While IT Plays the Services Consolidation Game
Who's Minding the Customers?

(Currently appears on the Alpha.Com, formerly Alpha Microsystems, Inc., Website)

Consolidation and partnerships are considered factors for success in today's IT services industry; Alpha Microsystems Services Operation has developed strategies to ensure that increased size doesn't mean decreased customer service.

As IT services companies such as Wang Global look to increase market share through acquisitions, others like Amdahl are looking at acquisitions as a way to enter into new businesses. Still others, such as DecisionOne, are looking at acquisitions as a means to eliminate the competition. As these and other IT players stake their ground in the services industry consolidation game, who will win? More than likely, it will be the teams that don't compromise the customer.

In the IT services industry, the flavor of the day is "grow or die." But as companies design their playbooks and execute their go-forward strategies, how do customers fit into the equation? In some instances, increased size means decreased customer service. But at Santa Ana, California-based Alpha Microsystems Services Operation (AM Services Operation), growth and quality customer service are business as usual.

"An acquisition has to make sense from a corporate - as well as a customer - perspective," says Randy Parks, Vice President of Services for Alpha Microsystems. "A customer doesn't care if we purchase a new company unless the acquisition means we can expand services offerings. The acquisitions we make must enhance geographic coverage, add technical capabilities or provide entry into new areas within IT otherwise there's no value to our customers. As we evaluate potential acquisitions, we consider how a company can enhance our existing infrastructure. We look for attributes such as range of traditional and network-based services, presence in major markets, response time, quality service delivery, strategic alignment with technology leaders, and technical talent. These are the issues customers care about."

When John Kaiser, President of Florida-based M & J Technologies, decided to sell his service business to Alpha Microsystems, he wanted to ensure that it was the right decision. "We partnered with Alpha Microsystems as a direct result of their customer care. Their upper management takes more pride in quality than any company I have ever worked with. In our industry, everyone has the same line ... but sincerity is what makes Alpha Microsystems stand out from the rest. When the revenue dollars get into the billions there is a tendency for a lot of service providers to lose 'ownership' and the personal touch … the level of service falls off tremendously with 'bigness.' But at Alpha Microsystems, growth is promoting an even greater focus on customer service and attention to detail."

The history behind Alpha Microsystems is a long one. Founded in 1977, the Company's roots can be traced to the days when it was a mini-computer manufacturer, selling solutions to small businesses through a reseller channel. With the advent of the PC and the continually changing market, service providers were forced to examine alternative relationships with their customers and partners. Fortunately for Alpha Microsystems, the re-examination process was successful. Today Alpha Microsystems has relationships that have grown into lasting business partnerships.

In addition to consolidation, Alpha Microsystems is augmenting its growth by choosing to partner with key IT companies. But Parks is quick to point out that while partnering is crucial to business, management isn't losing its customer focus. In his Industry Outlook, the President of Strategies For GrowthSM, William K. Pollock, states, "The most successful services organizations in the coming millennium will be those that have foreseen the transformation from service vendor to service partner."

Parks understands the concept. "As we grow our services business, we're developing additional strategic business partnerships and enhancing existing alliances with OEMs, VARs, other volume sellers and services companies. While a portion of our sales force is dedicated to creating new end user business, the majority of our sales people continue to develop the partner business," Parks said. "Recent industry research indicates that services providers must look to strategic partnerships, joint business development and alliances to offer the total solutions that customers demand."

Service management programs offered by Alpha Microsystems for OEM, reseller and other service organizations provide real-time service tracking and an array of reports. These reports ensure that Alpha Microsystems keeps its partners well informed on service call and equipment status at all times. The bottom line is customer satisfaction.

It seems that many of Alpha Microsystems' business partners agree with the Company's approach. Dennis Casey, Director Regional Operations of New Jersey-based Delta Computers, Inc., states, "Alpha Microsystems is up front and customer driven. They have established goals that parallel our own and this makes it very easy for us to work together. Both of our presidents have met and each has the same goals, which makes for a strong connection; we are very close on the technology front. Alpha Microsystems continues to broaden its scope of capability to meet our needs and those of our customers."

Jay Nawrocki, National Service Manager of Pennsylvania-based ATS Money Systems, Inc. (an Alpha Microsystems business partner), says, "Alpha Microsystems is able to control any given situation. They have the right team ... and they are very responsive even though they are growing every day.

"As Alpha Microsystems expands its broad range of services, we're sure that ATS will also participate in that expansion," Nawrocki continues. "We look forward to an ongoing good working relationship and shared growth in the services business."

Kaiser also points to Alpha Microsystems' ability to forge strong partnerships. "We had a major printer problem where M & J was the subcontractor. The big 2000 lpm UNIX-driven printer was re-cabled at the customer's request, and once it was completed, the printer would only print one report. Since there were multiple vendors involved, we went around and around on where the problem originated - the cable company said it wasn't their problem. Alpha Microsystems did what was necessary, which wound up being replacing the interface cards and almost every moving part in the printer. To me, that was a sign of real commitment to the customer … no matter what the cost. This experience reaffirmed for me that my decision to partner with Alpha Microsystems was the right one," Kaiser says.

"I've known about Alpha Microsystems for years," says Rick Warren, President of Florida-based Alpha Computer Services Inc. "Geographical coverage is our biggest consideration. Flexibility is too - that's how we run our business, and Alpha Microsystems is as flexible as we are. We're treated like an upper-end client, and that counts a great deal to us."

Based on DataQuest information published earlier this year, response time is what customers seek most often from their service organization. Warren affirms the researcher's findings. "Not long ago we had an extremely urgent situation in Dallas. We had to respond quickly and paged Don White, the local Alpha Microsystems representative, who called us back immediately. From the car, Don patched us in to the right people and within 10 minutes, our emergency was resolved. Don made it seamless and routine. Our two company's philosophies are the same, and Alpha Microsystems treats us the same way we treat our customers … that's hard to find."

Call dispatching is also a significant part of Alpha Microsystems' cooperative teamwork and customer commitment. The Central Dispatching service runs 24 x 7 in all cities. It's backed by an on-line system with built-in automatic call escalation that runs at 15-minute intervals, beginning with the field engineer then escalating to the regional manager and if necessary, escalating to Parks. Call escalation guarantees that no call is unserved. "In the last year I have only received one call through this escalation process, which speaks well for our procedure," Parks says.

Industry resource International Data Corporation (IDC) sites that electronic support accounted for about 16 percent of all technical support queries in 1995 and was estimated at 25 percent in 1997. In order to ensure Alpha Microsystems can handle its increase in support query demands as it grows, the new Service Management Information System has been implemented. Through this new system, Alpha Microsystems' customers can change their traditional processes and establish sound business-to-business communication through global interactive, electronic services.

In addition, Alpha Microsystems will soon make available to its customers access to the service management system through the Internet. Simply by dialing into Alpha Microsystems' Web site and entering a unique customer ID number, business partners will be able to view all their open service calls. From anywhere and at any time, all service call information will be able to be examined and reports generated. Offering up-to-the-second information gives customers instant, accurate facts to help them manage their businesses more efficiently.

While growth through consolidation and partnerships is a core business strategy at Alpha Microsystems, Parks believes customer satisfaction starts with people. "It's the people at Alpha Microsystems that set the Company apart from other service organizations. The field staff of more than 300 comprise a team that genuinely cares about its customers. Because the Company offers a good working environment and considers its team members valuable resources, the sentiment is returned with loyalty," Parks says.

"Even our sales representatives remain involved after the sale is closed," Parks adds. "They help build the customer profiles that are important to the ongoing customer service relationships." Parks disclosed that 50 percent of the current sales force is made up of technical staff that transferred into sales from the field.

At Alpha Microsystems, continuing education is key to customer satisfaction. Through education, field engineers learn new technologies and enhance skills that enable them to effectively deal with the human aspect of the job. "Our service organization remains committed to continuing education and training, which is another reason Alpha Microsystems continues to sustain growth while maintaining an exceptionally high level of customer satisfaction," Parks says. "Continued education provides our field personnel the skills to quickly identify faults and take corrective action, resulting in increased productivity. Alpha Microsystems' entire field force receives continuous training that keeps them abreast of new technologies. This training covers the importance of good customer relations skills."

Parks finishes, "When we talk about Alpha Microsystems' strong infrastructure, we're really talking about our people. We're going to continue to grow in size through acquisitions and partnerships, but before we invest in a company we first ensure that its people are customer-oriented. Alpha Microsystems' growth strategies will always include the customer element."

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