How education and security have helped Tom's MSP business grow
Tom Bowles never planned on a career in the tech world.
In fact, he started out in another industry entirely. Working in the accounting department of an insurance company, Tom wasn’t particularly excited about the work he was doing. When a project came up to help the company migrate their accounting system from an IBM Series/1 to a PC network, however, he realized he had a knack for IT. More importantly, it was a field in which he could see a future for himself. “I really enjoyed the nuts and bolts of it,” he says.
Today, he’s the President of Alltek Services, a Florida-based MSP which supports over 130 clients and more than 3,000 users in Central Florida. In the 18 years since he founded the company, Tom has steered Alltek’s success by focusing on learning, educating, and staying aware of cybersecurity risks that have grown in complexity and severity over the years.
Early growth at Alltek
Shortly after realizing he wanted to work in IT, Tom recruited a colleague and started Alltek. He knew his days of working for an insurance company were behind him, but he also had the specific skill set to help those same companies navigate their technology. As a result, many of Alltek’s early clients operated within the insurance vertical.
During this period of initial growth, Tom was still figuring out what worked for Alltek. The initial business model was more of a value-added reseller—or VAR—model, but within five years, he restructured the business as a MSP to capture more recurring revenue and put Alltek in a more consultative position in relation to its clients.
This growth phase also saw an expansion in the number of verticals Alltek served. Part of this was a function of gaining more referrals through word of mouth, and part of it was more deliberate. In order to grow the company with intention, Tom realized that Alltek would need to invest in marketing, and so he hired a web development company that specifically targeted its services to MSPs. With a new web presence and SEO strategy in place, Alltek was better able to reach and serve a wider audience.
Security threats change the game
While a great deal of Alltek’s growth has been the result of deliberate planning, much of it has also been a necessary reaction to the ever-growing number of security threats facing today’s businesses.
“There’s so much more to being a MSP today than there was 15 years ago,” says Tom. In order to stay competitive and give their clients quality service, Tom and his team have had to stay well-versed in the world of security and step up their service offering when the landscape changes.
“In the beginning, security just meant having a firewall,” says Tom. “Antivirus was all definition-based, and it didn’t mean much if you didn’t have your definitions updated for six months.” Today, the demands are much higher. “You could have your data stolen, encrypted, and held for ransom. Everything needs to be highly configured and monitored in order to keep our clients safe,” he says.
Even though the stakes are high—and growing higher every day—Tom and his team have always been enthusiastic about evolving Alltek’s business to meet whichever new demands crop up.
Over the last five years, this has meant investing a lot of time in network administration. This means continuously looking at best practices and making sure Alltek’s customers are set up with them. “We’re always learning new and better ways to do things, and passing those learnings on to our clients,” says Tom.
Prioritizing education across the board
Keeping Alltek employees informed on cybersecurity has done a great deal to keep Alltek’s customers safe against threats, but Tom and his team have found that imparting their wisdom on customers is even more effective.
In fact, Alltek’s best customers are ones that Tom describes as “co-managed”—that is, they have their own in-house IT person or department, and they approach IT as though it’s an asset, rather than an afterthought.
“When our clients understand IT, it’s better for everyone,” says Tom. “We spend less time being reactive with these customers and more time being proactive about setting them up well and trying to make them productive.”
Even for clients without a dedicated IT department, Tom and his team still do what they can to make sure their clients are informed about IT. For years now, Alltek has hosted lunch and learn sessions for their customers around backup and disaster recovery, as well as security. Keeping clients in the loop helps them feel informed, and it creates a relationship built on trust and understanding.
Security will always be a challenge
Responding to—and growing in response to—security threats has propelled Alltek’s business forward, but Tom also sees it as an ever-present challenge. “Having even one compromised customer would hurt our reputation,” says Tom. “We have 130 clients in central Florida, so that’s a pretty big responsibility to carry.”
It’s also a challenge that Tom knows will only grow bigger in the future. “Every threat is new,” he says, “And combating these threats is a continuous process.” Today, keeping clients safe requires an entire portfolio of products and services: highly-configured firewalls; web-based anti-virus protection; monitor, detect, and remedy (MDR) services; security awareness training; and email spam and malware filtering, at a minimum.
This creates a reliance on vendors in order to give Alltek’s clients the best products for what their business needs. Tom says that vetting these products is Alltek’s biggest challenge. “When you make a commitment, you need to make sure it’s the right one,” he says, “And when we go in, we go all in. It’s a huge undertaking to migrate users to a new service or system, so there’s a lot of pressure to get it right.”
Even though the pressure is high, taking on this challenge is one that’s paid off. Continuing to evolve has kept Alltek competitive, and has made it easier to serve their customers. Today, over 90% of inbound calls are resolved remotely, a figure that’s due in no small part to investment in products that allow both Alltek and their clients to communicate and work seamlessly.
In the future, all tech is on the table
As for Alltek’s future, it’s not the technical side Tom spends his time thinking about. He’s confident that as long as his employees stay focused on best practices and emerging technologies, Alltek’s clients will be well cared for.
In order to continue to grow the right way, Tom knows that he’ll have to continue to evolve the business, both from a security and a marketing standpoint. “Being nimble and flexible in reacting to threats will always be important,” he says, but he also knows that Alltek has the right processes and structures in place to continue to be aware of and protect customers from those threats.
When it comes to marketing, this is a relatively newer challenge that Tom is building a team to focus on for future growth. “For us, this has meant getting more millennials on board to focus on communication and business development.” This has been a big focus for Tom and Alltek, especially within the last five years. “Today’s business leaders are younger, and we need people on our team who can bridge that generational gap and speak to them in a language they understand.”
Whatever the future brings, Tom is ready for it, and he knows he’s put the right staff and processes in place to continue to focus on learning, improving, and having a service that truly helps clients thrive in today’s world.
If you’re a small to mid-size business seeking the aid of a well-educated IT managed service provider, visit and contact Alltek Services to see if you’re a good partnership fit.