Make sure you’ve read Part 1 of this series!
Our Value Chain
In the first post in this series, I talked about some of the various things that can impact picking the right provider—in our case, we’re talking about IT providers, but most of the points would generalize to any industry. In part two, we’ll dive into IT Freedom’s Value Chain. That is, how we tie together people, tools, and processes based on our core company values to deliver our unique, world-class services.
First, our strategy is to provide comprehensive, highly personal, and highly differentiated service to our customers. To deliver that, we first need to get the right people in the right seats. That means not just people who are the top of the class in job skills (be it support, engineering, management, whatever), but they have to be human: They need to share our core values of openness, ownership, excellence, fun, and above all human service. They need to excel at the so-called soft skills of communication, courtesy, enthusiasm, and empathy.
To do that we have to be very selective in hiring, so our candidate selection is very extensive, involving multiple rounds of interviews, personality profiling, and skill testing. And once they’re on board, we also have to be very selective in retention, as well. If someone doesn’t work out, we have to be willing to cut them loose for the sake of our mission, staff, and customers. It has taken us 16 years to get where we are in this area, and I’m very proud of the position we’re in now. It’s incredibly exciting, in particular, to watch my management team in action, because each of them is amazing and ideally matched to their jobs.
The business processes we’ve developed over the years are also vital to our value proposition. By this I mean not just our direct service delivery processes – customer onboarding, recurring services, patch maintenance, on-call service, project management, etc. – but also the indirect processes in our value chain: HR, Finance, Marketing, and facilities.
Regarding HR, as I mentioned, we have a highly selective, multi-faceted, multi-stage hiring process. It includes personality profiling, behavioral interviewing, on-boarding, strict probationary periods, and well-defined corrective action and termination processes. We also have what I think is an unbeatable compensation package, including very competitive pay and unbeatable benefits. Our most recent addition to that is our employee stock ownership plan that we started in 2014 and in which everyone participates. Eventually we will be 100% employee-owned, providing everyone in the company a vested interest in our long-term success and prosperity.
On the financial side, we have strong financial controls in place, follow a strict budget process, and manage with an open book, so everyone in the company knows how we’re doing. Marketing targets our ideal customers, account management practices frequent communication, and R&D works continuously on improvements, enhancements, upgrades, and integration.
Our systems also support our value proposition. Many MSPs in our industry rely on MSP-specific software suites, which we’ve found to be expensive, unwieldy, and of limited value. Our tool approach has been to find the best-in-class software in each application area, and then integrate them. For example, we use Zendesk for trouble-ticketing, Harvest for time-tracking, Asana for project management, PagerDuty for on-call management and alerting, Asterisk for our VoIP PBX system, plus Nagios, MRTG, Smokeping, and more for network monitoring.
To tie all of these systems together and fill in the gaps, we have developed our own proprietary application called Gander. Gander stores all of our customer information, such as user info, server and network information, and so on. It gets user information from Zendesk, where it has to be created. It pushes server configuration info to Ansible for software updates and will soon push the same info to Nagios, Smokeping, and MRTG for monitoring. It has a difference engine which shows billing changes from month to month so we minimize billing errors that go into QuickBooks.
Just Get Better
Nothing is ever complete. One of our core directives is to just “get better”, so we continue to work on improvements to our value chain. Finding the right people is always a fine art, but we continue to look for ways to turn it into more of a science. We are always working to improve our training. We’re working on enhancements to our customer onboarding, We’re evaluating threat detection services to improve the security of our and our customers’ networks. We’re in the process of rolling out a new anti-virus package to replace the one we currently use. We’re looking at ways, such as leveraging co-working offices to place techs close to our customers and make our on-site service more streamlined and responsive.
There’s a lot that goes into picking the right MSP for your company, but hopefully this series of posts helped guide you in the right direction. Remember it’s not all about low cost or one specific service. Picking a company that you will work with on a constant basis takes time and thought, so make sure they not only match up with your needs but that they match up with your values and processes as well.
We’ve also compiled a good list of questions to ask a potential provider! Check those out here.