Two Heads Are Better than One
- From The Confident SMB, May 2010 Issue (Download This Entire Issue in PDF)
Your work day starts off as usual. At times you’re the president, operations specialist, customer service representative, and employee relations manager, all in a single day. The last thing you want to be is the IT manager, battling network breaches, spam, failed backups, system outages, and more while trying to manage the business.
Good news: help is around the corner
Even the smallest businesses are learning that the right provider can help them leverage technology to generate revenue, maximize employee efficiency, and control costs, thus allowing them to focus on running their business. According to Access Markets International Partners (AMI), only about one-third of SMBs have dedicated information technology (IT) staff, making the role of IT providers—in the planning, implementation, and management of technology—critical for them.1
Seeking to understand the criteria SMBs use to evaluate potential IT providers and best practices in collaborating with them to implement and manage technology solutions, The Confident SMB secured insights from several business decision makers and analysts.
One size does not fit all
No single IT provider can meet the needs of all customer segments—represented by company size, different industries, and geographies—as well as the multitude of applications and technologies available.
As a result, there are many different flavors of IT providers. According to Forrester Research, value-added resellers (VARs) first entered in the SMB market by providing cost-effective support. They subsequently added more specialized and interdependent services.
The study finds that VARs have the most impact when working with companies in the 100 to 5,000 employeesize range. Direct market resellers (DMRs), with their fast service and support and online transaction ease, have a strong presence with SMB companies with 20 to 500 employees. The research also revealed that more than 50 percent of SMBs source software directly from technology vendors, with 75 percent of these transactions via the vendor’s online store. But when it comes time to implementing and managing the technologies, the study found that managed service providers (MSPs) are a growing trend as platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and software-as-a-service (SaaS) deployment models become more popular. Other channels that are growing in popularity include consultants, systems integrators, and training providers.2
1. Set the stage
Where to start? The first rule of thumb is to identify your business and technology priorities. This will help set the stage to determine whether you have the in-house resources and expertise, need to outsource your IT function, or adopt a hybrid approach. For SMBs with no internal IT resources, the answer is simple: choose a technology provider with an understanding of your market space, with proven experience working with other organizations of similar size, and the ability to deliver skill sets that align to your business needs. These two steps will enable you to pare the list of options down dramatically.
This is the advice of Andy Buss, service director at IT analyst firm Freeform Dynamics. “SMBs who have an internal IT staff should determine whether they have the expertise to manage all the pieces in-house or outsource some aspects of it,” he says. “At the end of the day, it comes down to the question of whether it’s a core competency, if it can be done better or more cheaply internally.”
This is the approach of 20-person New Jersey-based distributor of passive and electromechanical components to the OEM market, Tonar Industries, which elected to outsource its entire IT function to iFocus Solutions Corporation, a Symantec partner in the SMB Specialization Program. “My business is fast-paced, and I need an IT provider that understands our goals, evaluates our pain points, and quickly reacts,” explains Perry Fox, president of Tonar Industries. “iFocus Solutions excels at this, allowing us to be more efficient and to grow our business.”
2. Get short-listed
The next step is to sift through the talent and different technology offerings. Relationships often form through word of mouth. Securing solid references is often the main driver used to identify the right IT provider.
For managed care provider Southern Rehabilitation Network, it was a large physician group they knew and trusted that recommended Symantec Partner Integrated Technical Services, located in Apex, North Carolina.
That was enough for Jayne Kearney, the director of Information Technology Services at Southern Rehabilitation Network. She engaged Integrated Technology Services to help reengineer the company’s IT infrastructure with the enablement of the company’s 80 mobile healthcare professionals as an integral goal.
The London offices of CompTIA, a global trade association focused on advancing the interest of the technology sector, also looked to its partners for suggestions on who to outsource its IT. “It’s not like you can go to the yellow pages and search for a supplier,” says Matthew Poyiadgi, vice president, International at CompTIA. “We looked for a provider with good testimonials and a strong service culture, and Vitality Consulting Services rose to the top.”
Another important consideration is an IT provider’s level of certification that showcases their qualifications, depth of knowledge, and expertise. As Symantec ptartners must comply with different requirements and certification, including classification as a Symantec SMB Specialization Partner, this provides a level of assurance.
“Knowing iFocus Solutions was a Symantec partner made a difference,” Fox says. “I knew they had the experience and expertise to design and manage a solution that would meet our requirements.”
Affirmation is also important to CompTIA. “When you look at big names like Symantec, their brand is almost like an endorsement of Vitality Consulting Services as a service provider,” Poyiadgi says.
3. Make it personal
So what is the secret to managing a relationship for long-term success? SMBs should seek out IT providers who make the extra effort to really listen and partner with them to define and execute a plan of action that not only solves business issues but capitalizes on future opportunities, according to Freeform Dynamics’ Buss. Specifically, the ability to earn and maintain a customer’s trust is key.
Not only is iFocus Solutions part of Symantec’s SMB Specialization program, their 10-year relationship with Tonar Industries is also a testament to their successful track record in maintaining their customer’s trust. “I’m a big believer in using a vendor’s core competencies,” says Fox. “iFocus Solutions not only has expertise in IT, but they understand our business model and how to leverage IT to meet our growing business needs.”
Vitality Consulting Services’ proactive, tailored approach made all the difference for CompTIA. “We selected Vitality Consulting Services because they listen to our needs and provide a high level of service,” Poyiadgi notes. “But the clincher was their audit that documented our environment and where we wanted to go based on our business requirements. We received unique treatment, and that was key to building our trust in the relationship.”
“SMBs rely on IT providers not only for their technology expertise but their willingness to understand the business,” Buss adds. “The chief factor is to ensure that IT aligns with what the customer actually needs.”
He also recommends seeking out an IT provider that demonstrates good account management, deliver responsive local and multi-vendor support, have the capability to provide managed or hosted services, and possess skills to merge both IT and communications technology offerings into a holistic solution.
For Integrated Technical Services, their real asset is keeping their focus on the customer. “Integrated Technical Services listened to us: they looked at what we did as a company, what were our current pain points, and what our longt-term goals were,” says Jane Rouse, president of Southern Rehabilitation Network. “Integrated Technical Services took our dreams and vision and made them happen.”
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Perry Fox, president of Tonar Industries, Inc., a family owned business, doesn’t want to bother with IT. He’s in the business of selling. The challenge was to find an IT provider he could trust to manage the company’s entire IT infrastructure, eliminate system disruptions caused by spam and viruses, and help run the business more efficiently. For the last 10 years, Fox has trusted Scott Anthony, president of iFocus Solutions, to guide and lead the IT charge for Tonar Industries. “IT should essentially be invisible,” explains Anthony. “Our job is to make issues go away before they happen so our customers can focus on driving their business.”
One of the foremost challenges was spam, and its impact on productivity and network bandwidth. “We were getting bombarded with thousands of spam messages daily, and we were losing a lot of productivity,” Fox says. “We also sought to streamline our data backup and recovery, as our data volumes continue to grow rapidly.” iFocus Solutions recommended to Fox that they standardize on a set of different Symantec solutions.
It started with Symantec Protection Suite Small Business Edition, which allowed Tonar Industries to leverage a suite of products to address its different business requirements versus point solutions. “Symantec Protection Suite Small Business Edition offered an integrated antispyware, antivirus and messaging security all in one solution at a reasonable price,” says Anthony.
The following products that comprise Symantec Protection Suite were implemented. First, iFocus Solutions worked with Fox to roll out Symantec Endpoint Protection Small Business Edition for consolidated endpoint security across all of his clients and servers. Second, they also implemented Symantec Mail Security for Microsoft Exchange to address spam, as well as phishing threats. Third, for image-based backup and recovery, the iFocus Solutions team added Symantec Backup Exec System Recovery 2010 Small Business Server Edition.
Peace of Mind
With the help of Integrated Technical Services, Jayne Kearney, a one-person IT shop and director of Information Technology at Southern Rehabilitation Network, built an IT platform to enable the company’s 80 healthcare professionals—spread across North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee—to be more efficient, boost productivity, save costs, and better serve clients and patients.
After a successful upgrade of Microsoft Office to all users, Greg Wassil, vice president of consulting services, and his team at Integrated Technical Services discovered inconsistencies with Southern Rehabilitation Network’s infrastructure that were the root cause of ongoing system outages, high levels of support calls, low grade security, seemingly nonexistent backups, and more, all of which were impacting business.
“I sat down with Southern Rehabilitation Network to discuss their goals and current technology hurdles,” explains Wassil. “We designed a more resilient environment that minimized the amount of the problems users were having and maximized uptime, resulting in increased cost savings.”
“Before Integrated Technical Services, I couldn’t put the fires out fast enough,” states Kearney. “Now I can focus on things like training and best practices.” Kearney also sleeps better at night knowing the whole network is solid.
To abide by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulation and keep customer’s medical information in all 80 mobile laptops safe, Southern Rehabilitation Network uses Symantec Backup Exec and Symantec Endpoint Protection. The combined data protection and security solution helps Southern Rehabilitation Network be a secure, totally paperless, computer savvy company.
“Everything runs smoothly now, and our monthly maintenance fee was reduced by 75 percent thanks to Integrated Technology Services,” Kearney notes. “Productivity has skyrocketed, my family time has been restored, and more importantly, so has my peace of mind.”
Raising the Bar
CompTIA needed to provide faster, more reliable support for its seven-person team in London responsible for overseeing eight international offices. The team sought an IT provider they could trust to manage and host their IT infrastructure. How Symantec Silver Partner Vitality Consulting Services, Ltd., earned that trust is what set their team apart and raised the bar for the rest.
“Technology should be the next utility. I don’t want to see it,” quips Matthew Poyiadgi, vice president, International, at CompTIA. “It just needs to be there in the background, allowing us to do our job and focus on our customers.” That’s why George Ilko, founder and chief technology officer of Vitality Consulting Services, is charged with keeping his finger on the pulse to ensure both the information and systems are protected.
With Poyiadgi and others from the office constantly on the go traveling across Europe, Africa, and Southeast Asia to visit customers and partners, making sure information that is stored on their laptops is secure is vital. “Here’s the logistical challenge,” relates Ilko. “If the end user is in the office only occasionally, how do you keep that critical data on the laptop secure, backed up, and managed?”
To consolidate information based in London and ensure it’s protection, Ilko plans to roll out Symantec Protection Suite Small Business Edition. The suite of products will allow the Vitality Consulting Services team to protect CompTIA against viruses and threats using Symantec Endpoint Protection Small Business Edition and recover critical data in seconds using Backup Exec System Recovery 2010 Small Business Edition.
“Our strategy is to combine protection on both the data and the system,” replies Ilko. “And that’s why the management console from Backup Exec System Recovery is going to be key; we can take care of everything from the laptops to the physical and virtual servers.”
1 AMI-Partners syndicated QPulse market tracker, December 2008
2 “Channel Sweet Spots,” Forrester Research, February, 16, 2010
Courtenay Troxel is the manager of online content and customer newsletters at Symantec and managing editor for The Confident SMB.