We have become a data-driven society and economy and, ironically, the more data we generate and use, the smaller our computers and smart phones seem to get.
So where does all this data live? Increasingly, we are told, it is “in the cloud” — those mysterious interconnected banks of computer memory out there somewhere.
I saw a chunk of the cloud this week in a surprising place: deep inside the once-abandoned American Automobile Association building at the corner of Barr Street and North Martin Luther King Boulevard. Who knew?
Steve Sigg, CEO of the Lexington-based technology company SIS, took me in to see this piece of the cloud: a clean, white room with white cabinets of humming computer equipment with several layers of redundant power, redundant storage, battery backups and high security.
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Those cabinets store and process data for some of the nation’s biggest corporations, including McDonald’s, Johnson & Johnson, Costco Wholesale and Cummins Engines.
“We’re living in a very exciting time,” Sigg said. “How can we make use of all this data?”
Here is one way: Cummins has sensors on its diesel truck engines that transmit data as they travel across the country. That data informs the truck’s owners when their engines need servicing or when they may be headed for a breakdown.
“Cummins also is able to use that data to build better engines,” Sigg said. “All of that evolves in Lexington, right downstairs. That’s pretty cool.”
SIS was started in 1982 by Pat Smith, who after retirement became well-known for his charity work with Habitat for Humanity and other organizations. He died in August 2006 in the crash of Comair flight 5191 while on his way to a Habitat project.
Smith’s company merged in 1995 with another company started by Sigg, who had taken early retirement from IBM in 1993 and moved to Lexington to become a technology entrepreneur.
SIS has grown dramatically in the past decade. It now has about 130 employees, including 45 in the Lexington headquarters and data center, and others at offices in Louisville; London; Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis; Charleston, W.Va., and Troy, Mich.
SIS has worked with more than 1,300 clients to provide a range of services, including cloud storage; designing technology infrastructure, data and backup systems; disaster recovery; designing software applications; and analytical consulting and assessments.
SIS originally was a reseller of information technology equipment from IBM and other companies. But by 2010, Sigg said, “We decided we needed to transform our business.”
SIS’s data center was built in 2011, when Sigg and a business partner bought and renovated the long-vacant AAA building as part of a $5.5 million business expansion. He was refocusing SIS around consulting and partnering with companies to create information technology solutions to meet their business needs.
The downtown location has been ideal from an infrastructure standpoint, he said, and Lexington is a good central location for serving regional manufacturers.
“But most of our clients are all across the country,” Sigg said.
SIS is relatively large within its industry, with annual revenues of about $120 million, Sigg said. But to provide clients all the services they need, the company works in close partnership with many other technology companies, including IBM, Microsoft, Cisco Systems and Pure Storage.
“A company can’t think it has all the answers,” he said, adding that the key to future success will be SIS continuing to evolve to meet its customers’ needs as information technology continues to evolve.