In today’s age, technology is growing faster than anyone can possibly follow. With new, more efficient ways to do things and faster connections to the world around us, technology is the industry to follow. Recently, executives representing technology firms in Nevada met at the law offices of Holland & Hart in Las Vegas to discuss some of the issues they face.
Connie Brennan, publisher of Nevada Business Magazine, served as moderator for the event. These monthly meetings are designed to bring leaders together to discuss issues pertinent to their industries. Following is a condensed version of the roundtable discussion.
How has the economy affected the technology industry?
Frank Yoder, Advanced Information Systems: Because of this recession, a lot of companies are obviously tightening their belt and watching those dollars. The impact the economy has had on us is that there has to be a proven return on investment (ROI). You have to prove that it’s justified to spend the money; otherwise, it just isn’t going to get approved. When you go through these kinds of times and everyone comes out of the recession, they say they need to upgrade because they’ve held off for years, but they need to see justification. Everybody’s still running financially scared. Coming out of this recession, I believe ROI will be the motivating factor for a lot of new projects.
Tim Boyle, IP Advantage: It becomes a bit of a challenge sometimes. But, because times are tough right now, people are insisting that the legwork be done and that there really is a proven return on investment.
Mike McGhee, Anexeon: The other thing that’s really interesting is when you were chasing a large account there was always a conversation about viability. After all, General Motors went bankrupt. I have less of an issue with the viability question than I ever did before. There isn’t anybody that can say they’re too big to fail in our industry. It’s really an interesting thing in the sales cycle. It seems like more companies are willing to work with smaller organizations as a result and have some different ideas than necessarily putting all their eggs in one basket.
Frank Yoder: [Our clients] want to do more with less money and that’s really the sign of the times, the recession. They have to cut back on staff and so they expect technology to fill that gap. In a way, that has helped our industry, the fact that we’re going through this tough time because people look to technology to solve the problem.
Nathan Whittacre, Stimulus Technologies: I’m finding that people are investing [in new technology], but I think they’re looking at making sure that what they are investing in is going to improve their business and make it more efficient and productive. They’re not just going to replace desktops because we replace them very two or three years and that’s what we do. They’re going to keep the desktops or servers going as long as possible. But, if there is a reason they need to upgrade, they’ll invest in it. There’s got to be a good business case for any decision.
Frank Yoder: We’ve seen an uptake in some of our customers coming back to us saying that is what we have and I know we’re not using it fully. A lot of our customers have bought technology in the past and they’ve utilized 10, 20 or 50 percent of it. Now they’re coming back to us saying how can we get better use out of this? We’re excited about it because we’ve gone to them and said, if you just spend a few more dollars on this already large investment, you can actually get a lot of benefit out of it. They’ve made an investment and now they’re going to get the full value out of it. So, that’s good.
Boyle: One of the easiest ways to sell something right now is to include training.
What kind of relationship do you have with your clients?
McGhee: To us it’s more like a doctor/patient relationship. Medical science is as much of an art as it is a science. Information Technology can be that way also. It’s a trust relationship. If our client’s having a problem, they come to us, we diagnose it, we recommend a treatment and, as much as possible, have a certainty of outcome. We’re rock stars when things work and we’re the guys that need to get it fixed regardless when they don’t.
Boyle: Another tricky aspect is, we’re not a certified profession. We’re not licensed plumbers or electricians. Really the only credentials we honestly have are success and experience. The reality is, there’s thousands of kids that used to be the two-person IT organization or operation that just don’t understand what is necessary to run an enterprise.
Should there be certification?
Whittacre: There’s a lot of discussion on that. I would be completely for it because I find that you get somebody that says, “I built a few computers, I can take care of a corporate network.” That’s really not the case. It would be very interesting to see some type of certification.
McGhee: We make a big investment in that today. My engineers are certified in security and networking engineering. We do spend the time and energy credentialing our employees as it makes sense in our business model. With respect to a government-sponsored certification or something like that, I think it’s completely unnecessary. I just don’t think we need the certified public accountant version of IT because it’s much more diverse and broad. If anything, it would slow down innovation in our industry. The types of credentialing we have today are fine.
How difficult is it to find talent?
McGhee: Recruiting is always an issue in an industry that people can take a really strong skill set and move around. Most of my core employees have been with us forever. They have been with me for the last 20 years. So, I’ve still got a core group of people to work with. But, turnover in a technical field is always difficult to fill with the right people. Mostly, are technical skills are baseline. It’s all about organizational and leadership skills, soft skills for our employees. They’re working with customers hand in hand every day and that’s the big deal. Can they communicate? Can they understand customer service? Those are the things we look for. Everything else we can teach.
Mike Yoder, Technology Business Alliance of Nevada: In spite of the fact that there are definitely a lot more people looking for work right now, the highly skilled and really good technicians never got let go. So, you still have a real thin layer at the top level. As far as companies that can go out and hire guys that don’t have a lot of experience, there is a big problem with that with companies who aren’t IT savvy. They can be easily fooled by the kid who comes in and says, “I built all these cool things and I can do this for you in half the time of a big company.” I don’t know how many times we’ve had to go in and correct those situations. Most of your larger organizations understand that and they don’t take those types of risks.
McGhee: You get what you pay for.
Mike Yoder: Right, but smaller mom and pop type organizations, they’re the ones who are at most risk and most often are the ones who end up in trouble because of that situation.
How much of a concern is security with your clients?
Whittacre: I spend a bit of time talking to my customers about security. It’s actually something that I’ve been really pushing the last few months because it’s a huge issue. We’re finding a lot of companies in the past have invested a bit here and a bit there in security but it’s not well-managed. It’s really easy to show every week there’s security breaches that come out of huge corporations. What would happen if this information got out? What are you doing to protect it? What’s your exposure cost to losing that much information? Especially in the medical world, as more and more systems are going virtual and online, it’s a huge problem. Small businesses, in the past, haven’t thought about it as much as they should have. There are simple things that can seriously help with security. It’s got to be managed.
McGhee: There needs to be an awareness level of threats. The fallacy is that there’s a technology solution to all the security problems. That’s false. People are your biggest threats. The best controls in the world are only as good as the people behind them. Most of our efforts are trying to get an organization to think like that. The rest of it follows. The other thing is, you’re a service provider, as an IT Provider. We’re put in that trust relationship, but that’s a two way street. People are very leery about trusting their most important assets to people that don’t necessarily work for them. What we have to do is ensure that our staff and our processes and procedures are transparent and accountable so a customer can rely on us.
How should managers protect their businesses?
McGhee: Understand who has access to what. Do you know who has access to your information and why they have access to it? If you can’t answer that question without a bunch of technology speak behind it, you have a very big risk profile for disclosure and perhaps other shenanigans in your computing environment. Go more secure and with a process, grant access. Rather than, the other way where everything is wide open and try to figure out who has access. Ask yourself some questions: Does everybody have passwords? Are they changed regularly? Do you know who has remote access into your network or your assets? What do you do if an employee is terminated or moved? Does the security profile for a change in your organization follow that change with your technology? Those are very important questions. Have a healthy sense of paranoia about your security.
Mike Yoder: Typically, in a smaller organization, the IT is handled by a small group of individuals, sometimes just one person. That person’s job security is oftentimes based on how he is perceived within the company. Him saying, we’re secured and locked down doesn’t mean that you’re secured and locked down. It’s worth the money to bring someone else in to do an assessment on your organization. If you have data that needs to be secure, you don’t want to rely on one employee.
Boyle: That really should be part of an operating budget, an assessment.
How is cloud computing affecting technology?
McGhee: It’s a very big movement in our industry. The idea is to create a predictable, well performing lower cost set of computing resources. That works well in concept, however, you start to run into issues of practicality. Many of our customers like to be able to put their hands on the box. Whether you know it or not, you do give up some level of control and accountability.
Whittacre: A lot of people are using it and don’t even know it. A Gmail account, Google Docs or even Facebook could be considered cloud computing. People are using this technology every day and there is a huge broad definition to it.
McGhee: On a ground level, in you own a business, you have some investment in infrastructure. The cloud computing movement is to shift some of that into what’s supposed to be more efficient, reliable and accessible.
Boyle: In a practical sense, we used to have is a desktop. Then, we slowly moved to laptops. Now, I do 70 percent of my business on my phone. How is that possible? Well, I’ve moved more and more of the requirements of the technology off the device. The device has become how you interact with the solutions.
Whittacre: Google has been a real big push for this technology. Google’s idea is that they have all those extra servers in the Internet and in the cloud and you don’t have to buy all that equipment. If you have a business of people working out of their houses or internationally, rather than having a server host it, it could be all done through these online collaboration tools. It’s making business a lot easier. Companies are getting to be much more mobile and cloud computing is making it possible to be much more mobile without having to develop huge infrastructure inside a small business.
Frank Yoder: It’s also called software as a service. Now you buy Office, you take it home and install it. Well, in the future, you’ll simply go onto the Microsoft site and you’ll bring up Word or Excel and you’ll be using their software on their server and you never install anything on your PC. That means your PC now becomes nothing but an input/output device.