‘Trusted Adviser` Moniker Isn`t ClichéBy Lawrence Walsh | Posted 2009-07-22 Email Print
End users are under tremendous pressure to cut costs and get the best pricing on technology purchases. They’re increasingly using competitive bidding at the expense of longstanding VAR relationships. But even in these cost-conscious times, the moniker “trusted adviser” still holds value when the relationship is built right.
New Mexico One Call isn’t a huge organization or one you would’ve heard about outside its home state’s civil engineering circles. But this organization of less than three dozen managerial and field operatives are responsible for ensuring public utilities aren’t damaged by contractors digging into the earth.
Prior to Dennis Woodruff's arrival in 2006, New Mexico One Call didn’t have much of an IT strategy or management. Workstations and notebooks are pretty much managed by end users after deployment. Network infrastructure was a collection of isolated technologies. The only thing the organization had going for it technology-wise was its sophisticated system of servers used for storing extensive subsurface mapping and utility information.
Improving network and workstation management was a priority for Woodruff, the company’s operations manager. Ensuring information is accessible and accurate is essential for New Mexico public safety. Any disruption in service or inaccurate information given to contractors could result in gas or power lines being cut by contractors. Even a limited outage is enough to cause state regulators to ring the phone off the hook to get answers, Woodruff says.
Woodruff knew he had infrastructure issues, but he didn’t have the expertise or in-house resources to identify and resolve those issues. That’s when he turned to Net Sciences, an Albuquerque-based network and security solution provider he found in the Yellow Pages.
"I did know what a network was and that it existed. I think we were working, but not working well," Woodruff says.
Joshua Liberman, president of Net Sciences, and his team conducted an IT assessment. They found DNS and DHCP issues, as well as a general lack of automation and management controls. Centrally managed anti-virus was running on the network perimeter, but not on workstations. And the company’s infrastructure was reliant on too few servers to run business-critical applications such as job ticketing.
"It was a real mess and there were many things to do. It was like peeling back layers of an onion," Liberman says.
Over the past three years, Net Sciences—a four-person shop including Liberman—has worked with New Mexico One Call to resolve its most critical network management and security issues, and gradually introduced new technologies to capture efficiencies and add new capabilities. New Mexico One Call now has separate servers for file and printing. It has a new server for phone and job ticketing. It upgraded from the bloated and inefficient Symantec Antivirus 9 to Symantec Endpoint Protect Small business edition. And New Mexico One Call is now using SonicWall unified threat management and e-mail security hardware on its perimeter.
"Every time he came in to fix a problem, he would find two or three more problems that needed to be resolved," says Woodruff.
"We really did just patch the walls for a while until we could do full upgrades," Liberman says. "We’ve gotten them to the 95 percentile and that give us breathing room to plan for the future."
Reviewing current operational status and planning for future IT growth is something Liberman and Woodruff do quite often. Since forming their business relationship, the two have become quite comfortable with each other, developing a level of trust to the point where Woodruff truly considers Liberman and Net Sciences his go-to IT resource.
"We don’t have many resources as a nonprofit. We don’t have an IT person. Josh has been able to fill all those squares for us," Woodruff says.
Solution providers are often called "trusted advisers" because they supposedly hold an invaluable position and mindshare with their end users. In theory, end users don’t just look to their VARs as a purchasing source, but as a virtual CIO – a person or organization that guides technology decision-making.
But calling VARs and solution providers "trusted advisers" seems somewhat cliché in the modern era, in which all organizations—regardless of size—are under tremendous budget pressures. Relationships still count in end user decision making, but end users and particularly their purchasing agents are increasingly challenging sourcing and pricing. Purchasing agents and cost-conscious executives are even taking the consultative advice of their solution providers and shopping them around to competitors for better pricing.
That’s not the case with New Mexico One Call and Net Sciences. "We’re 100 percent reliant on Net Sciences to keep us going. I know a little bit about IT, but I wouldn’t want to be the sole source," Woodruff says.
The relationship developed by Woodruff and Liberman, between New Mexico One Call and Net Sciences, just goes to show that being a trust adviser isn’t completely dead and that building trust does result in loyalty and business continuity, even in the most trying economic times.
As the IT landscape continues to evolve, end users will look to experts who can guide them through the labyrinth of converged technologies, cloud computing options, green and virtualized infrastructures, mobility solutions and new management processes. If anything, the trusted adviser will be reinvented many times over, but the foundation will remain the same -- trusted relations.
Lawrence M. Walsh is vice president and group publisher of Channel Insider. Read his research reports at [CI] Perspectives.