By BUILDER Magazine Staff. A $250,000 technology investment paid off in spades for Las Vegas-based Longford Group. The builder grew from 110 closings and 36 employees in 1999 to 601 closings and 92 employees in 2002--a nearly sixfold increase in production with less than three times the staff.

What's its secret? Longford bet its business on a networked system based on thin-client terminals from Wyse Technology. These computers have no local hard drive, which makes network administration easier for the information technology manager because he can load applications and perform maintenance on servers instead of physically handling each PC on a network.

All users, including Longford's remote users at its Albuquerque, N.M., division, access information from three database servers. One stores the company's NewStar accounting and construction management software, another manages NewStar's sales system, and the third database stores documents such as contracts, escrow files, and warranties. Each terminal is also configured with a local Internet protocol address so users can access the Internet. Completing the technology setup is a Microsoft Exchange e-mail server, a WatchGuard firewall, and three Citrix servers. The network runs over a 756-Kbps line that costs Longford $1,000 a month.

"My background is in mainframe computing ... and I think PCs mean a lot of downtime and aggravation," says David Murtagh, the company's vice president of information technology, who says the system took about 18 months to implement. "When I came here, in 1999, I would get 100 calls a day from users."

Today, Longford reaps a number of major benefits from centrally managing its core business applications:

* Faster contract process. Sending a contract on to a lender now takes less than 10 minutes, versus two to three days. Once a sale is made, the home buyer leaves with a paper contract; a copy of the contract is scanned and then faxed to corporate escrow. A worker in the escrow department signs the contract electronically and e-mails the document to the lender.

* Reduced time signing purchase orders by 10 hours a week. In the past, POs were signed on site by the superintendent, sent to the subcontractor's accounting department, then sent to Longford's accounting department for payment. Today, POs are e-mailed to the subcontractor, signed off on a handheld PDA by the superintendent, and the NewStar accounting system cuts a check.

* Growth with fewer people. Longford used to have two people in accounts payable plus one controller for the Albuquerque division. Now, it only dedicates one accounts payable person to the Albuquerque operation, and that person works in Las Vegas.

* Growth with minimal technology investment. Since the core networking infrastructure is in place, when the company expands into another region all Longford has to do is add a Citrix server and install the thin-client terminals.

Although most builders clearly won't run out and install a thin-client system, there's an important take-away: Smart use of technology can help builders manage growth and get people productive in a hurry. Longford's not resting on its laurels. Murtagh says the company's goal for 2005 is to top 1,000 homes.

Company Information
Company: Longford Group,
Year founded: 1992
Headquarters: Las Vegas
Employees: 92
2002 sales: $86 million
2002 closings: 601
Price range: $110,000 to $300,000
Square footage: 1,000 to 3,500 square feet
Regional coverage: Las Vegas; Albuquerque, N.M.