XCEL Professional Services Ltd.
January 13, 2014 Issue
The Most Powerful Name In Corporate News and Information
Cost Effective IT Solutions and Supplementary Services
XCEL Professional Services Ltd.
cost effective IT solutions to the Calgary and Edmonton business markets.
Although we are fascinated by new technology, we hold the best interests of
our clients at heart. We believe in delivering the right solution to
clients, not the one that will make us the most profit. We are leaders
amongst IT Companies in Calgary and Edmonton.
Moving on as a consultant at a Calgary based technology firm for nearly three years Colin moved from Senior Technical Analyst, to Project Manager, to Service/Operations Manager with a staff of 20 IT Professionals reporting directly to him. At this firm, Colin engineered and implemented a technology solution which was awarded a national Microsoft Impact Award as the Small Business Specialist of the Year.
His years of technical experience combined with an innate business savvy, and true passion to help businesses succeed through the use of technology has led to the creation and ongoing success of XCEL Professional Services.
Colin also sits
on the Board of Directors for the following businesses and groups in a
technology and business advisory role: Generations of Hope, Passportal.
XCEL Professional Services Ltd.
Calgary, AB T2P 3E5, Canada
Interview conducted by: Lynn Fosse, Senior Editor, CEOCFO Magazine, Published – January 13, 2014
CEOCFO: Mr. Knox, what is the focus at XCEL Professional Services Ltd.?
Mr. Knox: The focus of XCEL is really to be a high-service managed service provider or outsourced IT department with supplementary services available on the professional services or projects side in IT.
CEOCFO: Would you explain how high service works on a day-to-day basis?
Mr. Knox: We have a very close touch point with our clients, and we drive many operational processes through compensation, performance metrics, KPI, and everything around client satisfaction for our technical team. We compensate our team based on the client satisfaction ratings that they get, and on their achievement of SLA response times to make sure that our clients are always receiving fast and excellent support and service from our company.
CEOCFO: Would you give us an example of how you go above and beyond in support or in service? What is something that other companies might not do that would illustrate this commitment?
Mr. Knox: I would say that in several of our accounts we have monthly IT strategy meetings with our clients. We ensure that we are very close on the pulse of what is happening with their business, both in their own business operation growth as well as on the IT side of things.We find out what their impression is of our services, what we have we noticed reviewing reports on a regular basis, and we are always being the company that reaches out to them. We never send a communication out to our client and then leave it until they get back to us. We have automated escalation and workflows built into the technology that we use, which will prompt both our clients and our technicians in house when something has sat without response for too long so that we can always be driving that. We understand that our clients are busy running their businesses and busy with their day-to-day tasks, so we make sure that our systems are always reminding everybody if we are waiting on them or what we might be waiting for them to do, and if there is anything we can do to assist in help speeding up the process. That is really what it comes down to.
CEOCFO: XCELworks with the oil and gas industry, which would be natural for Calgary. Are there other industries of focus for you?
Mr. Knox: We are quite heavy into the construction industry in Calgary and have an office in Edmonton now as well. We do a decent amount in the transportation industry as well right now.
CEOCFO: How do you reach potential clients?
Mr. Knox: Through a variety of efforts. We participate in community events such as sponsoring charity galas, through the typical marketing that any other company might be doing such as search engine optimization, constant newsletters, going out and networking, participating in the community and beyond all, giving excellent service to our clients so that we get referrals onto other acquaintances of theirs.
CEOCFO: When you are focusing on specific industries, there tends to be a lot more of that word of mouth. Have you found that to be so?
Mr. Knox: In some industries, yes, and in others it is a little bit tight-lipped. Some industries are quite competitive, like the construction industry, for instance where any leg up over the competition is an advantage and something they want to keep private. In those cases, we need to make sure that our marketing is angled toward that and we are approaching companies of interest in those markets so that they are aware of us and what we are able to do for them and what our level of expertise is.
CEOCFO: Do many of your clients take advantage of the full range of your services?
Mr. Knox: Nearly all of them do. Nearly all of them have completely outsourced their IT department to us. There are a select few that use us for supplementary services or would use us at maybe a lower-level service. We may do just help-desk services for a client, which allows them to get financial benefit out of that while still maintaining some in-house IT resources. Some other clients will have a complete IT department, but utilize us for certain projects on the expertise that we have or to provide overall consulting and advisement on IT strategic direction or budgeting, planning and things of that nature.
CEOCFO: What do most people misunderstand about IT today?
Mr. Knox: One of the biggest things that people still dismiss is the requirement of security these days in IT. With most people, they assume that if they are a small business or not a business that is in the media all the time or on the news, that they are not a target. The fact is that everybody is a target. Most people are not directly targeted because of who they are but because of the pain that a hacker or malicious cybercriminal could cause them by deleting their data, taking down their systems, or selling their corporate data off. A lot of the criminals know the value of data these days, which is why there are a lot of laws and rules around privacy protection and security of information. A lot of businesses today still dismiss security as a big concern. People also tend to believe too much about what they read about what the cloud can do for their business. The cloud can be very beneficial to a number of companies. For most companies however, when leveraged the right way, it is not always the right decision for a company. People come to us and think that they need to be purely in the cloud because that is what they have read somewhere or something that they have understood from someone else. They really do not consider or have not done the research to understand what all the costs are, what their total cost of ownership would be, or what their return on investment would be as opposed to purchasing their own equipment and maybe putting it in a co-location facility where they get all of the same time, benefits, and security. However, they have the potential to grow two-fold, three-fold or ten-fold on their initial investment instead of having that investment unpredictable and growing continually with no end sight on the payments.
CEOCFO: Do your clients take your advice for the most part? Do they understand that you have their best interest at heart?
Mr. Knox: For the most part, I would say yes. Especially with the clients that we have dealt with for a considerable amount of time, they have realized exceptional benefits through the suggestions and recommendations that we have made. With other businesses where we are new to them, sometimes a business has been burned in the past by other IT companies that try to sell them well beyond anything that they need or undercut what they actually need just to get the deal. With those, we really tread carefully. We provide excellent business-case scenarios for those clients so that they understand what it is we are talking about. In most cases, we try to arrange an opportunity for them to trial the technology that we are talking about or demonstrate it to them so that they can really get an understanding. It really does not seem to take long with our track record to really prove to our clients that we do have their best interest at heart, and that anything we do propose or suggest to them is for their better benefit.
CEOCFO: Are there services that you would like to add?
Mr. Knox: There are a few services that we are working on putting together right now that we can start to offer out to our clients, and there are other services that we are considering. Over all, the suite of what we provide right now is fairly comprehensive. It is a matter of really selling that and developing the markets that we are in right now.
CEOCFO: When you are evaluating new technologies, how do you know what is going to be something you should incorporate and what is likely to fall by the wayside?
Mr. Knox: I guess it is difficult. It is kind of like an investor investing in a myriad of companies and trying to guess which ones will be something big and which ones will not. We stay fairly in-tune with what is going on in the technology world and what is out there. When something of interest does seem to come up, we will bring it in, play around with it, and see how it could really affect a client. We might even try it with a couple of clients at a very low cost to see how it works for them and use that as a test. A lot of times, it is interesting the way things have worked. About a year and a half ago, we started talking to a number of our clients about mobile device management and being able to properly and remotely secure and manage their corporate mobile phones or even their employees’ phones that they bring in and use for corporate use. We talked about controlling the applications, being able to support those better, secure them down, and overall just manage them. There was zero interest in it from anybody, so we tabled it, and over the last six months we have had nearly every client come back approaching us and saying they remember us talking about it and want to know more. We bring it up with them, then explain it, and it has been just about 100% sale rate now that everybody just gets the purpose of it. It took some time for it to click with them or for other things in the world to happen before they really realized what the benefit is of it.
CEOCFO: What are the intangibles that you look for in your staff?
Mr. Knox: The first thing we look at whenever we are doing hires is the person. We check their personality, we see how they present themselves, what their natural behaviors are like, and the number one thing is that they are a fit within our corporate culture. We are a very fun-loving and upbeat culture, and we want to make sure we bring people on who are going to fit in with that so that there are no waves within the team and they as individuals are not ostracized by the group in any way. Personality is the first thing that we look at to make sure that it is a person who definitely fits within our organization. We want to see things like people having a sense of humor, people having a level of confidence and comfort in speaking, people who are a little bit of a extrovert but not too much of that. We are still a company that, by most understandings, the more that we are on site, the more that people think we cost. We do not want people that sit there and talk somebody’s ear off all the time about what is going on in their life non-stop. We want people who can fit the relationship with our clients and the users at our clients, so that when it comes down to it, they build that trust with us, and it is just a better feeling of confidence that we can do what they need us to. That is the first thing. Technical skill does come in to play, and we want to make sure that we are bringing on skilled and qualified people, but it is not the number one thing by far. The main reason being that technical skill can be taught. You can train that, but a person’s natural behavior and character is not something that you can mold.
CEOCFO: What have you learned both in your educational and work experiences that has been helpful as you have grown the company?
Mr. Knox: Educational knowledge from studies has not been a whole lot helpful, to be honest. I came out of a technical background, did technical studies, and was always in technical roles. The biggest benefit I had was when I worked for a previous company where I had the opportunity to see a lot of what made them successful, really learn those things, and be able to use those as a method of structuring how we built XCEL. On the unfortunate side for them, I also got a chance to be witness of what was not successful for them so that I did not need to make the same mistakes. I think part of the benefit with me starting the company as a one-man show originally was that I sat in every seat in the company. I know exactly what each person goes through, I know what their tasks and responsibilities are, and I understand them. Whenever we are making a decision that might affect anybody’s role in the company, I can sit back and think about how I would have felt if that was the case when I was doing that role. We really use that to guide many of the decisions that we make. Outside of that, now for the last two years I have been participating in an executive forum here, which allows me the opportunity to network with and learn from a number of key executives within the city. I am able to bounce ideas off them, learn from their mistakes or what has made them successful, and do my best to replicate that at XCEL.
CEOCFO: How is business these days?
Mr. Knox: It is going excellent. We are extremely busy, and we are in a busy period. November traditionally always seems to be the busiest month of the year for us just because we are getting caught in that in-between of most companies’ fiscal calendars, whether that is year-end at the end of September, or year-end at the end of December. We either have people that have brand new budgets and they are looking to go ahead with a bunch of IT projects, or they still have money left in the budget and they are looking to expend that for the end of the year. November gets a little bit crazy for us, but everything is going well. We have just added two new staff here this month, so we are looking forward to continued growth and what happens in the new year.
CEOCFO: Put it all together for our readers. Why should they take a look at XCEL? What sets the company apart?
Mr. Knox: What really sets us apart is that number one, as an IT provider, we have made considerable investments in the technology that we use to be able to service our clients. That is not one piece of software here and there, it is a number of software that have collectively cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. We can be sure that the level of service we provide meets with the expectations of businesses, and they know that they have very easy methods of getting in touch with us to request support. They know that everything is tracked and audited within our house to make sure that we are responding within a guaranteed time to our clients, and we are providing a high level of service and touch to their employees that are requesting support from us. The quality and granularity of reporting that we can provide to our clients allows them to really make business decisions based on those reports, and it is not things like how many hours we worked last month or how much disk space is on their server. It is a lot of being able to report on who the most needy users were and what the most troublesome systems were over the last month or the last quarter, so that we can look and see that one individual in the accounting department has asked for a whole lot of assistance with Microsoft Excel. At that point, we can suggest to the client that in order to boost the productivity of that staff and save the IT support time, we should look at arranging a training session for that user and book them on a course for using Microsoft Excel. Looking at the overall trends of how their network is performing and the growth of their business and in correlation with that, we can tell them how soon we need to start scaling the network by adding additional resources or making any plans that way. Beyond that, it all comes down to the fact that we are a relationship company. We understand that there are many IT providers in Calgary and Edmonton that could be servicing any business out there. We definitely strive to provide the highest level of customer service and client satisfaction to them, so that it is a mutually beneficial relationship where they are happy, they get what they are looking for, and they can really leverage the technology with our assistance. We can keep their business, and we can keep growing ourselves.
CEOCFO: Final thoughts?
businesses that battle with the idea of outsourcing their IT versus staffing
it in-house, there is no clear-cut answer for any business depending on the
size or even the industry of their business. We have seen ten-person
companies that need a full-time IT person in-house to manage everything that
they have got going on, and conversely we have seen and deal with 300-people
companies that outsource everything to us. We can manage it very easily for
them, and they would not need to be paying for several IT people in-house.
It is a thing of consideration that is the same with outsourcing. You do not
need to outsource all or nothing. It is something that you can do bit by bit
or pieces of it. You can choose to have an internal help desk person who can
do the day to day real low-level things and not have to worry about having
to pay for training and vacation coverage of your senior systems
administrators. You could outsource that portion to a company like XCEL.
Conversely, if you have the senior people and you want to foster those and
keep them closer to the business as a core function, then outsourcing the
small or menial tasks to a company like XCEL to do a help-desk service is
very financially sound. In most cases, we can provide a better and higher
level of service and quality of service than what a junior person might
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