The ‘Partnership Business’
NTS Takes Its Problem-solving Approach into the Greater Springfield Market
New Technology Systems (NTS), the East Hartford-based technology-solutions company, has always had a portion of the Western Mass. market, but never really a strong presence. Things are changing, with the opening of a new office in Monarch Place and an aggressive effort to grow market share by being visible and selling the company’s partnership-focused approach to doing business.
Barry Kelly says he had a simple, three-word set of instructions for Stan Bates as he was joining East Hartford-based New Technology Systems (NTS).
“I told him to go conquer Springfield,” said Kelly, who founded the technology-solutions company with his brother in 1981 and, until very recently, focused the vast majority of his time and energy on the Greater Hartford area. Over the years, he picked up several clients on this side of the border, but he never really made Western Mass. a strong priority.
Or, to be more precise, until Bates took on the role of business development manager for NTS and started talking up Western Mass. as a potential growth area.
“He was and is very bullish on Springfield,” said Kelly, adding that he’s giving Bates the room (a new office on the second floor of Monarch Place) and the resources to be aggressive in Greater Springfield and grow market share here.
And as he sets out to conquer Springfield, he says he’s selling the company’s full roster of products and services — hardware, software, and consulting — but what he’s actually offering to potential clients is partnerships. That’s the word he chose to describe how NTS goes about its work — with all customers, but especially the SMB (small to medium-sized business) clients, or those who don’t have an IT manager, let alone an IT department.
Describing his approach with clients and potential clients, Bates says he spends time and energy getting to understand someone’s business, and, from an IT perspective, identify their “pain points,” and reduce or eliminate them.
“I really try to think outside the box with technology and find ways to help people use technology more effectively, while also keeping their costs under control,” he explained. “We had one client who had a whole bunch of laptops that he couldn’t afford to upgrade with the recession — but he needed to do something. With the latest technology in hard drives, we were able to significantly increase the performance of his laptops, but at a fraction of the cost of upgrades. That’s what we mean by working in partnership with the client.”
Kelly and Bates say these partnerships are made stronger by the relationships NTS has forged with manufacturers, vendors, and service providers, including Microsoft, HP, IBM, Dell, Intel, Cisco Systems, and many others. Products handled include everything from copiers and printers to computer networks.
Over the past few months, NTS has hosted a number of events featuring some of these manufacturers and their latest products, and more will be scheduled. They’ve been successful, said Bates, because busy business owners often need an education in the latest products that can help them do what they do better and faster than before. What’s more, after pushing most major investments, including those in IT, to the back burner during the economic downturn, many business owners and managers are ready to spend again, or soon will be ready.
“We’re seeing things picking up somewhat … people seem to have more confidence in the economy now,” said Bates, adding that there is a lot of new technology for business owners to consider as they look at their needs and their budgets and try to determine what to do next. “Besides the new operating systems and new equipment that’s much faster and better, there’s new technology that we have to educate our clients on.”
For this issue and its focus on the technology sector, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at NTS, and why Kelly and Bates believe the timing is right for its expansion into the Springfield market.
Tracing the history of NTS, Kelly said the company got its start in the Hartford area and, like most technology-solutions companies 30 years ago, had to work hard to establish itself and grow its client list.
The venture grew largely on the strength of handling all-sized accounts, but especially the large insurance companies that give that city its identity, or ‘enterprise businesses,’ as Kelly called them. NTS still has many in its portfolio, but its bread and butter has always been small to medium-sized businesses with 100 or fewer employees.
And it is this market that Bates has essentially been hired to penetrate in the Greater Springfield area, where NTS has always had a presence — it has handled work for several enterprise businesses over the years — but not a large share of the market.
Since arriving late last year, Bates, working closely with Kelly, has expended considerable time and energy making introductions to business owners and IT managers in Western Mass., and keeping NTS visible.
For example, he secured a major role for NTS in something called the MassISS, or Massachusetts Information Security Summit, a comprehensive program outlining the state’s new information-security regulations, staged on Jan. 27.
“We brought a lot to the table for that event, and it was a major success for us,” said Bates, noting that the company was able to not only introduce itself to the business managers and IT professionals who dominated the audience, but also gain some business, on both the new security law and other matters.
The company also staged an elaborate open house in early May to mark the opening of downtown Springfield office, as well as other events to put the NTS name out and educate its target audience about what’s new in technology. However, most all of the portfolio-building work is done the old-fashioned way, said Bates, through pavement-pounding and earning the kinds of word-of-mouth referrals that bring new business to the door.
From the beginning, the company has worked with that ‘partnership’ mentality, said Kelly, as he talked about how NTS works with clients find ways to get the most out of advancing technology to work better and smarter.
And most companies need a partner to handle those assignments properly, said Kelly, noting that most very small companies don’t have a designated IT person, and even in larger businesses, IT staffs are thin, to say the least.
“You’ll have some companies with 300 employees, and they’ll have one person in IT who’s not even full-time,” he explained. “It’s pretty hard to stay on top of technology under those circumstances.”
Bates agreed, noting that companies in that category, and there are many of them, need assistance with everything from coordinating break-fix work to determining when, how, and with what to upgrade technology.
“You go in looking for the pain, saying, ‘how can I help this customer?’” he said. “Then you work the problem and essentially try to make that pain go away.”
Elaborating, Bates and Kelly said company representatives work with a company’s managers and IT directors to first identify and quantify problems, and then generate solutions. The key to successful outcomes, they said, is asking the right questions, listening carefully to the answers, and creating solutions that serve the client, not the company selling products.
“We try to get the C-level, where we can help those managers lower the cost of technology, or to the IT directors themselves, who might need a little bit of a helping hand getting their network to the next level,” said Bates. “And we approach things with the mindset of forging a long-term relationship.”
Kelly concurred, and said that a client’s representatives will have one eye on managing and reducing costs, and the other on efficiency and optimizing the technology that’s on the market. NTS works on both sides of the equation.
“IT people are all about performance, while the C-level folks are focused on dollars and cents — if it’s going to save them money, on power or cooling, for example, they’re all about that,” said Kelly. “As for the IT people, if you’re solving problems that are keeping them up at night, that’s huge.”
While helping the tech people sleep better, NTS is focused on educating clients and prospective clients about new technology, how it works, and how it can help companies with everything from sales to marketing.
“Things like digital signage,” said Bates, referring to the LCD, LED, plasma displays, or projected images that are becoming more commonplace. “People are aware of the technology, but many don’t know how they can take advantage of it. I have five or six potential clients coming in to meet with us and some professionals on that subject who will be teaching them the pros and cons of digital signage.”
The company also staged informational events like one on May 13 at the Sheraton in Springfield, where attendees were briefed on Windows 7 and learned about HP business-notebook innovations and HP client virtualization, and it has more planned, said Bates, adding that these are true win-win-win scenarios. Clients and potential clients benefit from the education they’re receiving in new technology, while NTS and the manufacturers involved gain exposure and business.
Keys to Success
Time will tell how Bates fares with his assignment to “go conquer Springfield.” For now, both he and Kelly are confident that NTS has the products, services, track record, and excellent timing needed to accomplish that mission.
And as it goes about that work, the company will take the same approach that it does with clients and that process of eliminating pain: in short, NTS is in this for the long haul.
George O’Brien can be reached
at [email protected]