Take Two, based in LaSalle, Manitoba, Canada (about 550 miles northwest of Rochester, Minnesota), has been an ASNA customer for 20 years. Take Two is a family-run company with two sisters, Deb and Donna Graboweski, at the helm. Let’s get to know Take Two and its staff.
The Take Two team. In the back row are Deb, Kim, and Donna and in the front row are Nikki and Bryce.
How did you (Deb and Donna) start your tech careers?
Deb and I were raised in a family of entrepreneurs. We developed skills of work hard (effort), have fun (motivation, longevity, satisfaction), and get the job done (confidence). During our university years, we were exposed to technology at those early stages of card punch machines and Fortran (after 30+ years I still remember the "D" I got in that course! I was mortified).
Our first jobs took us both to working with different businesses to figure out how to use technology in their workplace. At that time network operating systems were brand new and the first word-processor and spreadsheet software was announced.
IBM had a super aggressive superintendent at St Vital School Division who was looking for someone to get them fully automated. Good fortune (and maybe some luck) happened when IBM said, "Deb would be a great fit for this job."
We found CIMS (comprehensive back-office for educational institutions) in the USA. We partnered with IBM and the AS/400 to bring it to Canada. 32 years and 3 million lines of code later we have the most comprehensive software solution available for K-12 Schools in Canada!
Tell us a little about Take Two and what you do?
Take Two is the exclusive Canadian business partner for CIMS in Canada. We have school divisions across Western Canada as well as one college in Ontario. Bryce (Take Two’s Technical Lead for Web Development) likes to say Take Two is a consulting firm, but depending on your definition of "consulting" that’s up for debate. I like to say we are your best friend in the business process. We are a powerful combination of consulting, software development, and hardware services.
The area we most pride ourselves in is our support services and the speed at which we can react to and solve/program for business change. This is made possible by our 30+ years of knowledge in the education sector and the ability for us to gather information and requirements and then skillfully articulate that to effective application programming to create better business process and/or better information.
Being in business 30+ years is an amazing achievement. To what do you attribute your success?
Take Two did not get here alone! I believe that we are successful in this programming because of our selected business partners.
- The IBM community and particularly the IBM i as a backend server has allowed us to remain focused 100% on programming application. After 30+ years, we remain absolutely passionate and committed to this platform.
- As Windows and then browsers came about our selection of ASNA and Visual RPG was a second brilliant move. This brought new life to the application quickly and efficiently leveraging our existing application. We are grateful for ASNA’s vision of marrying the environments.
Yours is very much a family business. What’s it like working as a family? You seem to get along pretty well so it must work!
I can imagine that it’s not for everyone, but it works for us and we love it. Communication is streamlined. We know how to (blatantly and honestly) offer opinions/ask questions/ask for help when we need it. We recognize that we are all in it together and for the long haul. Regardless of how the workday goes, we know we will always love each other at the end of it!
It’s not uncommon for a very heated work conversation to turn into "Well…want go for a bike/run/round of golf?" This honest, sincere, and committed attitude is what customers see and I believe is the reason our customers stick around for decades! Our business philosophy is that business is indeed personal and requires personality, emotion, and passion.
Tell us a little about the Take Two team.
- Deb Graboweski – Co-Founder and Co-President of Take Two. Deb is our head programmer (RPG and ASNA Visual RPG) as well as the payroll guru.
- Donna Graboweski – Co-Founder and Co-President of Take Two. Donna is our main school division consultant and support personnel with finance, student, HR, IT, maintenance and transportation.
- Kim Parr – Lead Programmer for RPG, Accounts Lead and Second-Line Support. Kim has been with Take Two for 30 years. She is our main CIMS Core programmer and runs the show for telephone & email support.
- Bryce Pfrimmer – Technical Lead for Web Development. Bryce has been at Take Two for three years now working primarily on our Connect products (ASNA Visual RPG programmer). He’s also the go-to for web server and technical needs.
- Nikki Bell – Human Resources, Marketing and First-Line Support – Nikki has also been with Take Two for 3 years. She focuses on further enhancing human resources options, support documentation and our Take Two/CIMS branding.
As much as we all have our "specialties" the reality is that we all knowledge share and can fill in when someone is on vacation or at a customer’s site for a visit. It’s what allows our support services to be so efficient.
How do you all like to spend your spare time?
In order to be able to handle the 60-hour work week effectively, life balance is critical! Family time is important and so is staying active so, for the most part, we have combined the two. You do find our full families doing marathons, bombing down the slopes, playing a wicked game of best-ball on the local golf course, and then collectively preparing a chef quality meal.
Who are your customers and how do you find them?
We have a variety of multi-day conferences and workshops (National, Regional, Provincial). We uniquely include onsite visits in our annual support costs to ensure that every customer sees us regularly onsite. Our support line has immediate response and invites any question from any end-user. The goal is constant interaction with our customers so that we understand who they are, what they are thinking about, and where they are heading.
Who are our customers? Our customers want to use technology effectively in their administration. They see CIMS and Take Two as a life-long implementation. They are committed to change and improvement and we love working with them in this process.
How do we find customers? We have no sales department! Seeking new customers happens fairly organically for us by word of mouth or inquiries from districts looking for new software. We’ll hear about an RFP from an employee at one of the divisions or someone from a division looking for software will hear about us from a current customer and reach out for a demo(s)/presentation. Just recently we had a group of 10 divisions from Manitoba here reach out for information during a conference we attend as a software vendor, MASBO (Manitoba Association of School Board Officials).
Your shop has been using ASNA Visual RPG for a very long time. What, briefly, is the challenge that AVR solves for your business?
AVR is what has allowed us to continue to grow by giving us the ability to offer the power of the IBM i and our product to the web. Where we used to focus on application strategy just for key function—we are now able to consider every aspect of administration to the largest mass of end-users. It’s what has allowed our solution to be used not just by staff at the district’s board office, but now also by principals, teachers, parents & students. In the IBM i world we reached maybe 50 key people at a district. With our ASNA applications, we reach 1000’s at that same district!
What are the biggest technical challenges you face on a day-to-day basis?
I don’t think the biggest challenges we face day-to-day are what I would classify as "technical". On a day-to-day basis, the largest challenge is being able to push for change with customers. Seeing the value in making a big change and actually getting it done in large "public" organizations is a tall order! Keeping up with the ever-changing technology landscape is a challenge. We do not consciously go looking for technology. Customers and our application strategies drive innovation.