Sam Heard is facing the same challenge many of you are facing: he's seeing his managed services business grow, but he's also seeing a lot of opportunities in project-based work, such as setting up desktops, installing servers, running network cabling, and making sure it's all protected with the right end point security solutions. We first featured Data Integrity Services in our February 2011 issue of Business Solutions, in the cover feature story HITECH Act Drives Security Sales. I recently caught up with Heard, who is the president of Data Integrity Services, to find out how things have been going since he last talked with us, more than a year and a half ago.
How has your business fared since we last spoke with you?
Heard: It’s been a challenge. The healthcare vertical has been a source for huge opportunities for us. BUT, there have been some big difficulties as well. The majority of healthcare providers operate small practices. They are being squeezed by the government and by insurance companies -- requiring them to provide more detailed documentation of their work and receiving less compensation than they previously received. Sure, there's the Stimulus Act, which promises to reward them for investing in EMR (electronic medical record) and other IT solutions, but many of the doctors I'm talking to are skeptical. “We’re not going to get that money from the government,” they tell me. I have a healthcare customer in Tampa who's using 15-year-old monitors. He doesn't want to change. And, that's where my challenge lies: I need to convince these guys that they should update their IT hardware and software. It requires a lot of education, and a lot of patience.
What has contributed the most to your success over the past 18 months?
Heard: We've learned to become pickier about who we're working with. Fortunately, there are healthcare providers who see the value of working with an IT solutions provider and having a properly running IT network. These are the customers that we can really partner with and build a long-term business relationship. It's just not worth it to waste a lot of time with the other ones who want to haggle over price for every IT decision and fight you every step of the way when you make recommendations for improving their network or IT equipment.
Another contributing factor to our success has been with our network security offering. We've always been a huge Astaro reseller. Astaro was acquired by Sophos last year, and that led to Sophos creating a UTM (unified threat management) offering. Not only is it easier to install, but it's easier to manage as well. For instance, we can now manage customers' nodes remotely via a single web interface.
What's the biggest business decision/challenge you're wrestling with these days?
Heard: The migration to managed services. It's much different than the traditional way of doing business. We're going to continue developing this part of our business, but the paradigm shift is a challenge. You have to figure out how to respond to clients. The financials are different. In the traditional way of doing business, you spend a lot more time on-site interacting with your customers. Now, people don’t leave the office. You need to hire people with different skill sets, too. Some people are project oriented. Managed services is more about being proactive and using remote monitoring and management tools (he uses Level Platforms) to perform software patches and updates.
I don’t want to lose the on-site, break-fix part of my business either. Projects are profitable. And, I don't want to stop having regular contact with my customers. I have a networking implementation coming up that will be a 400-hr.-labor-project. After that, I have four other projects that will be 300 hours each. It's nice to have a big check every once in a while as we build our managed services practice. (Heard projects that his managed services practice will be up 50% by the end of this year, compared with last year).
Our backup and disaster recovery has been another area we've wrestled with over the past couple of years. The vendor we were using stopped keeping up with patches and became a real pain to work with. We were spending so much time trying to keep their equipment working properly, that at one point I actually threatened to sue them if they didn't get their act together. I finally stopped reselling their products, and I've been looking at a new BDR (backup and disaster recovery) partner since then. At this point, we're leaning toward Continuum.