Jeff’s Story

ABI's Master Developer:

A Basic Idea, LLC (ABI) relies upon a broad swath of skill sets to provide services for your business.  No better examples can be found than our Innovation Lead, Jeff Brower.

Jeff’s technology career started in 1981 when he landed a job on the way home from college.  He packed and cleaned his dorm room, and still wearing the same jeans and t-shirt, he did a drop-in surprise interview at Commerce Clearing House – which hired him on the spot to operate their IBM 360/30 and 3 IBM 1403 high-speed hydraulic printers employing an RJE connection to other corporate assets.

Soon an opportunity was presented to build and manage a large COBOL/Assembly implementation on IBM mainframes to drive the direct mailing, results analysis, and donor acquisition campaigns for the Arthritis Foundation account at Mail Marketing Systems.  These direct mail campaigns dropped all year in small test campaigns to refine the mailing vehicle and prospect selections for the annual mailing of as much as 22.5 million pieces of mail in a single mail drop.

Pivoting to corporate ownership was natural and by the end of 1983, a computer service bureau named Electronic Business Information was born.  EBI grew quickly and became a go-to service for direct mail management and production in the Southeast for major advertising agencies.  Continued development of COBOL/CICS and Assembly systems which linked to third-party utilities on the IBM mainframe made production hum for impact and laser personalized mailings.  When PCs started showing up at customer locations, well before the internet existed, EBI already had mainframe-connected PCs thanks to a hacksaw, a soldering iron, and custom code.

Jeff personally installed and migrated through various models of the IBM 370 and IBM 4300 mainframe computer lines and then eventually to a shared water-cooled platform as a cost-cutting measure.  Impact printers, cut-sheet Xerox 9700 and pre-production Xerox 4050 color printers (where Jeff helped evaluate and document improvements to the machine before release), and a continuous-form Siemens laser printer with a film negative overlay drum were among the employed technologies (even including an Ion Deposition machine before it was released to the public).   Print files were built and flown to catalog printers for in-line inkjet printers to produce unequaled “right-fit” quality for clients.  EBI resources grew to include mechanical insertion, data entry for results processing, and order fulfillment, all under Jeff’s watchful eye.  Famously, die-cut tools for pre and post-processing laser-printed envelopes on both cut-sheet and continuous form laser resulted in the first perfect read of USPS PostNet Barcodes using a custom font Jeff personally programmed, and those successes led directly to the postal discounts for pre-barcoded mail that we enjoy today.

Direct mail computer services faced an abrupt environmental change nationally when Canadian printers began giving away all of EBI’s service products for free with any printing project and EBI closed its facilities, but key customers pleaded for Jeff to continue so that they did not have to close their doors as well.  Jeff complied and augmented those services by offering consulting services to banks, insurance companies, government entities, and struggling direct mail services as well.

Smaller and smaller computers were becoming powerful enough to convert systems from mainframes.  Starting with conversions to his AS-400, and over the years to PCs, the Assembly, COBOL, and RPG production programs were converted to offer smaller-scale services and help clients move in-house.

Eventually, he started a new company named Database Marketing with new partners which managed a custom database of 192 million names, addresses, phone numbers, and automobile registrations – enhanced with individual and block-level demographics.  Writing his own neural network well before most even understood the existence of fuzzy logic, he was able to boost response rates significantly by adding his demographics to a company’s customer master file and then teaching the neural network how to select responsive prospects based on the concepts of generational evolution using Natural Selection.

While the most fun occurs on the bleeding edge, that does come with some pain as there are generally no courses to take or documentation to reference when you are at the point of the sword.  When Jeff had a heart attack from overwork in 1992, the partners found this truth, and Database Marketing closed its doors.

Not being willing to sit idle for long, he later started consulting for his wife as she built her “A Basic” brand.  Under that umbrella, Jeff built cutting-edge systems for clients, including utilities called BASE (Behavior Attribute Scoring Engine) and MatchUR (which interactively matches utility records to identify fraudulent behaviors) for a national leader in behavioral risk segmentation.  With about a billion records processed annually through these COBOL and Java systems today, these systems continue to provide reliable results daily for the client, the client’s Tier One customers, and the government systems they service.

As the internet became more diverse, so did Jeff’s skillset.  Website programming, both front and back end, dovetailed nicely with his database and marketing skills.  Using Linux (and later, OpenBSD Unix), Apache (and Nginx), PHP, MySQL, PostgreSQL, Javascript (and HTML, obviously) and other tools (plus his extensive sales, marketing, and response analysis experience) empowered clients such as Chiropractic Lifecare of America.  CLA was built from the ground up with Jeff’s guidance in creating the largest national network of fully credentialed providers to a membership of many thousands of cardholders, and it remains one of the most successful examples of such a network today.

In the gaming industry, Jeff brought barcoding to the match resolution recording for Pokémon International and they distributed that technology globally in 7 different languages because it increased the productivity between rounds by thousands of percent – giving them the ability to jump in competition-size from hundreds to thousands of participants in a single game.  Another gaming giant (Asmodee) based in France, second in size only to Hasbro, hired A Basic Idea to lead a team to create a new style of Organized Play software which ties both Organizers and Players (using both desktop and hand-held devices) to a global network to sanction events, run them according to enforced rules, report the results, make rewards, and provide a global scorecard – all starting with a Global Event Manager (GEM) that employs computer vision for registration and results recording.  That created another major leap forward over the Pokémon systems which held the #1 spot previously, and GEM still holds global dominance in capabilities.

Most ABI-created systems today are hybrid systems where servers are *nix based (Jeff’s personal favorite is OpenBSD Unix but he speaks Linux flavors as well as the obligatory Microsoft Windows flavors).  Interactive systems generally involve Node, Angular, SQL (and non-SQL) implementations of databases, JavaScript, and Java/JavaEE.  Handhelds are typically written in some flavor of Angular or React and rely upon API calls to the servers.  Handheld applications are generally distributed through Google Play and the Apple Store, but for internal security needs (or because of the profit-sharing these stores impose), sometimes they are simply distributed as APKs for Android.  That said, ABI still supports systems in C#, COBOL, Assembly, PHP, Java, JavaEE, and C++.  Jeff has many more language variations in his toolbelt, many of which have gone extinct over the years, and you may have noticed a tendency to rely upon open-source frameworks today.  To Jeff, new platforms are simply new syntaxes and he learns them as required.

You can count on Jeff for team management as well.  Jeff loves to drive teams.  The best examples of this came with Jeff’s recent heavy involvement in the world of face-to-face high-stakes global Organized Play.  In terms of the trust placed in Jeff to run teams in high-stakes gaming events, a description of the stakes may be in order.  Pokémon’s World Championships, where he regularly managed the computer hive, is streamed internationally and awards $500,000 in prizes – and obviously cannot tolerate errors.  Jeff has been a Divisional Head Judge at every level of Pokémon competition (including Worlds) and an Event Head Judge at Regional competitions and below.  He has also typically led the computer hive in their North American Championships, which are among the very largest gaming events on the planet.  Asmodee, where Jeff supported global events in the KeyForge and Star Wars X-Wing products (also because he designed and led the software development for GEM), was quickly approaching similar numbers before the pandemic.  Both face-to-face game giants are on hiatus because of the global pandemic, and the gaming industry as a whole has abandoned international competitions until the pandemic has safely passed.

A Basic Idea follows a Customer Success model as we believe that the outdated Customer Service model is reactive and we prefer a more proactive relationship with our clients.  To that end, we employ Agile Development where a Scope document is created, Statements of Work are defined and refined, and we manage everything in Jira with source saves to Git.  Jeff has driven teams for our clients from 1 to 20 developers living in places from Poland to Minnesota to Seattle on a daily basis (which makes for the occasional long day, to be sure).

If you can dream it, Jeff can find a successful innovation strategy to bring that dream to life.  We recognize that every great product begins with A Basic Idea.