The technology industry is evolving at incredible speed, both in terms of the science and the business models. An oft-repeated phrase when speaking about digital transformation is that every company today is a tech company. So where does that leave the IT channel?
Ed Shanker is the owner of Meeting Tree Computing Corp., an IT services company that serves the Hudson Valley area of New York. Shanker has been in the industry over 30 years, and he’s seen a lot of trends come and go. But with the rapid evolution of tech, in terms of both the available tools and the threats to businesses they’re built to face, he’s fighting battles on multiple fronts to make sure his business continues to grow.
Customers have grown accustomed to viewing IT services firms as a reactive resource, says Shanker. “In the past, shops in the channel worked on a break-fix model. We were like doctors in the ER putting the pieces back together when something went wrong.”
Today, Shanker sees his firm as providing preventative health for his customers, applying a holistic approach to tech and trying to address potential issues before they reach the critical stage. But it isn’t easy getting customers to understand all of the potential risks their businesses face in today’s digital landscape.
“Most people walk around and say, ‘we’ve been doing this for 15 years and everything’s fine.’ They don’t really internalize the risk there is with things like ransomware,” he says. “When we talk to people we have to make them see there’s a real danger and they could lose their business if they’re not prepared. A lot of them don’t see it.”
If they can’t understand the risks, it’s next to impossible to make them grasp the necessity of all the tools they need in order to protect their operations. In order to craft a comprehensive defense, Shanker has to employ a complex system of unified threat management routers, firewalls, antivirus software, encryption tools, antispyware and backup solutions. All of these layers can overwhelm customers who are used to installing a firewall and thinking they’re safe.
“Even if you have 24/7 replacement on your stuff, by the time you get it and install hardware and software and then reload all your data, you could be down two, three, four days. Now there’s a whole market for business continuity that creates virtual machine copies of everything you’re running,” he says. “But all of these are new products, and it can be hard to go to someone and convince them that they need it.”
Shanker, who is based in New York State, recently received help from what some might think an unlikely source. Earlier this year, the state passed a new a law that implemented new cybersecurity requirements for financial services companies. The statute is a big headache for financial planners and insurance agents who now have to comply with a bevy of new regulations, but it’s been a boon for Shanker as they scramble to implement new procedures and policies.
“Because that’s so immediate and their industry is so unprepared, we’ve been doing a lot of work with little insurance agencies and some financial planners to try and help them become compliant. That’s been good business. Now you don’t have to convince people to do it, you just have to convince them you can do it for them.”
It can be difficult for small to midsize IT consultancies to keep up with the rapid evolution of protection tools. Shanker does best when he’s able to shield customers from problems, so he welcomes any tools that give him more leverage. But new products are released at a rapid clip, and the products out there constantly change. It’s a full-time job just keeping up with the technology, so areas that don’t directly touch his customers are often pushed to the bottom of the priority list.
“On a daily basis, I think I’m more frustrated with myself than the industry. There are so many things I have to do as a business owner that I have to pick and choose, and I wind up doing what I’m most comfortable with and slacking on other things like marketing, which is outside my comfort zone.”
Still, Shanker takes these frustrations in stride and chalks them up as just the price of doing business in a thriving industry.
“No matter what you go through, every stage is going to have a different kind of pain. Right now the pain is getting more customers. But if I got more customers, the pain becomes having enough people to service them well.”
Everyone in the channel is facing more or less the same issues. They’re trying to find the best ways to protect their customers and figure out how to get more clients. Shanker says the key is to remember that the channel is a relationship business.
“Even though we’re in the technology playing field, I don’t really think of us as a technology company. We’re a service business. The way we serve people is through their technology, but our primarily goal is to make sure our customers get personal attention and are taken care of quickly. That’s what builds our relationships.”