Comdisco has its own IBM 3090, three AS/400s, fifteen HP UNIX machines, and 140 NT servers. Development is in COBOL for legacy systems, SQL from Microsoft and Sybase, Visual Basic, ASP, PowerBuilder, C, C++, and Java. Additional software includes Oracle Financials, Walker's General Ledger, Sterling's EDI, FileNet's imaging and document management software, Proamics' cost accounting, PeopleSoft's human resources and general ledger, Niku's resource management, and Concur's expense management applications. Additional applications software includes HP Openview and ProVision network management packages, Citrix Winframe and Microsoft Terminal Server remote access modules, and Remedy and DK Systems' help desk software.

Comdisco has 3,000 PCs, including nearly 2,000 at corporate headquarters. Communications hardware and software is from Cisco, 3Com, Nortel, and Novell. A typical project would take from three to six months, such as a web-based intranet, extranet, or Internet application, developed on a Compaq Pentium III, with 450Mhz processor, 512MB of RAM, and a mirrored 18GB hard drive. Software used for development for a typical project would be Microsoft's IIS, SQL Server, ASP, and a standard browser, such as Internet Explorer or Netscape.

New technologies the company is investigating include business-to-business (B2B) applications with XML and streaming media over the network.

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Corporate headquarters is a high-rise office building, but many of the company's 100 other facilities are in suburban, campus settings. There are 15 international offices. Technical professionals work in a mix of shared and private cubicles, open spaces, and private offices.

Dress is business casual. Hours are flexible, with official hours from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Technical staff work, on average, from 43 to 50 hours a week. Overtime is periodic and varies by group. While consultants may travel up to 90 percent of their time, and a small group travel from 10 to 20 percent, most of the staff does not travel. Three to five IS staff members telecommute two to three days a week.

Comdisco pays 86 percent of the cost of benefits for employees. They offer a cafeteria plan which includes medical coverage from HMOs, PPOs, and POS plans, as well as life insurance, vision insurance, dental, and disability insurance. Retirement programs include an employer-matched 401(k) and a company-funded profit-sharing plan. Employees may buy stock at a discount; there is a tuition reimbursement program, and employees may shop at the company store for fashions and jewelry, marked with the company's logo. There is also a bonus program, tied to defined employee goals.

The company observes seven holidays. Employees receive 3 personal days and six sick days. Vacation starts at two weeks, and increases to four weeks after ten years. Social activities include employee appreciation days, a Spring party, and a Winter holiday party for employees' children. The company sponsors sports teams such as basketball and volleyball. There have been small layoffs, when facilities were closed or the company re-oriented its business direction, such as moving out of mainframe leasing and into technology services. Affected employees were first offered other jobs within the company.

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Started in 1969 as a $1M company reselling mainframes, called Computer Discount Corporation, the company was renamed Comdisco and re-incorporated in 1971. By 1972, with revenues of nearly $15M, Comdisco had started leasing IBM equipment and gone public. In 1980, the company started its disaster recovery services, adding recovery services for DEC and Tandem seven years later. In 1988, the Healthcare unit was formed to lease medical equipment. In 1995, the Laboratory and Scientific group added high-end laboratory equipment. In 1997, the company added mobile disaster recovery units, to get companies up during natural disasters, like hurricanes, without having to transfer operations to another city, and introduced a service for trading floors to continue operations.

Comdisco has four business units: Technology Services, Equipment Services, Ventures, and Prism Communications. There are three groups within Technology Services: Continuity Services, Network Services, and IT CAP Solutions. Continuity Services has 50 dedicated sites and mobile units that provide everything from raised floors right down to a kitchen and breakroom. High availability services may include database shadowing, remote disk mirroring, hot network nodes, and server replication. Continuity software helps companies develop and test contingency plans, including a business impact analysis. Network Services offers similar backup services for company web sites and networks. Equipment Services leases and provides financing for high-end scientific equipment, such as DNA sequencers and mass spectrometers. Much like computer equipment, this equipment can cost up to one million dollars and age in three to five years. This makes it a good fit for the leasing and financing business model that worked for computers. Comdisco has also developed a global network of information about equipment that is, or can be, reconditioned. Ventures is the leasing and financing arm for start-ups, backed by venture capital, which trades equity for equipment. Comdisco's purchase of Prism Communications provides its customers with high-speed Digital Signal Line (DSL) service, combining data, voice, video, and Internet access.

Comdisco differentiates itself from its competitors with the breadth of its services. Firms like Andersen Consulting, for instance, provide expertise on leasing, but do not handle the equipment themselves. Companies like IBM Business Recovery Services and Sunguard Recovery Services do not have the history that makes it possible to benchmark technology expenses as Comdisco does with its IT CAP data warehouse. Vendors like Hewlett Packard and Dell lease their own equipment but are not vendor neutral.

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Comdisco has 1,600 technical professionals, with 600 at corporate headquarters. Job titles are not formal, and movement across disciplines, such as from telecommunications to data warehousing, is encouraged. Current staff members have, on average, from three to four years of college and five years of experience. Comdisco hired 700 technical professionals in the last year, of which fewer than 100 were for entry-level positions. The company expects to hire between 800 and 1,000 in the next year, including 150 entry-level positions. Turnover is 18 percent. Top colleges for new hires include Kellogg, the University of Chicago, and Wharton. Experienced candidates are found through employee referrals (32 percent), employment agencies (32 percent), a combination of internal recruiting channels which includes advertisements (34 percent), and online recruiting (2 percent;,,,, and minority-oriented job boards).

Kirtz specifically looks for candidates with the key technical skills the company needs. Further, says Kirtz, "We look for adaptability and a team orientation." Gustafson expands on these themes, "This is a very fast-moving environment. To thrive, you must have a very high energy level and be able to prioritize. If someone is looking for a big policy book, that is not who we are." Both Kirtz and Gustafson say that entry-level candidates should be ambitious and goal-oriented. Continues Gustafson, "We do hire non-college degree candidates, but prefer to see the discipline of having finished a degree. The subject area is not as important. We have hired candidates with Art degrees."

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Job Title




Architecture Engineer III      
Prog/Analyst BA/BS CS, MIS 1+ years Oracle, SQL Server, ASP, JavaScript
Project Leader BA/BS CS 4+ years VB, ASP, SQL, MS Transaction sserver
Recovery Specialist  High school 3-5 years Mainframe, midrange, client-server, MICR telecommunications
Telecomm Specialist II BA/BS 5-8 years DSUs, CSUs, channel bank, NCP, Hubs, Token Ring, Ethernet
Tester I BA/BS Business, CS 6 months PowerBuilder, VB, C++, Winrunner, QA Partner, SQA Robot, Silk Test
Web Designer BA/BS CS 2 years Market Insight
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  • Business Week, "This Is Not His Father's Comdisco," September 13, 1999
  • Crain's Chicago Business, "Plans for the Day You Hope You'll Never See," October 4, 1999
  • Fortune, "Comdisco: From Computer Leasing to Venture Capital," November 22, 1999
  • The Industry Standard, "Flirting with Disaster," September 13, 1999
  • Information Week, "Comdisco Makes Push into Booming E-Services Market," April 3, 2000
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