What do the West Tigers and Cronulla Sharks have in common? Besides being prominent NRL football clubs, they are both clients of Illawarra-based IT services company, Partner IT.
In late 2004, Michael Bilboe took the plunge and started Partner IT. He hailed from the Illawarra region but like many young budding IT professionals, he ventured to Sydney to start his career.
After working for some break-fix companies and taking IT management roles in the private sector, Bilboe had a taste of the channel when he went into the system integration space.
“I had an opportunity to come back to Illawarra with a system integrator down here so I did that for a while before going back to the private sector,” he said. “But I realised, at the end of the day, there was opportunity in the space to do something for myself.”
At the time, many break-fix service providers were looking to become managed service providers (MSPs). Bilboe also saw promise in the market and jumped right in.
His timing couldn’t have been better.
“I ran into an old colleague in the middle of the street who was doing IT for the Sharks,” Bilboe recalled. “He was heading overseas and told me to give the club a call.
“I was going to start up Partner IT anyway but that was one of those fortunate situations where we tendered for the job through and through referral, we got in there.”
And so the management of the Sharks’ entire IT environment was placed in the hands of Bilboe and his new company.
The business has grown quickly since then. In 2005, Bilboe brought on his first staffer, Tom Galeski, who would end up being another director of the company. Two years after scoring the Sharks’ gig, Partner IT nabbed the West Tigers.
So is the company planning to catch the other 14 NRL teams?
“We’ve tried!” Bilboe said. “Let’s just say typically in those markets, you don’t have one person doing services everywhere.
“I don’t think they like the fact it’s the same person doing IT for everybody.”
Eighteen months ago, Partner IT joined the Micronet Group which was founded to offer enterprise business software 27 years ago and now has a global reach. It was a decision motivated by the need to grow beyond being a small service provider.
“You can either be a small player forever or become a national firm,” Bilboe said.
Since then, Partner IT has worked throughout Australia and even did some system integration work in Fiji. The company has doubled its staff to 12 people and is still looking to hire.
The five-year goal is to have satellite offices in major capital cities, with the support of Micronet.
But rapid growth is a double-edged sword. Bilboe is encouraged by the increased opportunities after joining the Micronet Group but admitted the move presented new challenges.
“When you become part of a group, you have to try to ensure the methodology, the work environment and culture is maintained within the business,” he said.
Finding the right kind of staff is also a tricky business amid rapid expansion and Bilboe doesn’t make it easy for job applicants.
“Attitude is a core component because that is the professional element,” he said. “Because they are the frontline – they are the guys seeing the clients – what’s important is their customer service skills; they have to build a rapport with the customer.
“IT services is vastly different to break-fix because with that, it’s just in and out. When you are there on a recurring basis you are building that relationship and you have to understand business as well. So they have to have technical skill sets, customer service skills and they have to have some business smarts as well.”
Understanding a client’s business is paramount when it comes to being an IT service provider, according to Bilboe.
“We go in and meet a new client, we sit with the client and they talk about what we do but we say 'wait a second – how about you explain to me what you do as a business first',” he said.
“It’s like a client of ours that deals in bathroom ware. I know they sell bathroom ware but that doesn’t mean that's all there is to the business. You need to understand what they do as a business and how they function so you can find the right IT solutions for them.”
While it is a tough job running an IT services company, Bilboe is happy in his position.
“Being passionate about something you are doing and being able to wake up and be very passionate about going to work is the most rewarding thing,” he said.
“Being able to oversee a team of techs and also seeing clients view IT as a positive part of their business and not just a cost centre is rewarding.”