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How OST Elevated Customer Experience By Going All-In On Services

‘I stand before you really proud of the pivot that we’ve made from a services-centric perspective,’ says OST President and CEO Meredith Bronk. ‘We have fundamentally changed our business in the last few years.’

OST had been reselling hardware from IBM, Sun Microsystems and HP for well over a decade when then-COO Meredith Bronk came across an alarming prediction.

IT research firm Gartner projected in 2014 that 90 percent of all technology spend would come from the line of business by 2020, and Bronk knew that Grand Rapids, Mich.-based OST, No. 134 on the 2019 CRN Solution Provider 500, would need to dramatically pivot its business toward services to appeal to these new buyers.

So just a year after Bronk took over as CEO, she made the highly unusual move of acquiring a human-centered design firm to serve as a foundation of OST’s burgeoning services practice. Under Bronk’s tutelage, OST has rolled out services capabilities around everything from design, application development and cloud to analytics, IoT and infrastructure.

[Related: Open Systems Technologies' IoT University Is Open For Business -- And Employees Are The Students]

“I stand before you really proud of the pivot that we’ve made from a services-centric perspective,” Bronk told attendees Tuesday at the 2019 Best of Breed (BoB) Conference, hosted by CRN parent The Channel Company. “We have fundamentally changed our business in the last few years.”

Bronk leaned heavily on OST’s design team when it came to getting the physicians at one health care customer to adopt the new virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) technology that was being implemented. OST’s design team effectively branded the experience for physicians by focusing on reducing the number of clicks they need to make when in the room with patients gathering health information.

“When we talk about experience and we talk about behavior and we talk about line of business, you have to figure out how to do that translation,” said Bronk, who is also OST’s president.

The evolution of OST’s business toward services has come with some challenges, Bronk said, particularly as it relates to leaving traditional buyers behind as the company ran toward new buyers. OST’s business wavered as some of its customers got left behind, Bronk said, with the firm becoming less focus on selling hardware and software and doing less new account acquisition than in the past.

Bronk said leaving traditional buyers on the sideline during the transition is the biggest thing she wishes she would have handled differently in her five years leading OST. And OST’s efforts to service different customers with different levels of market maturity created a bifurcated internal organization within the company, according to Bronk.

“We’ve lost some good people because we couldn’t get out of our way. We made it too damn complicated,” Bronk said. “But, at the end of the day, I’m proud of the move that we’ve made.”

As a result of OST’s services-centric shift, Bronk said the company has needed to make significant adjustments to how it operates. The company has therefore changed its organizational structure, altered its compensation incentives, and hired new sales and marketing leaders, according to Bronk.

The personnel impact of OST’s evolution is apparent, with the company’s 260-person staff currently including 23 designers as well as 65 application developers and delivery leads, Bronk said. And from a top-line perspective, Bronk said OST has since 2015 grown its managed services business by 268 percent and its transformation services business by 126 percent.

“We think differently and present ourselves differently to our customers,” Bronk said “We’re doing the hard work of connecting what we think is our value to what our customers find valuable.”

Locknet, an EO Johnson Company, has put a lot of time and energy into improving the client expertise, but often finds itself hitting a brick wall due to a lack of in-house training and expertise, according to Director of Sales Kris Kilgard. OST is the first MSP Kilgard’s ever heard of to buy a design firm, and he can understand the appeal of the idea.

Kilgard said the Eden Prairie, Minn.-based solution provider really needs to live and breathe client focus every day, and he’s interested in building out a committee of people within Locknet who want to build out design services and improve the experience for customers.

“It really needs to be in everything we do,” Kilgard.

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