Managed Services Superstar Computex Is Saving Businesses With Its Brainware For The Cloud Era
When Hurricane Harvey ripped through Texas last year, Wholesome Sweeteners Chief Financial Officer Patty Moses was left reeling with a corporate headquarters that was severely damaged and her own home under four feet of water.
The hurricane couldn't have come at a worse time, given that Wholesome Sweeteners was in the process of closing out its fiscal year.
With corporate headquarters offline, Moses turned to her trusted IT managed services partner, Houston-based Computex Technology Solutions, to keep the $200 million company and its 75 employees up and running.
Fortunately, Moses said her company had made a big bet six years ago on Computex as its one-stop, end-to-end IT infrastructure and managed services provider from desktop devices and help desk to VoIP and data center services.
Computex, in fact, provided a safe haven for Wholesome Sweeteners employees who were able to operate out of Computex's state-of-the-art Houston Solutions Center with raised floors and a working space for customers in the case of an emergency like Hurricane Harvey.
Wholesome Sweeteners employees have been working out of the Houston Solutions Center for the past six months as one of the benefits of its managed services agreement with Computex.
"Computex made their own space available to us and got us set up so the company could come in and work there," said Moses in an interview from the Houston Solutions Center. "They were a huge lifesaver. I don't know of any company that could do what Computex did for us."
Moses said what separated Computex from other IT service providers the company evaluated was its ability to offer a complete end-to-end outsourced IT offering for Wholesome Sweeteners. "I was looking for a company that could handle all of our needs from phone and internet to network and help desk," she said. "Computex was the only one we could find that could be that one-stop shop for us. Bringing them on board as a partner was a great decision."
Brainware For The Cloud Era
Computex, for its part, regards its blend of super smart solution architects and engineers and its services team manning state-of-the-art managed services centers as its own brand of brainware. That brainware is responsible for keeping 115 managed services customers of all sizes up and running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Computex likes to say it focuses on IT so its customers can focus on business.
Computex CEO Frank Vitagliano, who recently celebrated his first anniversary at the helm, has taken that Computex Brainware and put it on steroids with a slew of new managed services offerings including managed security with advanced end point protection and full threat hunting and mitigation and a managed public cloud offering that includes disaster recovery as a service with Microsoft Azure.
Next week, Vitagliano and the Computex team will celebrate the new expanded managed services portfolio at its first annual Accelerate sales kickoff. The two-day conference for Computex customers will feature keynotes by Vitagliano, Computex Chief Technology Officer Worth Davis, Computex Vice President of Cloud and Cybersecurity Faisal Bhutto and Computex Senior Vice President of Sales Matthew Brennan along with key executives from Cisco, Aruba and Cylance.
Vitagliano said Accelerate is an opportunity for the company to shine the spotlight on its brainware talent and its ability to act as a digital transformation catalyst for businesses.
"When you look at the talent that we have in our data center practice, there is no solution provider our size who is better positioned in the market," said Vitagliano."Oftentimes when we whiteboard the possibilities for customers, a new service gets built by our team. That is really powerful. It's pretty cool. Customers feel really good about that. They know we are connected directly to them not just as an entity they bought a pre-determined set of managed services from. We are not just monitoring their networks. We are their all-purpose solution provider."
The central nervous system of that managed services effort is the Houston Solutions Center that powers all of the company's cloud services. No small matter given that relatively few MSPs of Computex's size have built out their own state-of-the-art hosting facility/data center. It's the kind of facility that has every bit of the technology muscle of some of the largest technology service providers in the world, but with a high-touch, customer model base.
The Houston Solutions Center facility – which is backed up by a Minneapolis 24/7/365 data center facility – is the lifeline for multiyear managed services customers with up-to-the-minute data, storage, VoIP, internet services and network monitoring and management feeds that provide real-time feedback on customer IT operations.
The Houston Solutions Center is a state-of-the-art suspended data center with blastproof Kevlar walls, bulletproof glass and workspaces for clients impacted by an outage. The facility even includes sleeping accommodations, shower and laundry facilities. That facility – one of the company's crown jewels -- was a lifesaver of sorts for businesses like Wholesome Sweeteners that were able to keep up and running without missing a beat after Hurricane Harvey.
"That facility provides us a huge competitive advantage," said Vitagliano. "Customers love it. It differentiates us. Most solution providers of our size couldn't make this kind of investment. It would be hard for anyone in our market segment to provide the complete and total package of services that we have. We manage it all."
As for passing technology muster, the network operations center has received the most rigorous data center certifications including SOC and SSAE-16. But Computex is most proud of its Cisco Gold Triple Master with certifications in collaboration, cloud and security. That certification is carried by less than 50 partners in the country.
Bhutto, one of the driving forces behind Computex's growing managed services footprint, saidthe Houston data center's biggest asset is the company's top technical and services talent. That high-touch Computex-badged employee managed services model is no small matter given how frequently some solution providers use third parties.
"We don't outsource," said Bhutto. "We have found that we can deliver the highest-quality product and most innovation by having our own folks – not depending on a third party. We have a been a 24/7, 365-days-a-year shop for the last eight years. Our promise to customers is service delivery, uptime and customer satisfaction."
Among the company's most popular cloud-powered services are managed infrastructure (full 24/7 management, monitoring and remediation of compute, storage, virtualization, firewalls, routers, switches, wireless) and managed security (full 24/7 management monitoring and remediation of endpoint protection, managed firewall, secure email, data encryption, mobile device management and application monitoring).
Computex also provides voice, video, collaboration and call center, managed internet service provider, hosted wireless, Infrastructure-as-a-Service, off-site backup and disaster recovery with hybrid cloud support.
Bhutto said the company is particularly proud of its status as a Lit Fibre provider – owning and maintaining all of its own data center equipment with connections to multiple providers including Comcast, Level 3 and AT&T. Most MSPs do not have the Lit Fibre capability – preventing them from providing a single bill for an end-to-end comprehensive services offering including the connection to the internet.
"We are the trusted true service provider for our customers with MPLS, Ethernet and a variety of connectivity so our customers can get consumption-based cloud services directly from us," said Bhutto. "At the customer location there is nothing but a switch and it is all managed and monitored by Computex-badged employees."
That Lit Fibre status with the ability to drive the fastest, most reliable and most economical bandwidth has also opened the door to solutions innovation, said Bhutto. "It is very unique how we can leverage our service provider business to innovate," he said. "We are architecting solutions for customers that can be piloted on our managed services network."
Managed Services Momentum
That ability to innovate combined with the company's services excellence is paying off. The company's monthly recurring revenue run rate was up 14 percent in 2017, and overall services revenue grew 29 percent for the year.
The average Computex managed services contract is now 5.9 years old with 11 services subscriptions at a growth rate of 156 percent in sales growth, totaling $1.4 million in services over the full period of the contract. "We are very heavily engaged helping those customers digitally transform their business" said Vitagliano.
Midsize companies in particular are finding it more economical to pay for computing on a per-seat basis, leaving the infrastructure services to solution providers like Computex so they can accelerate digital transformation.
One Computex customer, which started as a help desk client, has tripled its managed services spending with the company over the last several years, moving its entire VoIP and virtualized workstation infrastructure to Computex. "That's a testament to our managed services capability," said Bhutto. "The story just keeps on building and building and building. We have many customers like that."
The classic Computex midmarket client is looking for a "Total Care" managed services offering that includes hosted VoIP and desktop services, said Bhutto. "They don't want to own any IT," he said. "They are not in the business of IT."
Key to the growth in that midmarket segment is Computex's highly disciplined services methodology, which includes a quarterly executive review meeting with detailed insight into the client's IT operations and a customer advocate representative. "We are proactively improving their IT operations with our methodology," said Bhutto. "You can't just buy a tool to make this happen. It is in our DNA and culture. If you don't have the people that adhere to these standards and understand the discipline it takes, it won't happen."
That discipline has more and more CEOs, CFOs and business owners looking to Computex to run their IT operations."Nobody is asking anymore whether they should be moving to managed or hosted services," said Bhutto. "That battle has been fought and won. Now it is a matter of what can be moved -- all of it or a portion of it? We are seeing a lot of action even in the 1,000-plus customer level with a lot of conversations with C-level executives."
High Marks For Customer Service
Those C-level executives that make the managed services move are giving Computex – which provides clients with a custom web portal that gives them real-time insight into their services requests -- high marks. Computex, in fact, surveys customers after every service engagement. In the most recent survey, the customer satisfaction survey rating was 96 percent, up from 91 percent in 2016.
Jennifer Cansler, director of cloud and managed services operations, said the high scores are a direct result of Computex's "high-touch" services model. "Customers are able to call someone who knows who they are and what's important to them," she said, sitting before the huge screens representing client networks. That includes routers, switches and bandwidth utilization, as well as and service alerts and activity. "We make sure we have the right people and processes and meet the SLAs. We are in the fray with the client. If what we are doing doesn't work, we figure out another way to do it."
That "out-of-the-box" services mentality has led to an increasing number of custom services. One of the keys to the company's ability to successfully deliver those services is an an "action board" focused on monitoring and resolving specific client activity. "A lot of how we think and how we formulate services is based on customer feedback," she said.
The high-touch managed services model has paid off time and time again for Computex customers. Ten years ago, when Hurricane Ike knocked out and flooded facilities in the Houston market two Computex managed services customers with about 100 employees moved into the Houston Solution Centers. When Harvey hit, the Houston Solution Center once again was saving customers from what would have been certain failure given the damage from the storm.
"What differentiates us is we provide our customers with everything they need from IT strategy to execution with managed and hosted services from the endpoint to the cloud," said Bhutto. "When customers are evaluating managed service providers, they are forced to piece-meal solutions with two or three providers. With us, they get it all. It is all our assets from people to facilities to technology. It is Computex only. We own it all. We control the complete customer experience. We can change it and be flexible."
That ability to remove the complexity of IT as companies race to digitally transform their businesses has proved to be a major competitive advantage for Computex customers. Those customers are no longer grappling with multiple technology vendors. "We are providing customers with everything they need including private cloud and the ability to connect to public clouds like Azure and Amazon Web Services," said Bhutto.
The barrage of security breaches wreaking havoc on businesses of all sizes has more and more customers looking to Computex to ensure end-to-end security and compliance. "Customers are looking for someone to help them navigate the maze of security products out there," said Bhutto. "Security is the most fragmented and complex area for customers. Our managed security offerings make it simple for customers to pick best-of-breed security solutions that we manage end to end. There is a huge demand for this."
At the same time it has stepped up its security managed services, Computex is now offering more public cloud options including a managed disaster recovery service on Microsoft Azure. "We are allowing customers to take advantage of the hype-rscale that Microsoft has created and then layering it with our own managed services and technical talent," said Bhutto.
Vitagliano said the breadth and depth of the company's managed services offerings combined with its world-class solution centers are driving a new era of growth for the $150 million Computex. "I feel really good about where we are in this market," he said. "We are providing the consulting, managed services and also the traditional product acquisition and deployment. We are extraordinarily well positioned. Customers consistently tell me they don't want to be in the IT business. They know they can count on us to manage their IT operations in a world where IT is becoming more and more complex with the Internet of Things, cloud and security. There are very few solution providers in the country who can do what we do."
Wholesome Sweeteners' Moses, for her part, said she will be forever grateful for the services provided by Computex in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which claimed the lives of 103 people in Texas and damaged 700 businesses and 48,700 homes in the state.
"There were a lot of companies that were displaced," said Moses. "We didn't have to worry about finding a place. Computex got us all hooked up. When we moved in we had no idea we would be here for so long. I cannot imagine another service provider that would have bent over backward like Computex did to help us and continue to help us. It has been really amazing."
As far as Moses is concerned, the lesson from Hurricane Harvey is for businesses is to make sure they have a one-stop, end-to-end IT service provider like Computex. "They do it all for us," she said. "They host everything, back it all up. That is incredibly important. We don't have our own in-house IT. I am in charge of IT for the company, but it is not my forte. I am an accountant. Having Computex handle all of that for us means I don't have to spend time worrying about IT. It allows me to focus on the business, being profitable and making money without having to handle the day-to-day details of IT infrastructure."
At this point, Moses is searching for a new facility for Wholesome Sweeteners. "What Computex did for us was allow us to continue our business without a financial disruption," she said. "They made space for our employees and even our auditors. We were able to get our books closed, finish the fiscal year out and continue to process orders. Everyone at Computex has been amazing."