A Brave, New Focus


A custom sales endeavor morphs into a growing managed-services business for the midmarket


ABS Associates, Inc. experienced growth of 25 percent in its managed help-desk and network-support business last year by targeting midmarket customers.

Started in 1982 in Rosemarie and Tom Mitchell’s basement, the company initially focused on custom computer sales and integration work. During its first decade, ABS also did computer repairs and partnered with global systems integrator Unisys, Blue Bell, Pa.

In 2000, the company launched its ABS Help service, help-desk support that allows customers to file service tickets through voice, Web, e-mail or fax. Today, about 50 percent of its clients use the service.

It was a natural evolution for ABS.

“In our repair business, we created our own software, so in one respect we were doing help-desk support really in the 1980s. Clients would call and say, ‘My printer isn’t working,’ and we’d help them fix it over the phone,” said Rosemarie Mitchell, CEO of the Rolling Meadows, Ill.-based company.

“Now, clients outsource their help desk to us, and in the Midwest we sell desk-side support, [where we dispatch] people to the client site to do installs or troubleshooting,” Mitchell said. ABS also offers consulting and network-design and -support services, as well as hosting services.

ABS partners with Serena, a business-process software company based in San Mateo, Calif., integrating Serena’s TeamTrack enterprise-process-management software into ABS Help to manage the ticket-tracking system. ABS collects information on the nature of the help-desk calls, response times and whether problems are resolved. Monthly reports are available to customers.

“I think what we’re all learning over time is that taking the call and solving the problem is really just a part of the service that we provide,” Mitchell said. “It’s also all the data that is accumulated and all the reports that we present. There is a ton of information, and our clients find it really valuable. It helps CIOs make decisions. It also shows our performance levels and how well ABS is doing.”

ABS has about 40 clients that generate about 35,000 help-desk calls per month, and its help desk can handle calls in English and Spanish.

The company found its niche in the midmarket and small-enterprise space, supporting customers with anywhere from 300 to 4,000 users.

“We need to have size and volume in order to be cost-effective, which is one of the reasons that we targeted this market. We also find that if we go after the larger accounts—10,000 users and above—companies are more apt to outsource their managed services offshore,” Mitchell said.

“What we found with the midmarket is that they really want to know that you’re nearby. If they want to drive over or take a flight over, they can see your people. They’re more hands-on. We have a lot of meetings and we really become part of their organization, so proximity is important to them. We’re flexible enough so that if they want our people at their location, we can do that,” she said.

“The midmarket seems to be looking for the kinds of things that we offer, and culture is very important,” Mitchell added. ”Our company tends to be more of a nurturing company. We believe that if our [clients] have to solve problems and take care of others, we need to take care of them.”

Customer satisfaction runs high among ABS’ clientele.

Career Education, Hoffman Estates, Ill., which operates Katharine Gibbs Schools and a host of other vocational schools throughout the country, has been an ABS Help customer since 2004.

“At the time, Career Education was a growing company, and we didn’t want to hire an additional layer of help desk,” said Chad Story, director of infrastructure services at Career Education. “The partnership between ABS and [Career Education] has been there. We continue to grow the relationship as we ask them to take on additional tasks for us.

“Now we’re working with them to create user accounts and delete user accounts,” Story said. As a public company, Career Education is responsible for showing how its network is managed, and how new hires and employee terminations are handled.

ABS employees also work on-site with Career Education’s 16 IT staffers.

“They’re good to work with, totally responsive,” Story said of ABS. “Their account team is wonderful, and the people that are there on-site are basically part of the team.”

ABS continues to hone its offerings as technology advances and the market generates a need for additional services.

“While our ABS Help is very much a lot of the way there, it’s not 100 percent of the way there,” Mitchell said. “We’re going to be redesigning ABS Help and making sure that it follows the ITIL [IT infrastructure library] framework that allows us to work with our clients on change management and problem management.

“As we become more involved in the client environment, we see different ways to help clients. We take those modules and offer them to the broader market,” she said.