Secrets Of The Tech Elite2:30 PM EST Fri. Feb. 18, 2011
When a Fortune 75 insurance company was looking for a solution provider to lead the charge on an ambitious $12 million private cloud project, it turned to Tech Elite superstar GreenPages Technology Solutions of Kittery, Maine.
Tech Elite solution providers such as GreenPages, featured in our first annual Tech Elite 250 list, are the technology equivalent of the Navy Seals, the Green Berets and Special Forces all rolled into one. GreenPages, which uses the tagline “Consulting. Engineering. Integration,” provided end-to-end architecture, integration and operational support for the insurance company’s complex cloud engagement.
Paul Brady, the former senior director of information technology for the Fortune 75 insurance company, said leveraging a partner such as GreenPages (VMware’s 2010 U.S. Solution Provider of the Year) was critical in delivering a private cloud that ultimately reduced the time it takes to provision a server from 42 days to an amazing 26 minutes.
GreenPages provided the “vendor-agnostic, cross-vendor” expertise necessary to reduce the high risk that comes with such a technology project, said Brady. GreenPages’ solution architects, who are well versed in multiple technologies, were critical to the project’s success, he added.
GreenPages, Brady said, prevented the perennial technology “gotchas” that can take down a complex technology solution -- especially a project that spans multiple technologies and vendors.
“We transferred all the headaches of managing the complexity and multiple vendors to GreenPages,” he said. “I don’t think there are a lot of solution providers that could do what they did.”
Brady said he regularly recommends GreenPages to colleagues in a technology bind. “Unsolicited, I have recommended them to other companies,” he said. “Not because they asked me to. And that’s the best kind of customer advocacy: when someone advocates on your behalf without you asking them to.”
Tech Elite solution providers such as GreenPages are characterized by their unique solutions methodology, the highest-tier, multiple vendor certifications, and a heavy services and software IQ that spans the full IT spectrum from desktop to server to storage and security. All of it pays off in the ability to deliver best-in-class, high-business-impact results for clients. The Tech Elite superstars have invested in both the strategic services offerings and the product certifications to deliver a new era of technology solutions.
The Tech Elite have paid a heavy price to take the technology high ground, investing more per capita in sales and engineering talent than their competitors.
GreenPages CTO John Ross said 50 percent of his technical team has multiple certifications, with 100 percent of his sales and engineering team holding a VMware certification. That kind of training requires a huge investment in technical education -- GreenPages’ training budget comes in at a whopping $275,000 per year.
“We pride ourselves on getting the right solution for the customer,” Ross said. “People often confuse solutions with products. We go in and make sure we are clear on the business results that the customer wants and then we define the technologies. Most VARs start with a manufacturer and try to back-end a deal. We are going in the other direction, which is defining the business goals first and then finding vendors that support those goals and results.”
Ron Dupler, GreenPages’ CEO, who won VMware’s Partner Executive MVP Award this year, said the company has made a $10 million investment with big bets on virtualization and cloud computing to become a Tech Elite solution provider. “Everything we do as a company is aimed at driving customers toward the new paradigm,” he said. “It’s a journey to virtualize IT infrastructure and bring customers to the cloud.”
GreenPages has moved from being a product-oriented reseller to a strategic technology consultant and professional services company, said Dupler. “We have an environment where great technology people want to work,” he said. “That really is our product.”
NEXT: ICI: Pushing The Technology Envelope
ICI: Pushing The Technology Envelope
Jamie Shepard, executive vice president of technology solutions for International Computerware Inc. (ICI), a Marlborough, Mass., Tech Elite company, said what separates ICI from the rest of the channel pack is its ability to “take risks” that allow clients to get the most out of technology. He urges his engineers, some of the most prized in the country, to be willing to “fail” by pushing the technology envelope. It’s no mistake that the company’s CTO, Brad Maltz, is one of only 50 VMware VCDX certified engineers in the country (18 of them, by the way, work at VMware).
The ICI technology culture is, to put it mildly, intense. The company, which prides itself on its technical superiority, has its own rock-and-roll anthem -- Fort Minor’s “Remember The Name” -- to remind employees and customers alike that there is no other solution provider with its caliber of technical talent and its nCubed methodology, a solution model that provides an innovative “Now-Next-Nirvana” IT assessment.
ICI also has what it calls a demilitarized zone (DMZ), a local bar in Marlborough outfitted with wireless where its engineers and consultants go to get away from the distractions of the office and get 100 percent focused on driving technology breakthroughs.
Shepard said there are very few engineers that can pass muster with ICI -- what he calls the “oldest startup” in the computer industry. “Every six months we are evolving, constantly moving forward,” he said of the 25-year-old company, which started as a pure technology consultant and added products to its portfolio in 2005, last year winning EMC’s highest global services award.
“It is extremely difficult to find engineers with the technical acumen that can handle that type of evolution,” said Shepard. “We need good soldiers that can constantly adapt and adjust to new technology.”
NEXT: INX: Better Business Impact With Lower Risk
INX: Better Business Impact With Lower Risk
Mark Hilz, president and CEO of INX, a Dallas-based solution provider with a Texas-size list of industry awards, credits the company’s Strategic Delivery Framework (SDF), which guarantees better business impact with lower risk, for his company’s Tech Elite status.
It’s not just a marketing slogan. Clients consistently praise INX for solutions that deliver game-changing business results with a 100 percent on-time and on-budget track record. One of the secrets to that success rate is a complete systems architecture focus rather than a piecemeal product focus, said Hilz.
“We’re looking at an architectural approach, not just a point solution,” he said. “That may take a little longer and it can be frustrating to some vendor sales organizations. But once they see the results they become committed to the process as well.”
INX’s enterprise consulting group provides pure business consulting focused on how technology can “improve business operations” for customers, he said. INX is, in effect, bringing the same kind of high-level strategic consulting to the enterprise market that consulting giant McKinsey & Company has made somewhat of a management science at Fortune 1000 companies. Those INX consulting engagements can run six figures before a technology product is put in place, said Hilz.
Andrew Cadwell, senior vice president of sales and field operations at INX and the driving force behind SDF, said it is not uncommon for INX to have to go in and clean up the IT mess of a competitor. “That’s the advantage of having business consultants and an architecture that is core to the customer’s business,” said Cadwell. “Customers are betting big on technical architectures. We have to make sure those bets pay off. You can’t do that with just an engineering organization or a sales force. You need a business consulting layer.”
NEXT: AdvizeX Technologies: Customers For Life
AdvizeX Technologies: Customers For Life
AdvizeX Technologies, Independence, Ohio, has used its technical superiority to add 200 new customers a year to its client roster for the past several years.
Customers flock to AdvizeX because they value the company’s best-of-breed, vendor-agnostic solutions methodology. “We make sure that we understand the business requirements and then figure out what is the right solution for the customer,” said John Brier, vice president of technology solutions at AdvizeX. “We listen to the customer and then come up with the solution that maximizes business value.”
That best-of-breed technology offering runs the gamut with top-tier certifications from the likes of SAP, VMware, HP, EMC, Cisco, Microsoft, Mimosa and 10-plus years of experience with Oracle databases.
AdvizeX’s technology muscle helped one top consumer packaged goods company integrate an Oracle-SAP environment that had flummoxed the company’s internal IT staff. The solution provider implemented a cutting-edge virtual desktop environment that won raves from the customer.
AdvizeX, which walked away with VMware’s Infrastructure Virtualization Competency Partner of the Year in the U.S. this year, has invested millions of dollars in its solution methodology. In fact, the company has created its own patent-pending AdvizeX tool to help capture best practices of its elite staff, which holds some 750 vendor certifications across 140 engineering and sales employees.
Once customers come to rely on AdvizeX as trusted technology advisers, they become what the company calls “Customers For Life.” Its customer retention rate is close to 100 percent. AdvizeX President and CEO Fred Traversi presses that “Customer For Life” advantage hard and personally calls on any customer that decides to look elsewhere for technology solutions.
“Fred is maniacal about it,” said Brier. “We lost only four customers last year. Usually it’s a pricing issue because of the economy. And even then we maintain the relationship and more often than not get that customer back.”
NEXT: Force 3: Strong Consulting Focus Leads To Technology Breakthroughs
Force 3: Strong Consulting Focus Leads To Technology Breakthroughs
Force 3, a Crofton, Md., solution provider that has won Cisco’s Federal Security Partner of the Year for four consecutive years, earned its Tech Elite status by investing heavily in a “value” sales methodology that has resulted in dramatic technology breakthroughs for clients.
Force 3’s “four-legged” sales model puts a presales engineer on the front end of every customer engagement. That has powered the company from a product reseller to a customer-focused business-problem-solver.
Force 3, for example, used its value methodology to deliver an Active Defense Platform (ADP) application to solve a thorny network security riddle for one customer. That ADP application, which provides “cross-platform intelligence sharing” to thwart network attacks, has gotten the attention of Cisco and large national systems integrators.
Force 3 also has been singled out by VMware for creating a “reference architecture” for virtual desktops using VMware View, making Force 3 a go-to partner in one of the hottest emerging markets.
“Customer success is what we are all about now,” said Sudhir Verma, senior director of consulting services at Force 3. “It’s all about how we can help the customer. We have a 100 percent deeper relationship with the customer now.” That has resulted in a 20 percent to 30 percent increase in average deal size and huge sales gains.
Force 3 has tripled the number of engineers on its data center team and is now attracting some of the brightest minds in the business. “We have more top [technical] talent knocking on our door,” said Verma. “We’ve become a destination for the best engineers.”
Nexus Information Systems: Seeing The Technology Future
Nexus Information Systems, Minnetonka, Minn., has a knack for identifying game-changing technology shifts before they happen and then making sure its clients get big-bang business impact from those technology transitions.
In fact, Nexus customers have come to rely on the solution provider for delivering unmatched IT innovation with a 100 percent success rate. Nexus employs a “proof-of-concept” model with its own multimillion-dollar technology lab and a mobile demo-lab on wheels that it brings right to the customer site to head off technology trouble spots.
“Our clients want people that know more because they don’t want to make a mistake,” said Nexus CEO Dan Evans. “Mistakes are always expensive. There are so many different technology combinations, and if you get one product wrong it screws up the whole solution.”
Keith Norbie, vice president of sales and vendor management at Nexus, said having multivendor capabilities is critical. “The danger in being single-threaded with one vendor is you don’t really serve the client, you serve the vendor,” he said. “That’s like a doctor single-threading one drug or treatment option for every patient.”
Evans said he is proudest of the fact that the company has “stayed grounded” and maintained its sharp focus on taking care of clients and employees. In fact, he goes to great lengths to make sure that the company expresses how much clients and employees are appreciated. Nexus holds an annual customer appreciation event, and any employee that hits the 10-year mark is treated to a Caribbean cruise. “Without our clients and employees, we have nothing,” he said. “That is the
reason we are here.”