Monday, March 24, 2008

Officials mum on status of Development Park business

Source : Click

SafeHarbor Technology is still trying to figure out how to make its operation work amid a steady stream of layoffs and outsourcing, including the closure of its signature call center at its offices in the Satsop Development Park.

But company officials are a bit quiet about what exactly is going on at the Web-based customer support company. They won’t even say how many employees currently work for SafeHarbor.

Four years ago, the call center boasted more than 60 people, but as SafeHarbor continues to change its focus, more and more of those jobs are being outsourced.

Once a quintessential 1990s tech company, SafeHarbor may also be closing or at least negotiating new terms with its small Seattle office and may be looking at other ways to save money, including outsourcing server space.

The five or so remaining employees in the call center were let go recently, confirmed SafeHarbor spokesman Harry Thomas. The actual offices at Satsop will remain open.

“As you probably know, we used to be primarily a call center operation and now we’re primarily focusing on web services,” Thomas said. “We outsource for what we consider to be our non-core or non-critical parts of our business.”

Asked if the call center duties were shipped overseas or to Canada, Thomas replied, “That’s between us and our clients. It’s based on what the clients’ needs are. We’ll place the calls where we feel it’s appropriate.”

Thomas said the company still counts American Airlines, T Mobile and Washington Mutual among its roster of clients.

“We may take calls, we may take e-mails … we may do chat sessions online,” Thomas said. “And when we do that, it’s really to better analyze what (our clients) could be doing more online so that they will have less volume to use live humans for.”

Thomas declined to say how many employees worked at Satsop or its offices in Seattle.

“That’s something between the company, the investors and the clients,” Thomas said. “Given our relationship with our landlords and clients, that’s something we’re going to keep as personal,” he added.

Former SafeHarbor employees estimated to The Daily World that the company has about 30 total employees. In 2001, SafeHarbor had about 200 employees. And as recently as 2005, there were 140 employees.

Former employees also told The Daily World that the technology company was considering closing its Seattle office at the end of the month.

Thomas declined to say whether the Seattle office’s lease is up for negotiation or whether it faces closure.

“That’s a lease situation and we’re not going to get into those kinds of details,” he said. “Satsop is our headquarters. And we only have a few people in Seattle. That’s not a major part of our operations. It’s just how do we accommodate the situation given the market in Seattle right now, given the workforce and all of that.”

Besides laying off its call center employees, a number of SafeHarbor’s information technology employees, including a key manager are no longer with the company or are about to leave, Thomas confirmed.

“Some people have been laid off and some people have chosen to leave voluntarily,” Thomas said.

Those layoffs and resignations follow a string of employees and managers leaving the company, including former chief executive officer Annette Jacobs, who resigned last July.

Brian Vincent, a former managing director of software for Vulcan Capital, was brought in to act as interim CEO.

Thomas said Vincent’s title has since been changed to interim chairman. He said the company still does not have a new CEO and he wasn’t sure if the company’s board was even still looking. “They don’t necessarily call me up to let me know the status of what’s happening,” Thomas said.

Still, Thomas said he remains optimistic about the future of the company.

“We’ve signed a couple of clients that I won’t talk about because I haven’t cleared it with them,” he said.

“We have a very good renewal rate with our clients. We really feel the underlying business structure is great. What we need to do is match our cost structure with that business. And what that means, in some cases, is outsourcing so that we can match the variable nature of the type of work with the variable nature of the revenue that comes in.”