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February 2006
Converting Information Overload into Knowledge on Demand
By Casey Jacobus

In today’s world of technology, businesses have the ability to access infinite amounts of information with the click of a button. While all this information may be enabling, information overload can be disabling. The challenge is to have access to the right amount of the right information presented in the right way.

For sixteen years, VisionCor, a professional services company, has been working with clients to help them capture, gather, design, and develop corporate information and to provide employees with the information and training they need to work smarter, faster.

VisionCor works across a wide range of business units, including training, information technology, human resources and documentation departments. It works with clients on a project basis, where the client outsources the entire project, or on a staff augmentation basis, where the client uses VisionCor to supplement existing staff.

“We’re a company focused on providing quality service to our clients,” says owner and President Sherry Barretta. “We’re a technology-related company, rather than a technology firm.”

 

Getting Around and About

Sherry Barretta didn’t originally plan to own her own business. Although her mother and two aunts owned small businesses and she was used to hearing business talk at the dinner table, she started her career in teaching. After growing up in Gastonia, she majored in English and minored in French at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She taught school for ten years, first in Salisbury and later in Charlotte, before going to work for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School’s Education Center, where she worked with a team managing a federally-funded program.

Her work at the school system got her interested in the business side of education and she added both a master’s and an educational specialist degree from Appalachian State to her resume.

In 1984 she took a job as manager of documentation and education for a Pennsylvania-based beverage company. She was in charge of client training and documentation for the accounting software used by clients Anheiser-Busch and Miller Brewing’s nationwide distributors, even though she knew nothing about the beverage industry and didn’t even like beer.

Barretta was soon caught up in the era of mergers and acquisitions of the mid-1980s. The beverage company was consolidated with a larger company and rather than move to Nashville, Barretta took a job with another Charlotte company that was, in turn, acquired by American Express Health Systems Group.

At American Express, she went to work developing client and employee training and documentation for accounting and patient billing software programs for hospitals and healthcare companies.

By 1989, she began to think about going into business on her own.

 

Starting Up

“I’m a planner and I spent time looking around,” says Barretta. “By this time, I knew there were businesses which needed help on specific project initiatives.”

Barretta launched TrainingVisions in 1990. At first the young company focused on providing employee training, but as it grew into more content and project management, Barretta changed its name to VisionCor. In sixteen years, the company has grown from one or two clients to about 100 and from three employees to 48. In the last two years alone, VisionCor has doubled its revenue growth.

From the beginning, Barretta found Charlotte’s pro-business atmosphere very receptive for her new business. As a 100 percent female-owned business, VisionCor has gained recognition from the Charlotte community. In 1994, Barretta received the Rising Star award from the Charlotte chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners for her then four-year-old business. In 2000, the same organization applauded her with the Woman Business Owner of the Year award. (To date, Barretta is the only woman business owner in Charlotte to win both awards.)

In 1999, the Charlotte Business Journal named Barretta one of the city’s Top 25 Women in Business and, in 2001, she was a finalist for the Charlotte Business Woman of the Year award presented annually by Wachovia and Queens University. The Charlotte Business Journal has recognized VisionCor four times since 1999 as one of the top 25 largest woman-owned businesses in the Charlotte and surrounding area.

“While we’ve never gotten a project because we’re female-owned, we’ve been welcomed in the Charlotte business community,” says Barretta. “If you perform and deliver, Charlotte is an open and accepting environment for small businesses.”

Among VisionCor’s clients are Wachovia, Bank of America, Cisco Systems, Wachovia Mortgage, United Mortgage, Brunswick Boat Group, Duke Energy, and Piedmont Natural Gas. VisionCor provides its clients with services that include: Training – both classroom and Web-based, as well as the design and development of instructional materials; Documentation – technical writing of both online and printed materials such as policies and procedure manuals, hardware and software programs, and Web content; Content/learning management systems – VisionCor’s approach to content development is based on a user-centric view in which content must be easy to understand and provide value for the user; Project management services – the details of the process may vary according to the customized project, but VisionCor generally follows a four-phase process of analysis, design, development and testing, and implementation.

 

Making Its Way

Wachovia/First Union Bank was among VisionCor’s earliest clients. Throughout the past decade it has returned to VisionCor time and again for help with various training and content development projects.

“We deal extensively with VisionCor,” says Sallie Crossley, vice president with Wachovia Corporation. “They listen closely regarding the challenges we face and they present us with creative solutions. VisionCor goes above and beyond their contractual responsibilities to meet our needs.”

When former First Union, now Wachovia, was preparing the rollout of a major commercial banking reengineering initiative to over 3,000 employees across 13 states, VisionCor partnered with the bank to develop an integrated information resource solution. It combined computer-based training, instructor-led training and electronic performance support to ensure that employees were prepared for each stage of the rollout. As a result, Wachovia was able to minimize implementation costs and reduce time-to-proficiency for new commercial bankers.

Over the years, as Charlotte-based banks have reengineered their systems, revised their employee performance support, and grown through mergers, VisionCor has assisted as needed. For example, for the Wachovia/SouthTrust merger, VisionCor partnered with Wachovia to deliver merger training to SouthTrust employees. The training included application, teller, and platform training as well as job skills and corporate culture and philosophy. VisionCor consultants also currently provide new-hire training across the bank’s corporate footprint.

Other recent projects include developing employee performance support Web portals and customized applications as well as partnering with Wachovia on another major systems reengineering project. VisionCor provided a project team to document a new computer system and develop online help for the new system. VisionCor consultants also assisted with the creation of Web-based training. As a result, Wachovia was able to reduce time to proficiency for employees in their new roles.

“Millions of dollars can be lost by people not knowing what they are supposed to be doing,” says Barretta. “Quick and easy access to the right amount of the right information presented in the right way is vital.”

 

Planning Ahead

While Barretta says it is difficult to plan more than three to five years ahead in the information technology field, her ultimate goal is to keep VisionCor growing – but not too much.

“I don’t want VisionCor to grow so big that clients have to go through tons of layers,” she says. “I want us to continue to be a vital growing company where people are happy to be here and where they enjoy what they’re doing.”

However, Barretta has deliberately built a leadership team over the past five years so that if anything were to happen to her, the company could stand on its own.

“It’s not all ‘Sherry’ anymore,” she says. “We cross-train people so if I disappeared the company wouldn’t just close its doors.”

Barretta attributes much of the company’s success to the quality of the people she’s hired. The VisionCor staff averages over ten years of experience in their field. Professional and forward thinkers, they take pride in their work and work together as a team, as well as independently. They have skills in analytical thinking, technical writing and communication. The basic requirement is that they are able to present information clearly so it can be easily understood and so it is useful.

“Our approach is based on a user-centric approach,” says Barretta. “It isn’t enough for the user to simply have access to information. The information must be easy to understand and be useful for the user.”

As both a woman and a business owner, Barretta says it can be challenging to balance the demands of work with the needs of a spouse and still allow time for personal development and volunteer work.

“Your business is like a child; it needs nurturing,” she says. “Too many business owners don’t take enough time for themselves. It is even more challenging for women because of their traditional role in the home.”

Barretta, however, is fortunate to have a husband who understands the demands of business ownership. Sherry met

Tony Barretta when they both worked at American Express. Their first connection was a business connection.

Tony Barretta bottles his Italian family recipes for pasta sauces and sells them under the “Santo & Josie” name. He has also opened the Santo & Josie Café, a breakfast and lunch eatery off Tyvola Road near the Coliseum.

Perhaps its not surprising that Barretta’s “spare” time is spent nurturing a second business. She is truly an entrepreneur with a desire to create and build things. VisionCor is a company that has the goals, values and corporate culture that she didn’t find in larger corporations.

“People ask me all the time if I would do it all over again,” Barretta explains. “You bet I would, in a heartbeat. I’ve loved every minute of it!”

 

 

Casey Jacobus is a Lake Norman-based freelance writer.
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