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Public Safety Software Rewrite Leads Firm to Major Growth

A Las Cruces software firm is facing the kind of problem every business wants: Deciding how quickly to expand its workforce to keep up with new and anticipated demand for its signature program that helps police fight crime more efficiently.

Stan Sobczynski, president and CEO of Sigma 4 Inc., says his four-employee company is facing a significant challenge because law enforcement agencies from California to the Midwest are beginning to place orders for his firm''s flagship program called Orion...The Hunter.

"It''s out there taking off on its own, which is kind of problematic," Sobczynski says. "We didn''t expect it to take off so soon."

The database search engine software, originally designed by Sigma 4 in 1995 for the Italian federal police to track Mafia leaders, was rewritten in 2002 and completed in 2003. The new version, created to meet the needs of domestic police, was first deployed in New Mexico and is generating a growing level of interest among other law enforcement agencies.

"We''re real happy with what Stan has been able to develop for us," says New Mexico State Police Lt. Rob Avilucea, who works with the New Mexico office of High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA), a federal program overseen by the White House. "Prior to using this software, the process was pretty much done by hand and relied on very primitive ways of handling our intelligence."

Orion can store data entered by police, sort information to look for connections between people, places or events, and can connect with other databases to look for additional, relevant information. Sobczynski says it''s Orion''s ability to proactively glean relevant information from other sources that can really save investigators time and energy.

Sigma 4''s Orion, available for both PC and Macintosh computers, was created from database development software written by a San Jose, Calif., company called 4D Inc.

Sobczynski says 4D''s software, which includes tracking, linking and retrieving tools, serves as a sort of engine within Orion, which features customized tools and abilities. Because it has features that can be tailor-made, Orion can be altered to fit applications for other markets, such as insurance investigators.

Since the New Mexico office of HIDTA began using Orion, the software has been a hit. Recently, the Kansas City office of HIDTA signed a $60,000 contract that could eventually double once Sigma 4 completes its installation later this month.

HIDTA officials in Kansas City also have turned the city''s police department on to the Orion software, the latest in a string of law enforcement agencies to contact Sigma 4. Also, the Department of Homeland Security has looked into the program, and staffers from the office of U.S. Senator Pete Domenici, R-N.M., are helping the company stay abreast of possible federal clients.

"Even if only a fraction of that (business) comes through, it will be substantial," Sobczynski says.

But, therein lies the problem.

In August, Sigma 4 completed a five-year business plan that was projected to culminate in a total workforce of about 45 and several thousand licensed users -- a plan that is already proving to be outdated.

"What we had projected for five years has the potential to occur in the next six to 12 months," he says.

The challenge now for Sigma 4 is how to meet the growing demand without letting a single, potential client slip through the cracks.

Already it is seeing opportunities pass by because of its main deficiency: lack of capital. Company officials lost out on a new office location because they did not have the cash to sign a lease. The firm has since started looking at other locations, including space in El Paso.

For now, finding the money to ramp up the company workforce by more than 1,000 percent as well as purchase new equipment and train those new faces is Sigma 4''s major hurdle. Even outside investors wouldn''t immediately solve the problem because they usually require months for evaluation -- time that Sigma 4 can''t spare.

In the face of such demand, Sigma 4 has turned to New Mexico State University to help do market research, provide leads on potential employees and also locate some adequate office space. Officials from the university are also looking into different funding sources, including bank loans.

If the company can overcome the obstacles now before it, Sobczynski says his firm will focus on grabbing up to a 75 percent market share for tracking and searching software for the nation''s 1,100 state and local law enforcement agencies -- a target market that does not include individual offices or federal agencies.

"I perceive the next six to 12 months as being one hell of a roller coaster ride," Sobczynski says.

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