Michael Birman CEO and Head Technologist of Eyes Everywhere I.T

Meet Michael Birman – IT struggles for small businesses during Covid-19

First of all, how are you and your team doing in these COVID-19 times?

Very busy.  But being busy keeps us sane during these tough times and, thankfully, employed.

Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined this company?

Started out working full-time in IT, moving up in responsibilities and roles as I got more experience.  When at one point it was time for a new job, I considered continuing with full-time employment in an organization or taking up an opportunity that came up to become an independent IT consultant.

At that point, I reflected on all the frustrations I’ve seen while working in large corporate IT departments, where the technicians were either forced into or lazily adopted a reactive approach to IT, causing more problems for the organization.  This frustrated me, and many of the better techs who worked there, from a professional and ethical point of view.

The frustrating feeling of being powerless to fix a broken IT system in a large corporation convinced me that to make a difference for companies with this problematic IT approach, I have a better chance of doing this by becoming an independent IT consultant.  You see, being reactive in tech support has never been the proper approach.  Not from a long-term monetary perspective, nor from a security perspective (which holds true now more than ever, what with news of new hacked companies becoming so regular that it’s almost background noise nowadays).  Proactive is the name of the game in information technology for any respectable IT company and is the best approach to reduce downtime, drastically reduce the chances of being hacked or for data compromise, and keep the systems running as optimally as possible.

How does your company innovate?

We constantly look for new technologies that would help our clients be more productive and secure.  Be it by keeping their systems optimized and lowering their downtime, or by looking for new ways to secure their systems and data, or simply by improving their processes and saving them money.  In addition, keeping abreast of trends and threats in the IT world helps us stay ahead of the wave, and prevent problems and security issues, rather than putting out fires.  We are not firemen after all.

How the Coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?

There is a lot more work.

As our clients’ staff transitioned to working from home, our workload more than doubled for a time.  It’s not just about setting up a Remote Desktop connection to the office and poof-you’re done.  Remote Desktop (RDP) on its own plants a big sign on the internet saying “hackers, try to get in through here”.  To do things properly and securely means securing the home computers, dealing with VPNs (and with the number of employees switching to remote work, sometimes upgrading firewalls), and more.  A lot of work.

After the initial craziness of switching everyone to working remotely, now we also find ourselves monitoring more computers (the employees’ home machines, as well as their work machines), VPN connections, problems with clients’ employees’ home networks, etc.  Again, a lot more work.  Unpaid work, as we are not raising the clients’ rates to make up for the increased number of supported systems.  Just one of the ways we are trying to help our clients during these trying times.

Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?

During Covid-19, we had to work a lot more hours (twice as many hours than normal on some weeks).  Because of the uncertainty, I was reluctant to increase staffing (will Covid-19 remote working conditions end in a month?  3 months? 6?), and will we need to let the newly-hired people go after the pandemic subsides and our clients go back to working at the office (seemingly a few months at the time)?  Yes, in retrospect, we are now in the second year of Covid-19 working conditions, so we would have benefitted from a few extra techs manning the walls, but hindsight is 20-20.

Thankfully, we were able to handle all the extra work and came out stronger as a company.  I can also see the dedication of my staff and am proud of them.  Our clients also see that.

What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?

A lot of remote management and monitoring tools, which tell us of looming problems before they become issues that affect the clients’ work.  Yes, it means more work for us (not to mention more money spent on said tools), but this is the right way to do IT support.

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

There are a lot of IT companies out there.  Many are phenomenal at what they do, and we have the pleasure of working with some of those on occasion.

Unfortunately, many of the IT firms out there are about the bottom line, so they go for the reactive approach I mentioned and cut corners.

They won’t proactively secure the systems, they won’t constantly monitor for looming issues, and as a result, will be able to quote lower prices upfront.  These companies are outbidding the good companies who do more work to do things properly because their big paydays will come later when things break or when there are breaches that need to be addressed.

Another way many companies out there save money is the type of support technicians they have: more often than not, they will have high ratios of new grads and junior techs, with more-experienced staff being the exception than the rule, meaning that troubleshooting is an escalation-style process that takes a long time.

How do we stay in the game?  Being proactive (can’t say that enough), and having high technician-to-client ratios (and said techs are all senior-level techs).  Clients that have grown tired of constant issues and/or lengthy troubleshooting processes come to us.  Although our rates may be higher than some of our competitors, our results, happy clients, client referrals and multiple awards speak for themselves.

Your Final Thoughts

Proper IT support with a good managed services provider may cost more upfront, but in the long term saves money, headaches, business disruption, and greatly reduces the probability of security breaches, virus/malware infestations, ransomware, and data theft.  The IT providers out there that provide seemingly cheap solutions that neglect ongoing maintenance, patching and monitoring are not only doing themselves a disservice by damaging their reputation but more importantly causing harm to their clients by providing bad advice.

There is a reason why Eyes Everywhere IT Consulting is one of the top IT providers in the Toronto and GTA region now (as recognized by several consumer-based rating companies), and that reason is the way we do things and how we treat our customers.

Covid-19 difficulties or not, proper IT support and a proper IT infrastructure (be it with a server at the office or cloud) provide a secure, flexible platform that can weather any storm.  With Covid-19, our workload may increase, but we will all get through this…stronger than ever.

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