When you’re in a career transition—or thinking of making one—it’s vital to know as much as you can about a company’s hiring philosophy. That includes understanding how they communicate to their employees about mission, vision, etc. In my latest Business UNusual blog post, I talk tech with ISOutsource, an IT company that’s not only made a mark on the consulting and technical support industry but also on its employees. With high, yet clear, expectations for their team, they stand to be one of the longest running firms in the business. And their experience during the recession? Read on to find out…
JENNY: Tell me about IS Outsource—how it started and its focus.
RICHARD: IS Outsource (ISO) is an outsourced IT consulting and support solutions provider. We’ve been in business for over two decades, which is unusual in this space. Most firms in our industry are in business for 2-5 years and either get consumed or fade.
During the first several years, we were heavily invested in being a VAR (Value Added Reseller), selling software and hardware services. Ten years ago, Dan Hayes—a former Microsoft employee—purchased ISO. Seven years ago, Dan hired me to help focus the business, with a goal of enhancing growth profits and stability. We looked at the model and I told Dan that I was not a big fan of mixing services and product sales, which aligned well with his then current thinking in regards to the business going forward. For example, from a service standpoint, it’s hard when a client says, “Is this what I need or are you suggesting it because you want to sell me something?”
In an effort to create a focus on services, the company decided to close down nearly half of our business—the product/VAR aspect—and over 2.5 months, we morphed into a time and materials consulting company. We are one of a very few time and materials providers. That allows us to customize what we do for our clients. A mechanic, for example, probably has very different technology needs than a law firm and because we’re consulting focused, we can customize our help.
The change in our business model was a real step up. The company grew over 30% a year for the first two years after our shift. During the three years of recession, we managed to maintain an average growth rate of 9% and experienced no lay-offs. Now, we have 64 employees and will experience stable growth of over 12% this year. We attribute this stable growth to the fact that our business model is transparent; it’s focused on actual needs of the client. For example, Managed Service Providers (MSP) start out right away with a conflict with the customer. The MSP wants the least labor costs possible with the fewest people working on projects, as this is how the MSP generates profit. Conversely, the customer obviously wants as much service as possible for what they are paying. IE: In a $2000 contract/month, you may have few failures but do you really need an ongoing contract? Is it really the right solution for your needs? This creates a constant rub where both parties are working towards different goals.
ISO is focused on flexibility and our business model is easy to understand. We don’t force fit any solution on our clients and, we’re technology agnostic. That means that no matter where the market goes in terms of the latest products; changes in business models, etc., we are able to support our clients. When you’re a VAR, by nature you are focused on selling the products you carry, regardless of whether those are the right solution for the customer or not.
In the ISO model, if a customer says she’s adding four employees, we can let our staff purely solve around the unique customer need, not try to fit a program box around the need which may—or may not—be right for now, or in the long run.
JENNY: There are a lot of tech firms out there. What else differentiates ISO from the other firms?
1. Transparency of model—We’re a white box vs. a black box that contains hidden costs or features you may not need. With ISO and our white box model, you’re clear what you’re getting and what you paid for.
2. We’re focused on high end, top talent that’s highly experienced and very efficient. Other companies often hire people just out of college or with junior level experience. That may be fine for certain jobs but I believe in having the right person for the right problem at the right time. Our employees also understand our focus on not losing a single client and not everyone shares that vision. We really try to be thorough in the hiring process, being very selective and it has had a huge impact on our business.
3. Vision and direction—Many companies have good managers but they have the right people focusing on the wrong things. At ISO, we are unswerving in our focus on having and maintaining a strong company direction and culture, clearly communicating that to their employees and letting them do their work in that atmosphere. It is critical that all of our employees are fully aligned with this vision and direction. If an individual is not aligned with the basic service approach of the business or culture, then this is not the right company for them.
As part of the culture, we have a mantra that everyone must buy into: Excellence is not a promise; it’s a commitment. If you see excellence as an expectation, then excellence is transactionally-based—I do “X” and I get “Y” in return. Because excellence is a long term commitment for us, we’re not trying to avoid mistakes all the time as you do when your focus is on expectations. We know we are human and our commitment to excellence is to make things right. We find that our customers really respect and appreciate this approach.
JENNY: Right now in the technology world, what are the top things you think people have the most misconceptions about?
The Cloud is the least understood and the most critical concept now. Three to four years ago, everyone was talking about it. There was marketing created around the cloud that was a lot of hype and lacking in clarity but it led people to believe they had to get involved.
It is actually quite simple: The cloud is taking all the things we’re used to from a locally based – and limited – level to be out in a widely distributed arena that we can interact with in a great number of places, with a variety of devices. You can also combine it with some in-house applications as needed.
It takes computing as we know it and we can experience it in ways we could not imagine five years ago. Cloud is nothing but a worldwide network of available storage and applications capacity with virtually unlimited accessibility.
I remember talking to prospective clients who said, “I need to be in the cloud.” My response always was, “What does that mean to you?” We help companies unravel the Cloud, taking the mystery out of it while making sure they know they are secure. That includes consulting with our clients relative to their industry, compliance issues and niche—i.e., topics like HIPAA compliance which, pre-cloud, may not have been necessary for certain kinds of companies but now is.
JENNY: Thank you, Richard. For more information about IS Outsource, go to www.isoutsource.com.