This article originally appeared in CompTIAWorld magazine’s fourth issue. Click here to view the full issue.
While traditional tech companies have always been at the forefront of using advancements within the industry to enhance their own business models, never before have we seen the tech sector being so inundated by non-tech players, the people and the companies that are ultimately dictating new paths into this increasingly demanding digital dimension. Driven by issues like data management, security and convenience, the newest expectations about how to do business are having an enormous impact on the way the business of technology is rising to meet even the toughest challenges.
Truth is, all sorts of business models in a wide range of industries are using the newest and most advanced technology solutions to compete. It’s hard to comprehend that any company interested in having a digital presence – or that even handles data in any capacity – doesn’t have an enormous stake in tech right now. The technology being created for the most essential needs of these non-tech players is carving out a much wider niche that’s being filled with smarter and ultimately more flexible solutions and training.
Here we take a look at three industry leaders who are finding smarter ways of bridging the gap between high-tech and customer service, and what all this signals for how clients will be working together in years to come.
Speaking a New Language
When a developer in Atlanta wanted to renovate a historic building into a state-of-the-art, mixed-use complex, it needed to find a way to outfit the old brick-and-mortar structure with a tech network that would be able to welcome the destination into the 21st century with plenty of room to grow. The stakes were high, but the system would become an important draw for potential tenants looking for a smart, high-speed, network-capable venue to live, work and play.
CompTIA member Onepath, a managed IT, cloud and deployed services company with offices in New England and the Southeast, did what the developer couldn’t – turn the old factory into a connected public market with office and residential units that enjoy the smartest, most advanced tech capabilities available in the industry.
MJ Shoer, director of client engagement and vCIO at Onepath, says that being able to work with clients like this from outside the tech industry, and on increasingly sophisticated tech projects, is becoming the norm.
“What it really boils down to is user experience,” he said. “The user experience is also the employee experience. It’s an internally and externally facing concept.”
Because technology has become in many ways the great enabler and equalizer in business today, something that Shoer said can give a company a competitive edge, businesses are increasingly having to decide whether they want to manage these services in house or through a provider.
Initially, Shoer admitted that being able to effectively communicate with clients that don’t necessarily talk the tech-talk was challenging. But Onepath, like many providers that are working with clients from outside the tech industry, found some common ground by rethinking the core conversation.
Ultimately, Shoer said, clients are asking, “How can I efficiently get what I need wherever that is to do my job?” They don’t necessarily need to know about the nuts and bolts to get them there – just that it’s possible to customize a solution that will deliver on the demands they have. This can vary from company to company and certainly industry to industry.
Though Shoer said there is a common ground for most businesses today – most need to manage and access data from virtually anywhere – figuring out how to get there is about as fluid as the potential solutions available to them. “It’s changed the infrastructure discussion,” Shoer said. One of the biggest decisions now is not whether to make the investment – everyone needs to make the investment if they want to survive. Rather, it’s how they do it.
To be able to effectively communicate about these core considerations, Shoer said, “Conversations [between tech companies and non-tech clients] have to be very focused on their goal and what they are trying to accomplish.” He said people in the tech industry can often take for granted what they know, which is why it’s important to ask a client a critical question upfront: If you could solve all of the problems you have today, what would that solution look like?
“Tech has enabled [companies outside of tech] to do what they do so much more effectively,” said Shoer. “The industry requires constant learning and awareness. That’s done by listening to your customers and speaking their language.”
When Every Company Is a Tech Company
When Quy “Q” Nguyen created Allyance Communications, a CompTIA member, in Irvine, California, 16 years ago, he didn’t know then that some of his most important clients would come from far outside the Silicon Valley. But as a telecom and cloud provider with clients ranging from TV Guide and Time Warner to Playboy and Zappos, he quickly learned how to make the leap.
“They are not all tech companies,” said Nguyen, “but they are bleeding edge or from industries that are constantly changing, and tech is the big driver. To that degree they all have a role in tech.”
As Allyance has evolved through the ups and downs of the dot-com boom, Nguyen has had to find new ways to communicate how even the newest, most emerging clients can manage their data. “What we sell is something that everybody needs,” Nguyen said. “Connectivity – and internet and cloud computing that connect their employees and enables their business.”
These days, Nguyen paints pictures for clients who don’t want to be burdened with highly technical jargon, but who need to see the reality of what’s at stake. “There’s millions of dollars that could be lost,” he said, if data is compromised or mismanaged. In many ways, it’s up to guys like Nguyen to drive this message home, especially to companies who may be new to the sector. A lot of this comes down to technology becoming more affordable and easier to use.
Company culture and leadership have also become important factors in determining how much or little a client is willing to invest in new technology. And in the past few years, Nguyen has seen a palpable change in the way many non-tech businesses have warmed up to solutions like the cloud and voice-over IP, solutions that used to be much harder sells. “It took a little while,” he said, “but as the technology has gotten better and the tech has advanced and security is improving, now people are adopting it very fast.”
An IT Company Within an Insurance Giant
As a health insurance company, having a robust system to handle large amounts of digital data securely is mission-critical. And at BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina (BSBSSC), James E. Taylor, who heads up information systems training, takes this very seriously. CompTIA’s robust suite of certifications is there to help.
Not only is BCBSSC the largest health insurance provider in the state, it’s responsible for processing claims for a significant percentage of the nation’s health care spending. As a result, the company now employs more IT professionals than any other firm in Columbia, South Carolina, and has become one of the largest IT employers statewide.
“We are essentially an IT company within an insurance company,” said Taylor. “These IT workers are responsible for server management, application development, network management, telecommunications and systems support.”
To keep up with the demands of having an in-house IT division with more than 2,000 employees, the information systems entry level training program (ELTP) was created to keep and attract new talent. “ELTP is our primary method used for filling entry-level positions with employees who have no prior work experience in the IT field,” he said.
But for Taylor, getting talent through the door is only the beginning. He’s also charged with making sure each IT pro is trained in one of two key tracks; infrastructure and systems support and application development. “The training portion of these tracks lasts 16 to 20 weeks depending on which track the apprentice is on,” he said. “Across all four tracks, the ELTP provides dozens of distinct courses or training events, encompassing technical skills, certification preparation, presentation, soft-skill development and team building.”
In many ways, the training module at the company is as aggressive as one might find at a two-year technical school. That’s because, without a doubt, IT is critical to the larger BCBSSC organization. As such, the insurance company has been training its staff to obtain certifications in CompTIA A+, CompTIA Security+ and CompTIA Network+.
“This rigorous process is at times stressful,” Taylor said, “but proves that each participant can learn and ultimately retain the knowledge needed to excel in their future positions. There’s also a significant sense of accomplishment after all three certifications are completed. This accomplishment translates to the work area as an ability to push through difficult tasks and strive for success in their post-training positions.”
A significant benefit of ELTP is the ability to instill a tech-driven culture into new employees. A great deal of the core system applications run in traditional mainframe environments, while computer science education leans heavily on much newer languages, such as Java and other distributed computing languages. “Often students with the programming skills we need have plenty more to learn both technically and culturally when they enter our organization,” said Taylor. “ELTP provides us with a tried and true method of getting these new employees up to speed.”
And while BCBSSC may not be thought of as a tech company within the industry itself, technology training is playing a major role in all facets of operations, particularly customer service. “Our customers count on us to uphold the trust that they have given us,” said Taylor. “Behind the scenes, it takes an organization that understands that trust and infuses it in every aspect of their jobs. It’s a culture thing.”
The Future Looks Bright
In today’s business world, it’s virtually impossible to think of a venture that doesn’t use technology in some form. Even the local beauty salon or mom-and-pop hardware store likely has a customer database and social media presence. But as more of these non-tech companies navigate an increasingly digital landscape, it’s often up to tech providers to lead the way toward greater profitability and ease of use on even the most common platforms.
The irony is that as news of data breaches and tech security lapses make headlines, the fear factor can actually have a positive impact on the way many of these companies move forward – and ultimately how much they are willing to spend and do to ensure that no matter how sophisticated or simple the system is they use, that they do so in a way that enhances their overall operations both securely and safely.Click here to learn more about how CompTIA is advancing the business of technology and get involved today.