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Clearing the Clouds

Innovative Business Systems Hones Its Pitch

IBS President Dave DelVecchio

IBS President Dave DelVecchio

In 20 years, Innovative Business Systems has evolved from a software-development firm to an outfit that businesses of all kinds rely on to manage their computer networks, data security, and a host of other high-tech needs. But as it celebrates this anniversary, IBS has launched a rebranding effort that aims to better-clarify what its services are, and why they are becoming increasingly necessary.

Dave DelVecchio says that the speed at which information technology advances can leave business owners confused, buffeted by buzzwords, and unsure of the value of an IT partner.
Innovative Business Systems Inc. has successfully built such partnerships for two decades, but DelVecchio, the company’s president, and his staff recently began to ask whether its customers and, perhaps more important, prospective clients really understand the need for its services.
“So many IT companies are so fixated on the ‘how’ that they can’t communicate the ‘why,’” he told BusinessWest. “We’re focused on helping businesses determine the why.”
Last year marked a 20th anniversary of sorts for this Easthampton-based IT sales and support firm (which launched in 1987 but didn’t officially incorporate until three years later). “And, as major milestones tend to be, that became a time for reflection,” DelVecchio said.
He explained that IT changes so much in a few years — “for some people, that’s a blink of an eye, but in our industry, it’s a lifetime” — that questions arose regarding how well IBS was delivering its message to the public.
“We weren’t sure we were doing an effective job communicating with prospects, clients, and the general public exactly what we do,” he explained. “Sometimes, we’re too close to it to communicate it ourselves.”
So the company launched a rebranding campaign, looking for a succinct way to communicate its range of services, and at the same time refreshing its logo. It enlisted an outside consultant for these tasks, and launched a new Web site earlier this month, presenting itself with the new tagline, “smarter technology for better business.”
“A lot of people historically have thought of companies like ours as computer repairmen, like they think of appliance repairmen or auto mechanics,” DelVecchio said. “That’s not what we do, or, it’s a very small subset of what we do.”
Rather, he said, “we help folks cut through the clutter of ever-changing technology, to find out what’s the right fit for a business, what’s applicable and what’s not, what fads stick and what’s a flash in the pan. We want to have conversations with them from a business perspective, not just a technology perspective. And we felt this tagline best encapsulates that.”

Gang of Five
Bill Tremblay began Innovative Business Systems in 1987 as a software-development outfit (more on that later), then sold the firm in 2003 to five employees — DelVecchio, Brian Scanlon, Scott Seifel, Ben Scoble, and Sean Benoit — who continue to run it today.
IBS handles PC sales, data analysis, networking, hardware and software support, repair, and maintenance services for businesses of all sizes. It built much of its business in the financial-services arena, working with banks and credit unions — both those with their own existing IT departments and those without — on issues including data access, information security, and disaster-recovery planning.
The rest of the IBS client list is comprised largely of small-to-medium-sized, privately owned businesses in a wide range of sectors, from health care to manufacturing, many of which are not large enough to have their own IT departments but view the need for constantly updated technology as a growing necessity.
“For many years, our niche was supporting banks and credit unions,” DelVecchio said. “But we’ve got multiple 10-employee companies running technology rivaling what the banks are running — remote offices, mobility suites, document imaging, hosting their own Web-based data applications, some of them being publicly accessible, and some in industries with strict security requirements.”
He said he gets annoyed when people assume that the need for the services IBS provides are always related to the size of the client. Instead, “the more technology-driven a business is, the better fit they are for us, regardless of size.”
One of the biggest issues IBS has dealt with in recent years has been access to data from various computers, company locations, or remotely. A related, and often equally important, consideration is data recovery, because it can be disastrous for a business to store information in one office only.
DelVecchio is especially excited about the company’s new data center in Marlborough, which will serve as a remote office, but, more importantly, as a disaster-recovery suite. In case of some event that renders a customer’s place of business unusable, IBS can transfer the contents of the client’s entire network to the Marlborough office, which is equipped with four workstations, in effect providing a location for that customer to continue to operate.
“From a solutions standpoint, this is huge,” he said. “In case of a localized disaster, like a fire, a flood, a sprinkler goes off at midnight and leaves the office knee-deep in water, this location is, in most cases, within an hour’s drive, so you have a place to function.”
Why Marlborough? Its distance is an asset, DelVecchio said, explaining that disaster-recovery suites should be close enough that the commute isn’t too onerous, yet far enough away to be clear of a regional disaster; 45 to 60 minutes away is ideal.
And while most businesses might never need the use of such a facility, many will, especially those in multi-tenant buildings, and should appreciate paying around $3,500 annually for a “a business continuity plan in a box,” he said.
“For tenants in a mixed-use, multi-tenant building, the odds of a localized disaster go up by a factor of 10. When you have a lot of tenants, all it takes is the tenant next door to plug up the drainpipe with grass and knock out the sprinklerhead, or put a candle too close to a curtain, to cause an issue. In multi-tenant buildings, we see this as an incredibly underused but much-needed solution.”

Down to Earth
Putting this sort of real-life face on often-complex technology is key to IBS’ new focus on communicating the big picture to clients, DelVecchio said.
He noted that Microsoft has been promoting ‘cloud computing’ — a term synonymous with Internet-based computing, whereby shared servers provide resources, software, and data to individual computers and other devices — “but if you ask 100 people what the cloud is, you get 100 different answers. The cloud can be a lot of things.”
He compared it to 15 years ago, when the commercial use of Internet technology was just exploding, and “cyber” became the hot buzzword, even though it wasn’t always used correctly. “We’ve developed our own cloud strategy to cut through that clutter.”
What businesses need to understand, he said, is what those buzzwords mean, and how the technology behind them can benefit their operations. He said some have predicted that 80% of all IT services will be cloud-based within five years, but feels that number may be a bit aggressive; he sees many firms using a hybrid approach. “Businesses might be running things like E-mail in the cloud and applications on premises, or vice versa. Determining the right mix for business is the foundation of what we do.”
No IT firm can be everything to all its clients, so IBS touts a number of ‘partners’ on its Web site — not formal partnerships, but related companies with whom IBS shares clients — that do a good job at what they do, and can benefit Innovative’s customers. “Building a strong partner network is something we take a lot of pride in; it takes a village to maintain an IT infrastructure, but we can be the hub that facilitates getting it done.”
Like companies of all sizes and in all sectors, IBS has endured a sluggish economy for the past few years, but felt it mainly in product sales, not consulting.
“In 2007 and 2008, most companies were investing in their business, with technologies like remote access and document-management solutions,” DelVecchio said. “When the economy slowed down, everyone went into a wait-and-see, maintenance mode; our revenue remained constant in 2009, but our material sales dropped 20%. People kept what they had; they weren’t upgrading. Over the course of 2010, though, we saw a consistent increase in projects.”
All the more reason to launch a rebranding effort — and make some hard decisions about the direction of the company.
“Every business has been forced to look at their balance sheet and take a look at expenses and figure out where they were getting value,” he said. “And if you’re not delivering value, should you be doing it?” In answering that question, last year, IBS phased out of the software-development business, which was the work on which the company was founded.
“Running a software-development business is a completely different model than running an IT service and consulting business,” said DelVecchio, noting that IBS’ full-time developer left the firm on amicable terms and continues to support all the clients for whom IBS had developed applications. “That allowed us to focus on our core business moving forward. After that decision, we focused creating branding for what our core business will be like in 2011 and beyond.”

Bottom Line
By all indications, that core looks healthy, he said, noting that, as clients started to order upgrades they had deferred during the recession, IBS saw a strong second half to 2010.
“Clients are back in the game,” DelVecchio said. “From a business outlook, I’m very positive about 2011. It appears that people have come out of their bunkers, and they’re ready to do business again.”
Whether in their offices, or in the cloud.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]