We asked our 3 partners 5 questions to see their point of view. (MA–Martin Albert) (CY–Chris Young) (PA–Phil Aldridge)
1. FunctionEight has been around since 2001, how has the IT industry changed during that time
MA: Quite dramatically (as you would expect from the Tech Sector.)
CY: The IT environment has changed enormously since 2001, but client requirements have remained remarkably consistent. They want to use technology to drive efficiency or competitive advantage and they want that technology to work reliably 24/7.
PA: We still need to fix the IT issues for a client whose computer is not doing what they expect it to. Whilst technology has advanced the reality is a user’s computer has gotten more complex and hence harder to support, as there are now so many variables of what can go wrong. In 2001, WiFi had only just been invented and no-one had it in their offices. Now many offices are WiFi only, with no cables. These changes have made the user interaction with their computer simpler but made the support of systems more complex.
CY: One of the biggest developments has been the shift to working from desktop to mobile and the increased requirement to cater for peoples own devices. This has really increased security risks and hugely increased the complexity of safeguarding business data.
MA: We used to deal with Blackberries, Blackberry enterprise servers, Microsoft Small Business Servers. Nobody had a smart phone, websites were individually custom built, there was no such thing as responsive, online purchase/payment systems, CMS platforms like WordPress. Honestly the list is endless. Cloud hosting didn’t exist at all on the level that it does now. Phising/virus attacks and spam email were totally nothing like they are today. Just about the only consistent thing is that Microsoft systems and generally all computing is still not sufficiently intuitive and as simple as plug-n-play so that average users can manage it all themselves. This is really I suppose the very reason that a company like F8 is still in business. Managed Service provision is still needed.
CY: Overall though our clients still rely on us to respond quickly to them when things aren’t working and provide good advice on how to use technology safely and securely to drive business performance.
2. Many business owners in Hong Kong complain that IT people are difficult to communicate with. Do you agree?
CY: I think this statement might have the same truth as with anyone trying to communicate with an employee or contractor on a topic that they find complex and difficult to understand. We make a great effort to try and recruit technical people who are good at communicating in a basic, non-IT jargon fashion with our clients.
PA: In one word, yes. Engineers are as a generalization introverts and not predisposed to being communicative with clients. That is why at F8 we try to employ engineers with good communication skills because technical knowledge can be learnt. In our industry you can never over communicate, especially when there is a client issue.
MA: haha I can honestly say that I TOTALLY agree. This is fundamentally the advantage I had in setting up F8 and not actually being a technical person myself. I’ve always described myself as the missing link between techy people and users/clients.
CY: The truth, though, is that people who have chosen to work in IT will tend to be introverted in character and communicating/interacting with people may not be something that they are hugely comfortable with. When you consider this, I would then suggest that business owners try to appreciate this and when dealing with IT staff try to factor that in to get the best out of them, like they would with any employee.
MA: Getting the message translated and communicated between parties is always the challenge. The character generally of IT geeks is to be left alone clicking away on a computer, they do not generally like human interaction. The added hurdle we have doing business in Asia is language barrier. So suddenly we have a combination of tech support people most importantly being able to communicate in at least 2 languages and being able to speak to the main bosses as well as lower level staff, whilst also being able to technically help them
3. What are your fondest memories from the FunctionEight journey that you want to share?
PA: The development and progress of employees that I have employed and managed who have subsequently gone on to bigger organisations at a higher position. It is always a pleasure when they contact me still for advice or my opinion on something. When that happens I know I did my job as their manager and mentor.
CY: The fondest memories are always the people. We have had so many amazing staff over the years who are dedicated, hardworking and have a real care for their customers and co-workers. Technically though, I remember vividly a huge disaster we had at a large law firm in Singapore. I had only been with Function 8 for a few months and a fire in the server room had set off the sprinklers resulting in a full server rack of equipment covered in soot and soaking wet. After a frantic weekend of removing all the equipment and using de-humidifiers to dry it out, everything was replaced, and all critical systems were back up and running with only about 24 hours of lost time. It was a baptism of fire, quite literally.
MA: The whole journey has been a huge experience. Some of the top moments were when we started to have early success and getting to the point of actually employing more than just 2-3 people, getting to our first HK$1mn turnover was a big time as well. But probably for me personally it was when I hit the point in time where the business could actually afford to pay me a salary as well. The simple reality is that it takes 2-3yrs for any brand-new startup business to get to the point of being certain that the business plan is going to be successful and where the principle shareholder/directors can take some of the profit out of the business.
4. How do you know if an IT provider is worth their salt? What advice can you give to a company that’s trying to compare different IT providers
MA: Well, the main mistake that most companies make is that they attempt to do direct comparison of $$ quotes for a particular service. The number of times we have had to try and explain to prospects that we need them ‘to compare apples to apples” is too many to remember. There is a lot more to being in the service industry than simply providing a service and charging for it. Companies need to be confident that their IT partner is genuinely working at all times with their best interests at heart and not just how to make the best return out of them.
PA: Check if the IT provider has your best interests at heart or theirs.
CY: Do they listen to what you expect as an outcome, or are they there to sell you what they think should be your outcome?
MA: In my opinion that boils down to direct relationships.
PA: In sales meetings, if I see a serious flaw in a potential clients infrastructure I will tell them and say that “whether or not you engage us to handle your IT for you, please ensure you get this issue resolved ASAP as it is a significant risk to your business”. Examples are backups not working, really old hardware, no documentation of passwords etc.
CY: If an IT provider can take the time at this stage to listen and have a careful dialogue on what the expectations are, you should be comfortable for the future relationship.
PA: I don’t like winning contracts because the previous IT company lost all the clients data. These issues should never happen in modern, well managed IT environments.
MA: People want to speak to people. They do not want to get into an automated answer machine line, or be issued with an issue ticket and told that they will be contacted later when it’s convenient for the service provider. They want the comfort of hearing someones voice who assures them that they are trying to do the best for them.
5. What is the next step for F8 in the long term?
MA: This is a good question. Because we are fundamentally an MSP we don’t own any specific IP, gadgets, platforms or visionary technology that is going to entice investors to pay silly money in a takeover or investment scenario. So, we are going to have to keep focused on providing better more friendly and higher quality support service on all the latest technology that our clients require for their business.
CY: I think our mission statement will remain unchanged for the next 10 years ““Diligently enable, maintain and protect customers’ data systems to consistently deliver Stress Free IT.” I think we may see a shift to more cloud-based solutions such as Office 365, Azure and AWS from on premise devices, but overall if we can deliver on our mission our business will continue to grow and thrive.
PA: We are really pushing for clients to migrate to Microsoft 365 with a good CyberSecurity Solution in place. We feel this is the future of corporate IT infrastructures where primary data storage will be cloud based with non-cloud solutions for backup or offline storage of historic data. Any company using Office 365 who has never heard of Secure Score needs to contact us to ensure their environment is secure.
MA: We have to keep a close eye on where technology moves and what is always changing. There have been times when core parts of our business income have vanished due to changes in the Tech sector, but where something goes away another opportunity opens. So, we do have to be ever changing.