I’m not sure you’ve heard, but Smart Dolphins is proactive in our approach to IT management.
What does Proactive mean?
Proactive means doing the IT work that isn’t simply in response to unexpected client needs. Sounds easy enough in theory, but in practice it is challenging to do in any significant quantities. Reactive IT work is like a black hole; Fighting technology fires will suck all available free time if you let it. It’s like quicksand. How an IT company gets out of reactive mode isn’t easy or obvious so most don’t ever truly get there even though almost all want to.
Most professionals in small-to-medium sized businesses look at their IT as an expense. IT companies are usually judged based on how quickly they can react to outages and problems, and they are often compared based on price. One of the most common questions that we are asked when meeting a new prospect is “how quickly can you get here”. Our answer? “Well, very quickly, but that’s not what we’re about. We’re about providing you with a better end result overall.”
I don’t wait for my car to be broken before I call a mechanic. By doing that, I would just end up paying more for tow truck expenses and I’d be without my vehicle unexpectedly. Talk about an inconvenience. That could also force me to miss work or an important meeting. It costs me WAY more in the long run if I simply look at my vehicle as an expense and avoid taking care of it before the problems start. By servicing my vehicle regularly, I ensure that one of the most valuable tools in my life is always available when I need it, and it’s usually running at its best.
Technology is not a whole lot different. Labour are the biggest expense in most businesses, and most people are absolutely dependent upon technology in their workplace. Your IT costs are so much more than what you pay a technology service provider. Going back to the vehicle example for a moment, the real costs here were my time and the subsequent loss of productivity for me, not to mention the extra expenses incurred by paying for things like tow trucks.
In business, your technology outages cost you your employee salaries, lost revenue, reputation, and so much more. These are your true technology costs, and what you pay your IT provider will always be minimal in comparison.
For the greater good, here’s how we have managed to do what most IT companies can’t.
Monthly Commitment to managed IT: We decided that all clients needed to make a commitment to us – we started requiring a monthly agreement. To get out of the IT death spiral, you need to invest in being proactive over the long term; we demand clients do this with us.
We didn’t hedge our bets by making the proactive model optional. I don’t believe you can promise to be truly proactive to some clients while you are still committed to some purely reactive customers. See notes above about black holes and quicksand. We used to have a lot more clients than we have now. A LOT more. This was a huge leap of faith for us.
Complete IT management: We take on full responsibility for our clients’ needs by charging fixed prices; we generally don’t charge extra when there is more reactive work to do. This aligns our incentives with our customers. Everyone wants the reactive noise to die down.
Proactive IT: We charge enough to be able to have the resources that allow us to be proactive. This is a tough one because most companies won’t pay what is necessary (especially when cheap, reactive IT service is so readily available). You have to get used to lots of people saying no thanks (or more commonly, simply not returning your calls or emails), which is not fun and doesn’t feel successful. You have to have strong belief to face all that rejection and still know you’re on the right path.
We dedicate entire Dolphins to proactive roles. Several people at Smart Dolphins get the luxury of completely ignoring the noise of all the reactive work and can focus on proactive work. This is incredibly powerful. We built our culture around being proactive. It is at the core of who we are.
Ongoing investment in tools and process: We invest heavily in tools and processes that allow us to be proactive. I have some very large invoices to prove our commitment to being proactive. I also have years of my life spent on building the “Smart Dolphins Way” with the team. Without all the points above, an IT company simply will not make the necessary investments in time, money, blood, sweat and tears into the tools and processes to be truly proactive.
In short, we have thrown ourselves at being proactive. We burned the ships and attacked the enemy (reactive work) knowing there was no turning back. We haven’t just talked about it. We didn’t just use wishful thinking. We took a leap and continue to take leap after leap. That is why I feel comfortable sharing our secret sauce with the world, including our competitors. I don’t believe any of our competitors could catch us now (but I would like them all to follow our lead).
Of course, there is still so much more we can do; in many ways, we have only just begun. Don’t measure your IT provider on how often you see them or on how quickly they respond to problems. Instead, ask them what they are doing for you to keep your business technology running smoothly in the first place. In a perfect world, you would never see your IT provider reacting to a problem; you would see them working on prevention.