by Anthony Salamone
LOWER NAZARETH TOWNSHIP – Software Consulting Services has been selling computer systems to newspapers of all sizes for more than 30 years.
The Lower Nazareth Township company has contracts with more than 1,500 publishing companies in 19 countries, including Gannett, Advance Publications and The Morning Call corporate parent Tribune Publishing.
"Nobody has ever failed to publish because of us. I'm very proud of that," said Martha Cichelli, who founded the company 40 years ago.
But like most long-lasting small businesses, it's SCS's adaptability to other businesses that has helped keep the company operating. Now that adaptability has helped SCS land a software contract that will help people learn about the White House.
On March 1, the White House Historical Association in Washington launched a digital library with the help of SCS that provides students, educators, scholars and others around the world a free online archive offering "unprecedented opportunities" for distance learning about the White House.
SCS is a U.S. reseller of the Norwegian made software, Fotoware, used in the digital library.
"We worked closely with SCS, as the designated reseller of Fotoware in the United States, on the development and deployment of our digital library," said Stephanie Tuszynski, digital librarian at the association, a nonprofit founded in 1961 by first lady Jacqueline Kennedy to boost understanding of the historic mansion. "We appreciated the dedication and engagement of the SCS team on this robust and complex project."
Cichelli's husband, co-owner Richard Cichelli, said while SCS' software is typically used internally by companies, the association contract is "something we have done that you can see directly."
In its infancy, SCS' first newspaper product was a software tool that helped newspapers lay out advertisements on their pages, saving time and employee costs by eliminating manual layout. How the company evolved into that is an interesting story, sort of a play on the phrase "necessity is the mother of invention."
In the mid-1970s, Martha Cichelli, a business programmer at PPL Corp., left the company to take care of her newborn daughter. She sought to work part time at PPL, but companies in those days did not offer the benefit.
So she began SCS from her Allentown home, supplying the software development for hospitals and companies.
"Financially, I couldn't have lived on it, let's put it that way," she said of her new business venture.
The fledgling entrepreneur didn't need to. Her husband had been developing software for the American Newspaper Publishers Association at its research institute in Forks Township. But he decided to leave when the trade group, now known as the Newspaper Association of America, moved to northern Virginia.
Richard Cichelli licensed the ANPA technology and continued developing it on his own, and he broadened his wife's business by selling software to newspapers.
In May 1983, the Cichellis and their seven employees became the first company to move into the new Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania incubator at Lehigh University, a state-funded business development group. The company stayed at Lehigh for 2 1/2 years.
Privately held SCS, which has 20 employees, is based in a large office building off Route 946, about 3 miles north of Route 22. Annual revenues range between $2.5 and $5 million, Richard Cichelli says. Its software services also have been deployed by the human-welfare group Ford Foundation, specialty chemicals provider Lubrizol Corp. and others.
Richard Cichelli said newspaper executives don't ask his company how much more advertising they will sell using SCS' software, but how much they are going to save.
"The reality is that we have to provide solutions that scale and reduce costs," he said.
For the Cichellis, there's no slowing down. He's 71; she's 69, but both are so immersed in their work, they deflect questions about a business-succession plan.
Many years ago, Martha Cichelli says, her husband bought a desk from a used furniture company. It was a "died-at-the-desk desk," one with a dent that looks like someone hard at work fell forward from exhaustion — and struck the desktop headfirst.
"I think that's his plan," Martha Cichelli said, adding that the goal is to elevate some employees to continue the company. "He's not ready to go yet."
Originally published by The Morning Call on 03/23/2016
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