Technoloogy


By Mike Kelly

Its small size and somewhat remote location hasn’t stopped San Angelo from becoming a center of high tech excellence.

The city is home to one of the country’s premier human resources software development firms, a data center that shoulders computer operations for government and education agencies from all over the state, and a training center for some of the most advanced operations in the military.

TimeClock Plus

Every business with employees needs a way of tracking the time its workers put in, and TimeClock Plus has been developing digital solutions for employee time management since it was established as Data Management, Inc., in 1988 by Jorge Ellis. Its clients now number in the tens of thousands and it conducts business all over the world.

The firm was listed among the 50 fastest growing tech companies in Texas and was recently named Business of the Year by the Texas Association of Business.

"In recent years, TimeClock Plus has enjoyed phenomenal growth," said President Jordy Moorman. For example, in November the company employed 130 people. It now has 180 employees. Officials say the company plans to hire as many as 40 more people by the end of the year.

“The Workforce Management industry is an innovative, fast-paced environment that requires focus, dedication, and adaptability from its players to stay competitive,” Moorman said. “In recent years we have been faced with the decision whether or not San Angelo could meet the talent demands of a rapidly growing technology company versus tech cities like Austin, but we found that after strategically redefining many of our teams and positions, San Angelo has become a competitive advantage for us in the market.”

Moorman said San Angelo’s institutions of secondary and postsecondary education have helped the company recruit a vibrant, intelligent, hardworking crop of young professionals ready for a career of excitement and growth potential.

The company’s leadership team emphasizes to its workforce “that our growth as a company is very much only a function of their growth as professionals,” Moorman said.

“Ideally, I would like all of our team members to know that they have the ability to decide their own career path here, and I believe we have a team full of superstars in the making — ready to meet the challenges of our industry, our company, and our community for years to come,” he said.

TimeClock Plus announced in July it had achieved certification for its proprietary timekeeping software to operate in concert with Oracle’s PeopleSoft human resources system, the culmination of a lengthy effort that will open a host of new possibilities for the San Angelo firm.

Texas State Data Center

The Texas State Data Center occupies the third floor of the computer sciences building at Angelo State University. It’s not much to look at, but the center is crucial to the functioning of government agencies and universities throughout the state.

“Basically, it’s a big room with a bunch of boxes,” ASU Director of Information Technology Doug Fox said. “But this is really the cloud for the State of Texas, a community cloud of agencies and universities that have come together ... it’s a unique thing in the country, a partnership between the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR), and ASU.”

They began working together in 1997 to create a backup system for the state data center in Austin. “Now what you have is two centers, one in Austin and one in San Angelo, that back each other up,” Fox said. “And imagine that you have processing needs beyond backup recovery. For example, our student records operates in that data center. We also are backed up in Austin data center. We always have redundancy. It’s very important to the operation of state government agencies, a lot of processes and controls that make sure of continuous availability.”

Sally Ward is director of data services for the Texas DIR.

“It’s important to understand that this is more than data storage; it’s also running applications for computing. It started as a backup site, but now it’s much more than that. It’s a fully functioning data center for State government and other entities,” she said.

The center’s client list includes more than 30 agencies, ranging from the state departments of Health and Human Resources, the Secretary of State and the Higher Education Coordinating Board to universities that include ASU, branch campuses of Texas A&M and recently Tarleton State University.

The facility operations are managed under contract with the state by Atos, a global digital corporation based in France, and Capgemini, another French data and consulting company with international reach.

Fox said the San Angelo operation employs about 35 people, with about another 300 statewide involved in the broader system.

“It’s really a hardened, world-class data system,” Ward said.

The data center also is a draw for high tech workers as the DIR works toward growth of its customer base. Fox said, "Texas A&M Central in Killeen and Tarleton State University in Stephenville are recent client acquisitions. The system offers economies of scale that make it attractive.

"Angelo State students have the chance to intern at the facility and are sometimes hired after graduation by Atos or Capgemini," he said.

“With the kind of technology we have in San Angelo, we are drawing higher educated, higher income level employees, hiring people that are extremely experienced,” Ward said. “It speaks highly about the economy of San Angelo.”

SPINSTRA

Goodfellow Air Force Base is home of the 17th Training Group, which provides among other services advanced courses in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for all branches of the military. The base, because of the nature of the work, does not disclose a lot of detail about its intelligence work but it presumably includes high-level digital equipment.

At the other end of the spectrum, however, Goodfellow also offers SPINSTRA — special instruments training, which teaches its military students electronics from the basics on up.

The foundations of SPINSTRA go back to the Cold War era, when a special program was set up to detect the seismic footprints of atomic test explosions, a way of watching the Soviet Union’s activity in developing its nuclear arsenal. The program has moved forward to become a training course that involves building electronic devices from the ground up.

“We teach students the fundamentals of electronics — resistors, capacitors, circuits, troubleshooting — along with math to up to the college algebra level and physics,” Staff Sgt. Steve Bazzell, a SPINSTRA instructor, said. “It’s not just for memorization. We want them to understand the underlying science behind it.”

Students learn everything from hydraulics and heat mass transfer to how electricity works, he said. Starting out with small, off-the-shelf components, students by the end of the course are able to build instruments and even small computers from a set of elementary electronic building blocks by applying what they’ve learned.

The course lasts an average of six months, Bazzell said, and students who leave it have an array of possibilities in front of them.

“There are probably 30 specific jobs tied to this initial training,” he said. The program includes certification and can be used as college credit.

“In our career field, you can have five students go through this class and every one of them does something different,” he said. The training has applications that include satellite operations, seismic equipment maintenance, calibration and upkeep — yes, the military still keeps tabs on atomic blasts in support of the international test ban treaty — and innovation and machine work.

The course now includes a component of 3-D printing.

“It augments what students are armed with at their next destination,” he said. “It gives them more versatility in their next position.”