godin

Years ago, API Digital decided to build a better business model, one that truly solves technology problems and offers real value to the customer. We decided to take a critical look at technology management processes and call center operations. These are the key problems we uncovered: Call centers are efficient, but not necessarily effective. Call centers are set up to take calls, take record of problems, and forward this information along to a separate group who then works on a solution. In essence, A call center resembles part of a factory line. They carry out a specific role, but have limited involvement in the overall solution.

The motivation of a call center directly opposes the goals for having a call center–providing customer service excellence through solving technical problems. The majority of outsourced call centers are paid per call. Thus, call center representatives are motivated to get off the phone as quickly as possible in order to take more calls. The result of high quantity pressure is low quality customer service.
Call centers are reactive only. A network problem has already occurred by the time a call center representative is involved.

In essence, call centers neither solve problems nor provide good customer service.

API Digital made it our mission to find a better way to support our customers. In doing so, we came to the understanding that businesses do not need a call center, they need a customer solution provider.

A customer solution provider genuinely cares about helping a business reach their goals through providing excellent customer service and significantly improving the technology process.

We decided to go back to the drawing boards to find a more effective technology support model that actually solves technology problems and provides excellent customer service.
Here’s what we came up with:
Effective technology support services have knowledgeable, technical representatives answering every call. Not only do they have the technical chops to walk the customer through an issue, they are involved throughout the entire solution process; including taking extra steps to follow-up with the customer once a solution is in place.
Solution providers need to be motivated to solve the root of the problem. If we solve technology problems all the way down to the root of the issue, our customers experience a quieter, more reliable technology experience. Additionally, if our motivation is to take the time to solve the core issue, it changes the way we talk to the customer; resulting in a better customer experience.
Customer solution groups need a proactive education component. A call center that only reacts to issues is not enough to keep up with the high demands of business technology requirements. You need a smarter solution. API Digital digital addressed this need with our very own proactive component to technology support. We believe it is essential to catch issues on your network before they become service impacting. Our NOC continuously watches your network to solve problems fast. They also serve our customer solution representatives by educating them on network related problems. Should a mass issue occur, our staff is already aware of the problem and working on a solution, often times before our customer calls in to report the issue.

This technology support strategy proved to be a huge success for API Digital. Our genuine approach to customer care was immediately attractive to the rural telecommunications industry, who not only entrusted us with their own technology support but also with supporting their hundreds of thousands of customers. Likewise, large enterprises are partnering with us for their daily technology support operations. They are attracted to our multiple carrier bandwidth options, our continuously supported colocation facilities, and our ability to effectively monitor and support numerous technology components for their hundreds of locations across the country.

We are committed to finding technology solutions and have a vested interest in helping your business technology run effectively.

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