PCR talks to Matt Barton of Devon-based Ostrich IT about how he got out of the corporate sphere to go it alone as a managed service provider….
When was the company founded?
Ostrich IT as it is has been going for about seven years. In the current guise it’s been going for three and a half years.
And how did it come to be founded?
Well, I’ve worked in the IT industry for most of my life and it came to a point where I decided against working in the corporate world and left to found a consultancy. And it’s grown from there really.
What kind of consultancy?
I come from a managed services background, so I used the skills I learned in the larger market – I worked for the likes of Coca Cola, London Underground, that sort of thing – and put them in place for smaller businesses. So it was a case of taking what was known as outsourcing at the time and applying it to the smaller market.
What spurred you to go it alone?
Initially, selfishness. I’d been working in IT for about ten years. I was always one of those people who are on call at the weekends, and like many people in IT I got called upon at all sort of hours to deal with all sorts of issues. Eventually I did get to a point where I felt I needed a break.
So I went to my employer asking to work flexi-time three days a week. That was denied but they did have an offer – that if I handed in my notice for a longer period then I could work those hours. So I took them up on that, and from that point on I became self-employed. From there we grew the business and took on staff until Ostrich became what it is today.
You mentioned an earlier guise of the business, what’s the difference between then and now?
We’ve gone through three iterations of the business. We originally lived in Staffordshire and then when we moved we sold our clients to another local organisation and more or less shut down the business. We took some time out, spent some time with the family and then we relocated to the South West and started up again.
We were really just a consultancy providing advice and guidance to local authorities on business and IT. But then we evolved the support side of the business up separately, which is where the opportunity part came in. We’ve just grown that side of the organisation.
How exactly have you grown the company in its latest iteration?
Organic growth, really. Word of mouth. We have some long standing fantastic clients, who have recommended us to their own clients as they’ve grown. We’ve expanded through the usual ‘getting to know people’ route – networking and so on. All the usual routes a small business takes to try and get more clients, no matter what background they’re from.
So, just to clarify, what exactly is it you offer?
The core offering is that we’re a managed service provider. The business is built around providing the remote support side of it – the whole idea of the ethos is that we can provide support to any organisation and to any company no matter where they are in the UK.
So that’s our core offering. We’ve also moved, like most other organisations, in to the hosted services sector, so we provide cloud solutions as well. Such a wonderful buzzword!
So you deal with people across the country? Was it always the plan to have this nationwide reach?
Yeah, we never wanted to restrict ourselves to any one area. At the end of the day, we know we can provide any of our services to any client no matter where they are.
We have some fantastic arrangements with other support organisations across the UK, so for those clients we have a support contract with, we can either dispatch one of our own engineers, or we can dispatch one of our partners who can act as an Ostrich engineer.
The whole idea is that we can provide these services at a great level but still have the local presence.
Are these relationships something that you’ve arranged or is it done through a trade body?
No, it’s something we’ve agreed on a one-to-one basis. We are a part of CompTIA, in fact we’re the first company in the UK to gain both the new UK Business Trustmark and the Accredit UK accreditations, and we also get around to other more local groups.
So we know a few people and we can get recommendations from looking at what they do for other organisations. As long as we know and we trust what the other party’s engineers are like, then we’ll go ahead and do work together.
Do you think these kind of mutual relationships are part of a growing trend in the channel?
Absolutely. It helps everyone. It helps the end client because they have the expertise nearby and maybe even lowers costs as well. We benefit because we have greater reach to the clients and our partners benefit because they have an extra revenue stream.
So have you changed your business model in any way over time?
Well, no. I came from a managed services background so that’s always been the way we operate. We’re not one of these organisations that’s had a shop front or had engineers going out to fix issues when they arise – we’ve always based our model on a subscription basis.
So from that point of view, we’ve seen more organisations offer the same sort of service we do, but when we started the process ten years ago, we were quite unique in the marketplace.
How do you see things developing in the future?
Future-wise, we’re likely to see more consolidation. You see it now, really, where you have IT organisations who are aimed at serving medical or school, we’re seeing more and more companies being less of a generalist and more of a specialist.
So what would you say is the one rule you live by?
The one rule for us is to gauge the client properly. At the end of the day, what we do isn’t suitable for everybody, so you need to be sure that you’re helping the client grow their business and vice-versa.
Managed services don’t work for everybody, because not everybody sees the benefit of pro-activeness. So work with your clients to help them reach their goals and in turn they’ll help you reach your goals.
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