With Stuart Dickinson, COO of IT services provider EACS
EACS is a provider of IT solutions and managed services to mid-market private and public sector organisations. An accredited Citrix Gold Solution Advisor, Microsoft Gold Partner, NetApp Gold Partner, VMware Enterprise Solutions Provider, HPE Silver Partner and Dell Gold Solution Provider, it specialises in end user computing, infrastructure, cloud computing and systems management. In addition to its IT solutions offering, EACS provides a full spectrum of services, from ad hoc consultancy, support and training to fully managed or hosted IT systems. Where it can’t provide a solution itself, it increasingly partners with other service providers (e.g. Memset – see page 14). Technology Reseller asked COO Stuart Dickinson for his view from the channel.
Technology Reseller (TR): How’s business; better or worse than 12 months ago? And how confident are you about the future?
Stuart Dickinson (SD): Business has been great. Our core underlying business has grown over 11% and last year we secured a place on the 2019 Top 100 Cambridge Companies list, all against a backdrop of Brexit uncertainty and, now, COVID-19.
While there’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the trajectory of many businesses, we are very fortunate that as a tech company we have been using technology required to maintain business-as-usual operations for a while now. Our business has remained strong and most of our clients are treating this as the new normal and just carrying on. There is a strong sense of pulling together – we are putting a lot of effort into our communications and have genuinely helped clients continue to work. This is illustrated by the fact that the ticket volume to our desk is up 200% and our Customer Satisfaction Scores are higher than they have ever been.
That said, it is unclear what the future holds. Currently, 8% of our clients are fully furloughed – mainly from the hardest hit sectors, such as manufacturing and retail. This figure might rise over the coming weeks, but because we’re not focused on a particular sector, I don’t think we’ll be as hard hit as some.
TR: In what areas are you experiencing strongest demand?
SD: We are continuing to experience high demand across our portfolio of professional and managed IT services. Most businesses don’t have the in-house skills and knowledge needed to access and maintain the leading-edge and bespoke technology solutions they require, so it is only natural that they turn to trusted MSPs for support.
Demand for IT security has been rising rapidly over the last 12 months and with the COVID-19 pandemic we have seen a huge spike in the need for Business Continuity & Disaster Recovery (BCDR) as more people work remotely. Some companies already had good plans in place; others needed to act quickly and thankfully we were able to help, but in general a ‘hero’ mentality is not the way to deal with risk.
Considering the damage that can be caused by a weak BCDR plan, it is good to see that most of our customers now see the value of a well planned BCDR strategy.
TR: Where is business proving most difficult?
SD: COVID-19 aside, for a long time we have faced the challenge of addressing how emerging technologies will impact the mid-market – our target sector. Robotic Process Automation and automation in general have been widely adopted by larger businesses but have been slow to take off in the mid-market. We have had some success, but it is difficult to get scale in that market.
TR: How have you changed/are you changing business operations to exploit new opportunities?
SD: Delivering leading technology solutions has never been a question of ‘one-size-fits-all’, and once you become a trusted adviser to customers, they start to say ‘Can you do this; can you do that?’. We now work more closely with partners – we recently entered into an alliance with Excell, a leading provider of unified communications – so that where appropriate we can say ‘No, but we’ve got a trusted partner that can deliver that for you’. This helps to build trust with customers and opens the door to new business opportunities across a wider range of sectors.
TR: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing channel businesses today?
SD: The UK skills shortage, which we don’t know whether Brexit will make better or worse. The real challenge is not so much retaining staff as getting new, knowledgeable talent through the door. We take great pride in how hard we work to attract, keep and grow our staff, as without them we wouldn’t be where we are today. Our benefits packages have been benchmarked and up there with the best in the industry.
TR: Could vendors and distributors do more to help you overcome them? And, if so, what?
SD: As many resellers will tell you, vendors can always do more. However, we have built great relationships with partners like Microsoft, Actifo, Dark Trace and The Robotic Workforce, amongst others, to ensure we have a comprehensive offering that enables us to keep our growing portfolio of customers secure and agile.
TR: Are customers becoming more demanding, and if so, in what ways?
SD: The expectations of customers are high and getting higher, which is why it is so important to have a more collaborative approach with partners. If channel businesses can create the right solution, using the right partner for the right service, they will earn the trust of customers and strengthen their business in the long term.
TR: If you could change one aspect of your job, what would it be and why?
SD: I’d like this pandemic to be over for a start! Other than that, it would be to spend more time with customers reviewing their digital transformation strategy. This is more important than ever, in light of current events, and they will need technology to support business agility and flexible working in the future. I think there’ll be a new normal after COVID-19, and it will be up to trusted IT partners to deliver the competitive advantage that businesses need.