Co-owners Sean Infante, left, and Michael Chambers show some of...

Co-owners Sean Infante, left, and Michael Chambers show some of the products Central Business Systems has sold since its founding in 1948. Credit: Rick Kopstein

Those in leadership positions at what is now Central Business Systems have always been masters of the pivot. Back in the day, the company just sold and fixed typewriters. Now its employees are poised to help customers use artificial intelligence in the workplace. 

“The biggest challenge for any technology company is the pace at which technology is changing,” said Michael Chambers, 58, of East Islip. He co-owns the business with Sean Infante, 57, of Oakdale. “Technology that is useful today can be old hat and useless in mere months. The technology director’s job is to make sure they read technology trends daily, weed out the tech that is outdated or useless, and research what is trending that can make a difference in our customers’ technology stack.”

Founded as Central Typewriter Inc. in 1948 by Infante’s grandfather  Tobias Infante  and his business partner, Robert Zolinhoffer, the business began as a two-man operation in Seaford. It was relocated two years later to Baldwin and remained there until 1989, when the company moved to Farmingdale. About 12 years ago, it relocated to Melville.

“Over the years, Central evolved with the ever-changing technology,” Chambers said. “We continued to sell typewriters, but we started also selling word processing systems, copiers, fax machines, and then computers and networking technology later in the 1980s.”

AT A GLANCE

Central Business Systems, Melville

What it does: Office technology

Leadership: President Michael Chambers and executive vice president Sean Infante

Annual Sales: $8.5 million to $10 million

Employees: 50

Founded: 1948

But no one at Central ever expected a change in the workplace like that brought about by the onset of the pandemic, Infante said. The way work was done had to be reimagined virtually overnight.

Now comes another big change forcing  the company to pivot — A.I.

When was the end of the era of the typewriter?

By the mid-1980s, the writing was on the wall that the end of the life of the typewriter was imminent. With the advent of both the PC and applications such as WordPerfect and Lotus, paired with laser printer technology, which could offer letter-quality output, the direction of office technology as it related to documents was sealed.

During the first days of the pandemic, what were the initial concerns of businesses?

At first people were initially just concerned about the health of their loved ones and themselves, but after the first few weeks of the shelter-in-place order, companies started to realize that they had to conduct business or there wouldn’t be a business for much longer. After that, the lightbulb went off, the pivot started and it went very fast. Cloud service requests and VPN (virtual private network) access went through the roof.

What did your company do to prepare your clients for a new normal?

We spent days on end loading VPN clients on customers’ home computers so they could securely access their servers at the office and get their data. Directly after that, they wanted a way to meet, and Zoom and Microsoft teams were the biggest requests. These video communications platforms went from being used to communicate with people who aren’t close geographically to a vital everyday tool that businesses could not operate without.

What is your biggest challenge right now, and how are you meeting it?

A.I.  is literally on everyone’s lips right now. Topics from government regulation to job loss are all legitimate concerns that people have. Our goal with all emerging technology such as A.I. is first to make sure the technology has a viable use for the customers, and then to use the technology to enhance our customers’ security and workflow, and then implement it in such a way that it enhances the business’ technology offering rather than disrupting it.

What are some of the things you will be doing to manage A.I.?

As an example, Central Business uses an enhanced antivirus solution that not only attempts to ward off hackers and ransomware attacks, it also has some A.I. learning capabilities. These new programs also learn end-user patterns and look for changes in those patterns to help identify when it may be a bad actor rather than an actual user sending something out to customers or clients. If a sign-off message was copied and pasted rather than typed out, the program might flag that email for review and prevent a possible breach. A.I. gets people to do things by sending out mass emails, and it can be used to manage print services and to creep around your network to find things like documents, databases, etc.

Have you made any mistakes along the way?

I think earlier on, we could have utilized more data-driven insights, metrics and analytics like we do now.

What advice do you have for people thinking of going into your business?

Stay ahead of the technology curve. and don’t treat your customers like a number.

What do you hope Central Business Systems will look like in five years?

We know that customers no longer want a multitude of vendors to handle each of their needs, so we want to be a local provider that will consolidate, connect and integrate all of our customers’ equipment and technology.

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