It is often said it takes a village to raise a child, and indeed it’s true that no one individual can provide all the inputs necessary to take an adorable babbling infant and turn them into an upstanding functioning citizen. Doctors are needed to look after their health and survival, teachers are responsible for leading the charge on their cognitive development; friends and extended family members are there to teach them about relationships, and share with them the bittersweet lessons learnt on the winding streets of life: trust, betrayal, loyalty, hate, loss, and love.
Imagine for a moment the nuclear family as a small-to-medium sized business. Would we not think it ludicrous to expect parents alone to provide for every aspect of a child’s life? Of course we would, and we would be right to advise them to outsource; to send their children to school, sign them up to a football team, take them to the hospital when they're sick. So why is it then, that when it comes to actual SMBs, most still feel the need to bring in-house every function required to produce an upstanding functioning business?
This case study looks at the benefits a trusted managed IT services provider like Advantage can bring to SMBs in the U.K. By looking at the work already done for one of our clients, Gourmet Candy Company, we will show how outsourcing your IT function to the right provider can level the playing field for your business and give you the opportunity to grow like never before.
Bring in the experts
Whether it’s your IT function, payroll, recruitment or design, outsourcing provides SMBs with many revenue building benefits, here are our top five:
- Managing capital costs: A quick win that you can take to your CFO, outsourcing allows you to turn a fixed cost – such as employing a permanent team – into a variable cost. Savings made from reducing your capital costs means more money spent on revenue-driving projects.
- Save time: Hiring a team in-house to run a project or getting existing staff to split their attention between ‘business-as-usual’ tasks and project work is time-consuming and costly. Where it might take you months of recruitment to hire the right team and even longer to train them so they can do the job effectively, a managed services provider is able to hit the ground running day one and complete the project with speed and ease.
- Punch above your weight: It’s a big and scary world out there and at times it can feel like taking on the big dogs is near impossible, however, when you outsource certain functions, you’re able to ‘act big’ by accessing the expertise, efficiencies and economies of scale most big firms use to get ahead. Suddenly those Dobermans start looking more like corgis.
- Achievable challenges: When you outsource a function, you’re putting it in the hands of a team filled with experience; your ‘once in a blue moon’ challenge is a managed services provider’s every day. This means issues you might initially think are make or break suddenly have manageable, actionable fixes for them.
- You get to be you: Lawyers should be lawyering and accountants accounting, whatever your core business is, outsourcing complicated yet peripheral functions helps you focus the limited time your employees have on doing what they do best – delivering the service your customers are paying for. Don’t let a lack of knowledge, experience or adequate resources be the thing that holds your business back from success.
I want candy
For over 20 years, the makers of Mr Stanley’s Classic Confectionery and other loved chocolates and sweets – Gourmet Candy Company (GCC) – have been at the forefront of luxury confectionery, with products distributed and stocked by multiple retailers across 20 countries.
Back in 2005, GCC planned an ambitious expansion designed to grow their business further. They relocated their offices to a new premise in North London and were on the lookout for an experienced IT managed services provider that could support their in-house IT team while they focused on growing.
The company was using Dynamics GP as their ERP software and up until our involvement, an in-house team was looking after their IT. Paul Hillman, the owner of GCC, knew that if he wanted his expansion to work, he would need to get some outside help. Paul explains, “I had already decided to outsource manufacturing and distribution, as my research indicated that adopting this model would benefit my business in the long-term and allow me to grow. If I wanted that growth to continue, however, I knew I would need the right IT infrastructure in place to support it.” After a carefully considered RFP process, Advantage was brought in to help.
It all starts with an audit
As Christo Van Zyl, Advantage Managed Services Director points out, our approach at Advantage isn’t one filled with generic solutions or rehashed material, rather we like taking the time to get to know your business intimately and coming up with solutions that are right for you: “When Paul approached Advantage with his plans for expansion, I knew straight away that there were key areas where we could help him out, however, as we do with all new clients, we needed to know exactly what was under the hood before we started giving any recommendations.”
IT audits are absolutely essential for making sure your business gets the medication it needs, rather than the one your provider wants to give. If you have to remind your provider to conduct an audit, alarm bells should start to ring. IT audits focus on four key things: they evaluate the systems and processes your business has in place to keep company data secure, they look for any inefficiencies in IT systems and management processes, they test whether information management processes are compliant with specific laws, standards and industry best-practice, and they evaluate a business’ data integrity and highlight any risks a company might be exposed to and how they can go about mitigating those risks.
Upon completion of our audit for GCC we found three critical areas that needed to improve:
- Overspending on IT: As difficult a conversation as it was to have, GCC were in no position to grow any more than they already had as a result of the amount of money they were already spending on an in-house IT team that was only barely coping with current demands. Any additional uplift in activity would have resulted in either the in-house team not being able to perform their role effectively at all or a major investment in additional IT staffing, the cost of which would seriously compromise the benefits of growing in the first place.
Not only was Advantage able to provide GCC with end-to-end IT management, including unlimited Dynamics GP and IT support, we were also able to comfortably cope with the increased demands expansion placed on the IT infrastructure for a fraction of the cost of what GCC was already paying their in-house IT team.
- Poor data backup processes: Data, data, data – that’s all that matters these days. The information your business holds, from financial records to employee information through to customer records, legal records and everything in between is of the utmost importance, and making sure that data is secure and backed-up properly is absolutely critical to a business’ ability to grow and maintain its financial health. As Christo states, “I have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to backups. Losing data can have serious consequences for a business. In 2012, it cost Amazon.com $66,240 (circa. £49K) a minute for 30 minutes of downtime.”
What we found with GCC is typical of most SMBs: over the years they’ve purchased several different backup products with various different vendors and each business function has developed its own particular way of doing back-ups, some more ad-hoc than others. This is an incredibly inefficient and dangerous way of managing your data and makes it almost impossible to implement a functional disaster recovery strategy. The first thing we focused on when we started working with GCC was to make sure they had a robust data backup process that was centralised, secure, compliant with legislative requirements and most importantly could be safeguarded by an always ready to deploy disaster recovery plan.
- No SQL support for ERP: Here is perhaps one of the strongest rationales for having your IT with a provider that does ERP, CRM and Managed Services all in one.
GCC had purchased their Dynamics GP solution through another provider, and their IT team – who did not specialise in Dynamics GP – assumed that the company who provided them with GP was doing regular backups, meanwhile, the GP provider assumed the same of GCC’s IT team, each team thought the other was doing regular SQL backups when in fact no ERP SQL backups were being done at all! How does the saying about assumptions go again?
Needless to say, as soon as we brought this finding to GCC they immediately moved their Dynamics GP across to us. Having no SQL support for your ERP solution is a serious risk, not only in regards to the information you are losing and the valuable insights you are letting slip by but also in regards to compliance and auditing. There is simply no excuse for your right hand not knowing what the left is doing, having an IT partner that can provide you with a 360-degree view of your business is absolutely essential if you want scalability and sustainable growth.
What’s next for GCC & Advantage?
A decade of working together has allowed GCC and Advantage to develop a strong personal and professional relationship, “We’re like an extended family,” says Christo when asked about the relationship, “I’m just as invested in seeing Paul’s business succeed as I am seeing Advantage succeed. Our goals are completely aligned and the years together have allowed us to develop an honest and open relationship.”
Paul too recognises the benefits of forming a long-term strategic partnership with a provider that’s always willing to go above and beyond, “The past 10 years with Advantage have been great. We’ve rarely had any issues and Christo and his team are a real pleasure to work with. More than anything though, it’s the peace-of-mind that I enjoy. I like that I don’t have to stress about any of this ‘IT stuff’ because Christo and the team are always up-to-date with the latest trends and when I need to know something, they let me know well ahead of time.”
Always looking to improve and empower our clients, next year Christo and his team will be doing more work for GCC, migrating the business to an Azure cloud server and also installing Office 365. “The work we’ll be completing for GCC will take the company to the next level” states Christo, “Office 365 will empower Paul and his team with the tools they need to be productive anywhere, anytime on any device. Azure will be the platform that supports all of this.”
“I’m looking forward to our next decade together,” says Paul, “We’ve been able to do such great work already, I’m excited to see where we can go from here.”
If you’d like to know more about how Christo and his team can take your business to the next level talk to us today.
Words by Camilo Lascano Tribin