In 1995, Bill Gates wrote a book called “The Road Ahead” in which he made the following prediction: "There will be a day, not far distant, when you will be able to conduct business, study, explore the world and its cultures, call up any great entertainment, make friends, attend neighborhood markets, and show pictures to distant relatives--without leaving your desk or armchair. It will be more than an object you carry or an appliance you purchase. It will be your passport into a new, mediated way of life."
One year after Gates made those profound comments, the company that I work for decided to start a web development team. Levi Ray & Shoup, Inc. was, after all, no stranger to information technology. It had been developing software and building custom IT solutions since its founding in 1979. Web development seemed to be a natural fit for a company that was all about innovation.
Today, our group (LRS® Web Solutions) remains committed to our company’s spirit of innovation. Each new project offers us the chance to help our clients reach new customers, improve business processes, and enhance their brand. We welcome each new challenge and while 25 years sounds like a long time, it really has flown by. I guess it’s true what they say about time flying when you’re having fun!
LRS® Web Solutions: A “Brief” History
It seemed like a pretty simple business plan – as long as LRS was going to build and host its own website, it might as well provide the service to its customers. That was the corporate rationale that brought LRS® Web Solutions into being in the fall of 1996.
1980s: Levi Ray & Shoup, Inc. Branches Out
Throughout the 1980’s, LRS (Levi, Ray & Shoup, Inc.) could best be described as an information technology company that specialized in IT consulting projects and mainframe software development. By the end of the decade, the company had branched out into software development for the administration of public pension funds. Despite that expansion, the company stayed true to its core lines of business for most of its first 15 years of existence.
1990s: Tech Boom & the Birth of "LRS Web Site Services"
That all began to change around 1993. The 1990’s were shaping up to be a period of rapid growth for businesses in the technology sector and LRS was no exception.
Along with the addition of an education/training center and a sports game film analysis software division, an idea for an entirely new line of business was being tossed about. The idea was to start a group that would utilize the new web server technology being introduced to the LRS data center to give the company a toehold in a 6-year-old phenomenon known as the World Wide Web.
And so, it began! With just two employees (a sales representative and a site developer) the Web team at LRS was launched in the fall of 1996. Known at first as Web Site Services and then simply “Web Services”, the group specialized at first in developing static “brochure sites” for a small group of customers within a stone’s throw of the LRS headquarters in Springfield, Illinois. These brochure websites were not much more than a collection of static pages that provided marketing and biographical content to a small but growing audience of web users. Web traffic in those days was driven by everything from traditional media to emerging search engines like Excite, Lycos, AltaVista, and Yahoo to name a few.
Small Beginnings! The web team began 1997 with just three employees.
By the beginning of 1997, Web Services had added its first graphic designer and was beginning to introduce an increasing level of functionality to its development skillset. By borrowing a programmer from the LRS data center team, Web Services took its first step into the future of Web development. This step was made possible in part by the arrival of client-side scripting in the mid-nineties.
This would represent a shift away from traditional client server models and it proved as monumental as the introduction of the Internet itself. Web sites would be transformed over the next decade from curious new forms of electronic communication to an integral part of every kind of organization. Business was no longer embracing the web; business was now being done on the Web and the web team at LRS was determined to be a part of it.
The Web Services team in late 2000
Over the next 5 years, the team experienced slow but steady growth as it took a conservative path through the tech boom years of the late nineties. A second graphic designer was added in 1998, the team’s first full-time application developer came aboard in 1999 and a second site construction specialist was added in 2000. With the addition of a second sales representative and the acquisition of a competitor firm, the Web Services team grew rapidly in the early months of 2001. By mid-summer 2001, the team had grown to fifteen employees (two account representatives, six site construction specialists, three application developers and four graphic designers).
The rapid growth of the team led LRS Senior Management to appoint a full-time Web Services Manager in August 2001. Leadership for the team would be crucial in the coming years as the web began to mature and would endure a hangover following the euphoria of its early years.
The “new” Web Services logo (1999)
Dot-Com Bubble Burst: But Web Services Prospers!
The optimism of the nineties was soon replaced with recession and the sobering fact that the dot com bubble was a bust. Most Internet startups failed to show a profit and when venture capitalist money finally ran out, the bubble burst. At LRS, the story went a little differently. The Web Services team actually prospered through this period by mirroring the solid values of the company it was a part of.
In resisting the lure of rapid expansion, the group managed to avoid the bust that followed the boom. Though the group would grow significantly during the period from 2002 to 2006, the growth was controlled. Rather than following an aggressive business model, the team’s expansion was always driven by the need to ensure quality development and timely delivery. In that 6-year period, Web Services would add a fifth graphic designer, three more application developers and would hire its first dedicated project manager.
The Web Services team in August 2005
The first few years of the 21st century were full of promise and peril for technology companies. Business models were changing rapidly and the challenge of keeping up with quickly evolving technology proved to be a great one for business of all kinds.
One of the many reasons the tech bubble burst was that online retailers had failed to prove that they could pull shoppers away from brick-and-mortar retailers.
Over the next few years, a handful of visionary dot-com survivors like Amazon and Zappos would make believers of the biggest skeptics. E-commerce, and the Internet itself, were becoming integral parts of our daily lives. Names like Google and eBay were becoming as synonymous with the services they offered as Coke and Kleenex had become a generation earlier.
As the phenomenon of Web 2.0 emerged, the fundamental idea that “content is king” took on a new meaning. Online communities were developing, individuals were becoming virtual publishers and friends were connecting on social media sites like MySpace.
The people who used the Internet were becoming as interconnected as the technology they were using.
As fast paced as those early years were, the next ten years would see even greater and faster changes. The economic collapse of 2008 and The Great Recession that followed transformed the business landscape. Companies had to do more with less, and they had to rely on technology more than ever. The LRS Web team had to evolve and adapt to this changing environment.
Increasingly, sophisticated customers were no longer content with web developers who reacted to their needs. Rather, they were looking for full-fledged partners who would anticipate those needs. Our group rose to the challenge. Starting in the mid-2000s, we began offering expanded search engine optimization, graphic design for print, and upfront site planning/business analysis. By the end of the decade, we would add audio and video production, photography services, mobile website design, content management-based development, and search engine marketing.
"Customers were looking for full-fledged partners who would anticipate their needs. Our group rose to the challenge."
Social Media Brings New Challenges and New Solutions
The end of the 2000s brought a different set of challenges for web development companies. LinkedIn had already established itself as the top business-oriented social network and, by the start of 2009, Facebook had risen from the pack as the king of social media. Twitter and a whole host of other platforms would soon follow, and their success had business owners wondering if they even needed a stand-alone website. Once again, Web Services would adapt. We began to help our clients utilize these new platforms as part of their overall web strategy rather than ditching their unique web presence. This approach would prove to be the correct one as the social media landscape continues to become more and more fragmented.
With all of these changes, it became apparent that operating under the original Web Services name would no longer suffice. In 2010 we rebranded ourselves as LRS® Web Solutions. This change reflected a completely new mindset. No longer was our group simply fulfilling its customers’ web needs ... we were providing full-fledged business solutions via the web. The change was also necessitated by the addition of network support services to the team. No longer was our team just a web development group. It was a full-fledged division of the companies with an expanding list of service offerings.
No longer was our group simply fulfilling its customers’ web needs ... we were providing full-fledged business solutions via the web.
The LRS Web Solutions division (Web Services & Network Support) in 2013
We Made Our Own Content Management System!
By the time LRS® Web Solutions celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2016, we had expanded into mobile app development for iPhone and Android. We had also unveiled the name of our growing content management system... LRS® Antilles! The ease of use and extensibility that Antilles offered made the product very popular with our customers. In fact, it would be just a matter of months following its official unveiling that nearly every new website would be built on the platform.
More Expansion into the 2020s
To say that the five years since our 20th anniversary have flown by would be an understatement! It’s been a busy time for LRS and the Web Solutions group! LRS corporate undertook a complete rebranding in 2016 and, in 2018, the company expanded its Springfield, Illinois headquarters with nearly 62,000 square feet of office space. Web Solutions moved from the space it had occupied since 2005 to the second level of a brand new, state-of-the-art building. We also continued to expand our services – adding a Web Content & SEO Strategist in 2018 and partnering with a variety of companies that expand and enhance our service offerings.
Today, the LRS® Web Solutions division is a 30-person group of talented and dedicated individuals. In addition to our 7 Network Consultants, our web development team is made up of a Director, a Manager, a Program Manager/UX Engineer, a Web Content and SEO Strategist, 2 Project Managers, 3 Account Executives, 2 Graphic Designers, 5 Front End Developers, 4 Application Developers, 2 Full Stack Developers, and a Billing & Contract Specialist.
We’ve come a long way since 1996! It’s been a fun (and sometimes crazy) 25-year journey, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. Building custom solutions to meet each customer’s unique needs is rarely without challenges but providing one-of-a-kind solutions and connecting our customers to the world is never without rewards!
The Web Team - 2021
The team's 7th website (2018-2021)
In memory of our old friend, Kate Hein, who we lost in 2015. Kate was one of the original two Web Solutions employees and, as our first Sales Rep, she played a huge role in getting it all started. When she left LRS in early 2003, Kate not only stayed in touch but became a loyal customer for many years afterward. We miss you Kate!