When Ren Giesbrecht, co-founder of Surrey, B.C.-based information-technology support-services company Gennix Consulting Inc., realized that he and his staff were spending more time travelling to see their clients than actually servicing them, he knew something had to change.
"We would get to our 86 clients every one to two weeks to provide ongoing maintenance," Mr. Giesbrecht says. "The issue was that this travel chewed up a good chunk of our schedule and we couldn't be very reactive to issues that came up suddenly."
With its resources tied up on the road, Gennix wasn't responding in a timely enough manner to client emergencies. Urgent issues were backlogged and Mr. Giesbrecht says the company lost two clients to rival IT support companies near the end of 2010, and was concerned about losing more.
Back in 1997, Mr. Giesbrecht and his wife started a small partnership doing IT support for a number of government-contracted companies. Mr. Giesbrecht had a degree in business and a decade of experience with computers, while his wife was an accountant.
Based out of Surrey as Iodea Technologies, they operated for 11 years, hiring Mr. Giesbrecht's brother for tech support and Web development.
By 2008, with a growing family, Mr. Giesbrecht and his wife were finding work-life balance increasingly difficult. "We didn't have time to take vacations and desperately needed more staff to cope with the workload," he says.
To solve this issue, the couple merged their firm with another IT support company called Novatek Networks in 2009 and named their new company Gennix, focusing on small-to-medium sized clients.
"About 40 [per cent] to 50 per cent of our business comes from medical clinics and we service a number of other small companies, including non-profits," Mr. Giesbrecht explains.
A year after the merger, Gennix found it just couldn't keep up with support requests from clients. Mr. Giesbrecht needed to find a way for the company's six employees to spend less time travelling and more time on the actual IT support aspects of their jobs.
"We needed to step up the level of service so our customers felt like we were meeting their needs, and also keep up with the competition from other IT support companies in order to thrive," Mr. Giesbrecht says.
To keep up with competitors and clients' needs in the rapidly evolving IT industry, Mr. Giesbrecht realized that Gennix would need to gain remote instant access to clients' systems, thus cutting down on physical visits.
Mr. Giesbrecht and his business partner, Erik Edge, researched numerous software solutions to provide such remote access. In the end they decided to subscribe to two software tools in May, 2011.
The first, from Auto-Task Corp., is cloud-based, time-management software that tracks all billable hours and activities of Gennix staff.
The second tool they acquired was remote-management software called GenPro Managed Services from GFI Software, which allows Gennix staff to remotely access and work on client systems.
"GenPro Managed Services allows us to monitor our clients' computer systems for potential hazards by performing server checks every 15 minutes and desktop computer checks every 30 minutes," Mr. Giesbrecht says.
"This means we can catch and solve small problems before they escalate – all without us ever having to leave the office."
The benefit of acquiring both is that they communicate with each other, Mr. Giesbrecht says. "When issues come up, GenPro reports back to Auto-Task, which then logs all activities of our technicians who work to solve them," he added.
"This way we could not only respond to our clients more quickly and easily but also track and figure out how to manage our time more efficiently."
The transition took at least six months, Mr. Giesbrecht says, but is already showing results.
For one, acquiring the tools allowed Gennix staff to considerably cut down on their travel time.
"In 2010, less than 50 per cent of our technicians' time could be considered billable to clients – with the rest going to travel. Now, their billable time has increased to 65 per cent," Mr. Giesbrecht says.
"We still go on site to call on clients, but only as needed, so our travel expenses, including the costly parking in downtown Vancouver, have dwindled."
As well, revenue is on the rise, increasing to about $800,000 for the fiscal year ended in 2012 from $780,000 in the year ended in 2011, and expected to top $1-million by the end of this calendar year.
In addition, the remote-management software, allowing the company to serve clients worldwide, now opens opportunity for global expansion, Mr. Giesbrecht says. It has already added one client in California and, since last year, has brought about 30 clients with multiple locations.
An additional benefit of reducing staff travel is that Gennix is now more office-based.
"This has been really great for team-building," Mr. Giesbrecht says. "Our staff work together and see each other a lot more often. It's hugely improved team spirit and collaborative problem-solving."
Special to The Globe and Mail
Jeff Kroeker is a lecturer in the accounting division at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia.
This is the latest in a regular series of case studies by a rotating group of business professors from across the country. They appear every Friday on theReport on Small Businesswebsite.
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