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ICS grows by serving as clients’ “virtual CIO”

By Norman Poltenson

Date:

ENDICOTT — Penton Publications recently named Endicott–based ICS Solutions Group (ICS) one of the top-500, managed-service providers in the world. The award is granted to companies that provide software and support allowing for off-site and remote management of their clients’ assets.

The award is just the latest accolade for ICS, which was established in 1986 by George Schwarztrauber to repair computer hardware. He sold the company in 2005 to its current owners, Kevin Blake and Travis A. Hayes, who had joined the firm in 1996 and 1999 respectively.

“When Kevin and I began at ICS, the company had a break-fix model … When your PC [malfunctioned], you called us to repair it. Today, we have a proactive model, not a reactive one,” says Hayes, the company vice president, chief technology officer, and COO.

Blake, who is president of ICS, focuses on business development and administration, and Hayes, whose focus is IT delivery, have ramped up company revenue to a current sales level between $6 million and $7 million annually, a figure estimated by The Business Journal.

“We now have 46 employees, based on a seven-year growth rate that exceeds 30 percent compounded,” says Hayes. “Thirty-six are employed here in Endicott and another 10 at our Syracuse location [2518 Erie Blvd. E. in Syracuse].”

ICS is an owner, along with two silent partners, of the 40,000-square-foot Endicott location, which is called Square Deal Place. The real-estate company is called BiLaw, LLC. “We occupy 6,500 square feet in the building … Kevin and I own the 4,500-square-foot building in Syracuse through a company [we formed] called ICS Realty, LLC,” Hayes says.

Hayes and Blake are the two corporate stockholders with Hayes holding 14 percent of the shares and Blake 86 percent.

The proactive model Hayes describes still has IT as the core business. “Today, we help our customers navigate through every phase of technology,” says Hayes. “They think of us as a virtual CIO (chief information officer) offering technology consulting, help-desk assistance, and [lifecycle] management of their hardware and software … We do this on a fee basis, which allows our customers to budget more accurately and provides ICS with a steady cash flow … In addition to our managed services, ICS offers repair services for printers and copiers, sells refurbished copiers, and has a toner [division] with toner on demand.”

“ICS is also in the cloud,” adds Hayes. “We work with Office 365 (a Microsoft program), which provides affordability and portability … Our customers can access their workplace from anywhere and with any device … That means their data is always on … We also provide emergency response to get our customers back on track, … and we specialize in installing video cameras for those who need a video wall … In addition, we sell and support Cisco [United Communications] to integrate our customers’ phone systems with their computer networks … We even do our own cabling.”

ICS, headquartered at 111 Grant Ave. in Endicott, has retained its focus on small and mid-size enterprises. “Our sweet spot is businesses with 5 to 25 users in the network,” says Hayes. “This is our meat and potatoes, even though we have some customers with hundreds of users that require us to be onsite daily … We specialize in certain industries, such as dental offices and convenience stores, but we also serve car dealerships, doctors’ offices, law offices, accounting firms, insurance agencies, and manufacturers … Geographically, we have extended our [coverage] since acquiring MicroTech in Syracuse in 2010. We now reach from Oswego County to Bradford, Susquehanna, and Wayne [counties] in Northern Pennsylvania and from Otsego [county] to Monroe [county].”

“One thing that has helped us stay ahead of changes is our affiliation with HTG (Heartland Technology Group),” says Hayes. HTG is an organization of technology-industry resellers that collaborate with their peers on best practices. Peer groups include 10 to 12 IT companies of similar size, number of employees, similar lines of service and ownership structure, and located in non-competitive markets. “We meet quarterly and share everything. HTG is a global group that benchmarks technology and looks at trends … It is based on the power of peers,” avers Hayes.

“We need to set ourselves apart from the competition,” says Hayes. “In Syracuse, we find ourselves competing with companies like Usherwood and J.B. Kane and in Binghamton with Red Barn … Our strategy is to be a one-stop shop and to emphasize service … ICS now has a help desk manned every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is no auto-attendant; if the three people on the help desk are tied up with customers, [subsequent] calls go to another employee … If the employees monitoring the help desk don’t know the answer to the customer’s question, they find someone who has the answer.”

“We also need to separate ourselves by training our techs to be business consultants,” continues Hayes. “It’s not enough to fix a problem; our reps have to help our customers grow … It’s a challenge to take technical people who are often introverted and focus them on understanding the customer’s business … This is how to build a long-term relationship with our customers.”

“We also need to function as one, big, [integrated] team,” says Hayes. Our response to a customer has to be seamless … If the Syracuse techs are tied up, we need to dispatch one from Endicott … Our customers depend on us to be connected 24/7,” concludes Hayes.

ICS’ meteoric rise has been helped by local professionals. “We rely on M&T Bank for all our banking needs’” says Hayes. “For our legal work, we use the law office of John G. Dowd of Binghamton, and for our accounting, we turn to Salvatore R. Peretore, CPA, located in Endicott.

When asked about future plans, Hayes says ICS is always looking for opportunities that are profitable. “We have no interest in growing just to grow,” says Hayes … We think Syracuse has real potential [as well as] other areas like Utica, Watertown, and Elmira … There is no reason we shouldn’t double [in size] in the next five years both through organic growth and M&A (mergers and acquisitions).”

 

Blake, 39, and Hayes, 38, met as undergraduates at SUNY Oswego. Their friendship has blossomed into a business partnership that has ICS Solutions Group on the fast track to continue growing at 30 percent.

 

Contact Poltenson at npoltenson@cnybj.com

 

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