IBS Charges Ahead with a Unique Management Model Focused on the Future
That’s how the team at Innovative Business Systems (IBS), an information technology support and sales firm in Easthampton, refers to its owners.
It’s an inauspicious term, perhaps, that is nevertheless part of a democratic culture at IBS that began when a group of employees — Dave DelVecchio, Brian Scanlon, Scott Seifel, Ben Scoble, and Sean Benoit — bought the company from founder Bill Tremblay in August 2003.
It wasn’t a coup — DelVecchio, now the company’s president, said Tremblay’s reign was a benevolent dictatorship. And as the company moves forward, it carries with it Tremblay’s initial mission: to provide a high level of service, from both a technical and a human standpoint.
But DelVecchio added that the structure also allows the owners to bring their collective experience in information technology to the management side of the business.
“It allows us to continue Bill’s vision, with our own unique spin,” he said. “We’ve been a team since the day we signed the papers. The percentages of ownership vary, but only come into play two times a year, at annual meetings.”
It’s also a management style that’s becoming increasingly notable as IBS nears the close of one of its busiest years to date; DelVecchio estimates that the company will end the year with the highest annual gross revenue figure in its 20-year history.
Such growth is tempered by a few trends in the IT industry that can pose challenges — among them shrinking profit margins and a continuing need for appropriately trained staff, as technology changes — but it’s a good indicator, said DelVecchio, of the pace at which IBS is growing and how it’s achieving that growth: through an increased amount of “soup-to-nuts clients,” as he calls them.
“The number of companies who know where they want to go in terms of technology is higher than ever before,” he said. “They’re looking at technology upgrades as an essential task, and budgeting accordingly. Plus, 70% to 80% of those businesses want regular service.
“The writing on the wall is that IT firms can’t just sell products,” he continued, “and as technology continues to march forward with a focus on efficiency and the needs for the future, that beginning-to-end approach is typically smoother for us, and for the end user.”
Strength in Numbers
IBS began as a software-development outfit under Tremblay’s management in 1987, and maintains that aspect of the business. Tremblay, now dubbed ‘president emeritus,’ still serves as a consultant and field representative for the company from South Carolina, where he now lives and where one of IBS’s largest software clients, Carolina Eastern, an agricultural wholesaler, distributor, and retailer, is based.
The firm also handles PC sales, data analysis, networking, hardware and software support, repair, and maintenance services for businesses of all sizes.
DelVecchio said the majority of the small and medium-sized businesses IBS services are located in the 413 area code, while its growing presence in the financial-services sector covers about a three-hour radius, from Cape Cod to Connecticut. Additionally, its software-development arm has a national reach, with clients in New Mexico, Florida, Oklahoma, Illinois, Colorado, and several other states.
About 60% of those annual gross revenues are derived from work with banks and credit unions — both those with their own existing IT departments and those without. DelVecchio explained that, due to the increasing need for a high level of security and well-planned disaster-recovery methods in the banking industry, even those institutions with well-heeled technology departments are seeking outside vendors to offer certain services or to perform audits of existing systems.
“More than ever, banks and credit unions need to outsource because they need redundancies built in to support their environments,” he said.
The remaining 40% of IBS’s client list is made up largely of small-to-medium-sized, privately owned businesses, 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. These companies, both for-profit and nonprofit entities, span a wide range of sectors, from health care to manufacturing.
“IT is the core of many day-to-day functions,” said DelVecchio, “and it’s becoming more cost-effective for even the smallest companies, when as recently as two or three years ago, it was not. These are, essentially, very powerful technologies being implemented behind the scenes that double as small business solutions, often available for companies with five employees or less.”
Data, Data Everywhere
DelVecchio said the biggest issue IBS is addressing of late is that of access to data: from various computers, company locations, or remotely, from virtually anywhere. This could translate into outfitting a financial institution’s loan officers with laptops and scanners, for instance, so they can bring the service directly to a client, or supplying home care nurses with tablet PCs, on which they can access and input up-to-date medical information on a patient.
Data access is also an important consideration in terms of disaster recovery. No longer is it safe to store data in a static office environment; rather, DelVecchio said the trend is toward multiple back-up systems that protect the integrity of information, but also allow for that data to be retrieved from any computer.
“Current technologies ensure access to information, and that a business will not be crippled by the inability to get at it,” he said, noting that this new attention being paid to data recovery resulted in part from lessons learned following 9/11. “There were some major financial institutions in the Twin Towers that never recovered. Some were located in the North Tower, and had their recovery systems located in the South Tower.
“People have heeded that warning.”
In general, said Delvecchio, business owners and managers across the board are recognizing the importance of technology to their daily operations.
“They are asking themselves the big question: can they support their clients, even without a bricks-and-mortar facility,” he said. “People are getting more forward-thinking, even in those sectors that have historically been less proactive about technology for various reasons, such as nonprofits. They understand that they are a business first and a nonprofit second, and technology allows them to focus on what they know, and do it well.”
In response, IBS has entered into a number of new vendor relationships in 2007 to continue addressing the myriad needs of its client base, signing on to sell and service such new industry standards as Citrix Solution Advisor, a secure remote-connectivity platform that can be integrated with virtually any existing IT environment.
The company also became a ‘Symantec SMB (again, small to medium-sized business) Specialization’ partner in October, gaining access to a wide range of benefits including priority and advanced technical support access on behalf of clients, and a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner in August, the technology giant’s highest designation, demonstrating expertise in the installation and support of Windows servers and related technologies.
The increased awareness has also widened the marketplace, and as such made the need for planned growth at IBS more pressing.
“We need to be our own best customer,” said DelVecchio. “We’re expanding our own infrastructure along with our clients, improving remote access, taking care of our internal technology, and making sure the ever-important human aspect is being taken care of.”
Expansions to staff are inevitable, he continued, and network engineers, particularly those with Microsoft certification, are in particular demand.
This growth pattern also calls, however, for a longer look at retention as well as recruitment.
“There is generally a very high burnout ratio connected to IT,” he said. “Technology recycles every five years, self-education is imperative, and clients’ needs are endless. Three years is a normal period of time for a staff member to be with a company — this affects that company, but also its clients, who are forever being transferred to new contacts to handle their issues.”
But DelVecchio said he and his fellow owners have experienced these pressures first-hand, and treat them as a real but curable problem. They’ve put several safety nets in place, including assigning secondary contacts to every job, and approaching benefits packages creatively and in concert with employees when possible.
The ownership team alone provides for a stable base, but half of IBS’ 20-person staff has been with the company for five years or longer. Over the past two years, there’s been no turnover at all.
DelVecchio said that’s probably the best example he can give when explaining the collaborative environment at IBS, and how it is pushing the business through one of the most dynamic times in technological history.
“We transitioned from one owner — a benevolent dictatorship — to an employee group through a careful succession plan,” he said. “With Bill’s vision intact, we’ve become a successful ongoing venture; the technology changes, but the concept stays the same.”
As such, IBS’s mission persists — multiplied by five.
Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]