The pace of technological change has been the dominant theme of this millennium.
Even a decade ago, the pinnacle of consumer technology now seems downright quaint: A TiVo in the living room, a tower computer with an AOL connection in the den, a GPS that plugs into a vehicle’s cigarette lighter, and perhaps a Nokia cell phone or two shared among family members. Today, those are all museum pieces. For businesses, the story is no different. Computers have moved from the periphery—optional, a support role—to the center—something necessary, the indispensable nervous system of the economy. As a result, the standard by which an IT department or IT strategy is measured, regardless of the industry, cannot simply be the swiftness by which problems are resolved. To succeed in today’s environment, a company’s IT component must play a strategic role. Rather than operating out of a fear of falling behind or making decisions in reactive, non-cohesive way whenever a new trend emerges, a company’s IT arm should be making strategic moves to help advance the company toward achieving its larger goals more effectively.
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Many companies don’t have the in-house expertise or capital to devote to such an endeavor. Companies like Synoptek, which has about a dozen offices around the country and four in Colorado, have built an industry into providing robust IT services to those companies. Synoptek has been a managed service provider for two decades. In the most simple terms, Synoptek provides companies that don’t have an in-house IT department with a sophisticated group of experienced IT professionals, complete with a virtual chief technology officer (CTO). Mike Bank is Synoptek’s vice president for sales and marketing. When explaining what Synoptek does, Bank said it’s important to know what Synoptek doesn’t do. “We’re not a broker. We provide the services ourselves. Our core focus is to make a concerted effort to become more of a consultancy than a service provider.” Synoptek doesn’t resell any particular hardware or software. They’re agnostic. When Synoptek addresses any customer need, they’re considering every option available.
Basic services constitute a large majority of Synoptek’s revenue, but Bank said that the basic services market is becoming commoditized. When someone wants to hire an IT services company simply to fix computers when problems pop up, it’s a simple matter of providing that service at the lowest cost. So Synoptek offers something more: “If we don’t provide leadership, act as a client’s virtual CTO, we just become commoditized, too.”
Synoptek has clients in a variety of business sectors, including health care, legal firms, financial services, energy, government, and more. The size of Synoptek’s clients ranges from those with 100 full-time employees to about 5,000. Companies that face high levels of compliance and regulatory requirements—tasks that involve processing and moving large amounts of data—tend to be ideal partners with companies like Synoptek. “We believe that organizations for whom IT is not their specialty, they should lean to an organization that is financially stable, that has done this for 20 years,” Bank said. “Service is the easy side. Guidance is where we see our value.”
The kind of IT guidance Bank is referring to is transformative. Bank said that regardless of industry, “every single customer has a current state and a future state.” Almost every customer Synoptek works with is trying to implement some significant change within the company. It’s rarely about only improving IT services, and it’s rarely about simply reducing costs. Companies might be trying to transform their business model or scale their current model up to reach a bigger market. Whatever the case at hand involves, Synoptek personnel first seek to understand that underlying business motivation before moving on to assess how various IT solutions can help build that bridge to the desired future state.
Synoptek’s two decades of success are partially due to understanding the people side of IT, not just the technical. In the midsize organizations Synoptek deals with most, Bank said an average of 5.4 individuals make the bulk of all business decisions. These people tend to share the same four core concerns, regardless of their industry or area of management: Risk management, industry compliance, protecting human capital from diverting from their core business purposes, and cost control. Synoptek identifies those decisionmakers and assesses how IT might be helping or hindering those common concerns.
Leading the way each time is a “virtual CTO” that Synoptek assigns to each client and potential client. These people don’t work in sales, and they aren’t commissioned. They serve as a single point person whose job it is to learn about the company. In addition to assessing an organization’s current state and needs, this person acts as a strategic consultant, one who Bank said “looks out for trends or threats to the customer in order to advise on change.” Digital threats might not be a top priority for many small and midsize companies, and Bank said he understands why their risk tolerances are high. However, if a company has valuable data of any kind, including personal information from customers, all it takes is one bad actor (or, increasingly, an automated threat) out of thousands from across the world to inflict costly, lasting damage. Motivation for breaching company computers isn’t always straightforward: Hackers sometimes aren’t after anything other than a challenge. Managing these threats can be a daunting task for a company that can’t devote major resources to staff in-house IT security experts.
As options multiply, become more complex, and become intertwined, navigating the ever-emerging digital landscape is a task most companies don’t want to deal with. But they can’t avoid it, either. If selecting an outside company to assist makes sense, the choice then becomes whether to hire someone to set up and fix computers or whether to hire a company that will help guide a company reach the future it’s aiming for.