Balancing act

Balancing act

Balanced IT Services has already this year won a NSW small business award, expanded into new offices, won major contracts with both government and corporate enterprises, developed new online and e-commerce solutions and established new partnerships and strengthened old ties.

The result has been 50 per cent year-on-year growth, projections of $27 million turnover for the current financial year and clients such as the NSW Police, Fairfax and Rothschild.

But the going, although always positive, has not always been easy.

It took Perkins and co-founder Steve Grundy four months to land the Sydney-based integrator's first client. They invested their own money and continued to pound the pavements selling boxes.

That was back in August 1995; since then the business has grown out of its supply cocoon and metamorphosed into a solutions entity.

`In 1995 we started as a supply company. In mid-1996 we started selling network integration solutions, with this evolving during 1997 into more Internet-based solutions. For the last 18 months we have been largely focused on integration solutions for organisations of up to 1000 seats,' explains Perkins.

The evolution has been relatively simple, says Perkins, who insists that it has been a linear process fuelled by profits reinvested in the business.

`We started selling boxes, used the cash flow and profits from that to move into the low-end network integration market, and then used the cash and profits to move into the higher-end integration market. The profits from this then enabled us to move into the Internet software development and e-business solutions markets.'

Despite the logic of this manoeuvring, Perkins does admit to a certain degree of providence in the timing of BITS' launch and subsequent growth, attributing the power of the Internet, and BITS' familiarity with the medium, to the company's rapid climb up the food chain.

`We were fortunate that our business started in the era of the Internet, as the Internet from day one has always been part of our business.'

It now dominates BITS' strategy and product offerings, with the company launching several online initiatives and e-commerce products and services over the last year, including a licensing site for Microsoft (, a community portal (freeisp. and a financial e-commerce offering with Great Plains and Orion.

With partnerships underpinning all these initiatives, Perkins considers relationships to be integral to BITS' success. It is an authorised Compaq reseller, a Lotus business partner, an IBM premium partner, a Novell Net provider, a Hewlett-Packard e-commerce partner and a Microsoft solutions provider.

Through these partnerships Perkins says BITS' is able to maintain its focus on its own core competencies by taking advantage of the various skill sets apparent in each relationship.

`We needed a strong financial offering for our e-commerce solution,' explains Perkins in reference to BITS' e-commerce initiative with Great Plains and Orion. `We didn't want to become a software expert. Great Plains wanted to become involved in e-commerce but didn't want to move away from its core competencies.'

BITS has also just released its E-Policy product and monitoring package with the intention of moving more seriously into the consulting side of e-commerce. `We aim to grow this area with business consulting skill sets so that we can deliver not just a technical Internet solution but the total business Internet solution.'

This vision was borne out of a meeting between Perkins and co-founder Grundy at Osborne Computers, where they both worked in 1992.

`I believe that the majority of providers are purely focusing on the technical solution rather than the business solution. The Internet is just another form of communication, albeit a very effective one. It makes organisations transparent to the outside world. Consequently you must make sure their business processes are as close to perfect as possible.'

But this move into services and consulting has not come about without its fair share of difficulties, most prominent being a shortage of skilled workers.

BITS attempts to at least patch the problem by investing in junior staff and training, but with growth at over 50 per cent, `change becomes the accepted norm'.

It is managing this change, and imbuing BITS with a culture of expertise and knowledge that Perkins sees as a differentiating factor.

`It is almost a cliche but it is definitely our staff and culture [that differentiates BITS]. Our people are highly trained and it is our technical expertise that results in us winning ongoing projects. We have a simple approach to business: do not burn any bridges and treat all your staff and customers as friends.'

Perkins does not isolate the staff training from customers. All staff are required to assist in putting out BITS' weekly technology briefs and monthly white papers, which Perkins claims boosts their professional knowledge.

`By doing this we can bring our staff closer to the customers and also create a situation where the customer is comfortable with the services we provide.'

The formula appears to have merits with BITS recently being named the best IT company in NSW in the NSW small business awards. The integrator has also just been accredited with two NSW Government contracts for network integration and consultancy and Internet services.

This focus on the government market is a conscious plan on Perkins' behalf, with BITS maintaining an equal balance between government and corporate customers. `We also have no one customer accounting for more than 10 per cent of our revenue.'

Under this plan Perkins is aiming to continue to focus on the Internet integration market, though his long-term goals are more ambitious.

`Our long-term goal is to be a leader in this market space. In three years we see ourselves being the company of choice for organisations in the 50 to 1000 seat size that wish to implement an Internet-based business solution.'

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