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June 2009
When Your Network is Your Lifeline
By Janet Kropinak

     For many small business owners there just aren’t enough hours in the day. So much of their time is spent keeping their businesses afloat and “putting out fires,” it isn’t any wonder that many develop an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” mentality.

     This is especially true with regard to technology. Unfortunately, most don’t appreciate its vital significance, until they are faced with a critical failure. Today, technology is not only essential for the growth of your business, but also crucial for its survival.

     You might be thinking your business isn’t big enough to justify hiring an “IT guy” or you might think things are functioning okay, and they might be today. But are you prepared for when they aren’t? Do you have a strategic plan in place that will help get your business back online as soon as possible? Or will you be the guy searching through the yellow pages dreading the answer to “How much is this going to cost me?” or “Will I get all our data back?”

     If you are the latter, Charlotte Tech Care Team might just be the answer for you. As a champion for small business owners, founder Mark Crall is committed to partnering with his clients to deliver worry free IT services and has customized his business plan to meet the varying needs of small businesses.


Doing the Right Thing

     Some might be surprised to learn that before gaining certification as an IT consultant, Crall was trained as a mechanical engineer. But considering the methodical approach to his craft, it makes sense.

     Similar to an engineer, Crall enjoys solving complex problems requiring the evaluation of many solutions and application of different thought processes. But instead of machinery, he is applying these skills to technology.

     Crall was living in San Diego, pursuing a dot-com business, when he began capitalizing on his knack for computer technology to make extra income. Initially self-taught, he sought out formal training and certification and branched out as an IT consultant.

     Tired of the hourly commutes to work and high cost of living, he reevaluated his family’s lifestyle. Surveying opportunities and quality of life options in many cities, he chose to bring his family to Charlotte in 2002 and put his information technology expertise to use. His business plan was to provide his customers quality service 24/7/365.

     “From the beginning ‘do the right thing’ was our value statement,” Crall testifies. “We put care in our name because that is truly the basis for why we are doing this.” And that was the beginning of Charlotte Tech Care Team.

     One of Crall’s first finds was Seth Dietz, who today shares stake in the company. Dietz is now the senior technical account manager, handling all types of functionality and assigning appropriate tasks for other technicians. Altogether, the staff includes full-time and part-time technicians along with a group of subcontractors that are able to meet the needs of customers outside the Charlotte area.

     Crall recalls it taking a couple of years until he was satisfied the business model was working and that they could be a viable competitor in a competitive market while staying true to their value statement—doing the right thing for the customer, always.


Tweaking With Technology

     But by 2005, Crall began to see a “ceiling” within their business. Without more defined processes they were at the mercy of technology and able to offer only reactive management, so he adjusted the business model and shifted to managed services.

     He describes managed services as the practice of transferring day-to-day-related management responsibility as a strategic method for improved effective and efficient operations. This allows for a transfer of risk and responsibility from the business owner to Charlotte Tech Care Team, making them accountable for functionality and performance of IT services.

     Another subset of managed services is automation, which Charlotte Tech Care Team invested in as a way to economize solutions for their customers. Automation, which includes 24/7 monitoring and immediate alerts of any potential problems, has allowed them to become proactive on behalf of their customers, preventing problems before they arise.

     Under a service level agreement, companies are able to transfer risk for a predetermined amount, which allows them to predict their IT costs and know their budget upfront—a luxury many small business owners aren’t familiar with.

     Crall says they are able to provide the greatest value to companies with five to 50 employees—where there is enough infrastructure to demand IT management but not enough to justify in-house IT support.

     He also notes a major difference in their business plan from that of many of their competitors.

     “Unlike many IT companies, we charge for uptime, not downtime,” Crall explains. “I see a misalignment in many competitors’ missions as they are making money when their customers and their businesses are suffering. What makes us different is that we are only making money if we are helping you make money. We take a hands-on approach to our customers’ problems and are committed to our customers’ success.”

     In simple terms, “We’re delivering technology but selling a trusted advisor,” he continues.

     Crall describes the four pillars of business as human resources, accounting, legal, and technology and notes that if any of these should fail, it can easily lead to the downfall of the business.

     “Our job is to take away the stress and frustration that dealing with technology can have on a business owner,” notes Crall. “In short, we offer worry free IT.”

     He explains that one of the biggest mistakes small business owners make is not having an IT budget. Many small businesses maintain a relationship with a vendor instead of investing in a relationship with an IT consultant/advisor, and Crall strongly warns against this.

     “Technology impacts nearly every facet of your business so it’s essential to have good communication in this area,” he explains. “We are able to help you understand the how and why in respect to technology and your business.”

     One way to achieves this is with an annual risk analysis—an evaluation of current operating systems as well as learn about any problems or possible problems that might be lurking ahead; Crall refers to this as proactive management.

     “So many people operate a reactionary IT budget and this can be detrimental for your business,” expresses Crall. “We strive to show our customers the importance and value of what we are trying to help them accomplish.”


Value Added

     As a longtime champion for small businesses, Crall is motivated by the fact that his success is tied to that of other small business owners.

     While Crall acts as an advisor to his clients, he credits his company’s virtual board of directors as helping guide him through this economic downturn. The board, which was established in 2008, is made up of 10 non-competing business owners who meet for two days every quarter.

     “The idea is that we are holding each other accountable for the execution of our goals—with respect to business operations, financial practice and work/life balance,” explains Crall.

     He continues to credit the board with helping his business weather the economic downturn and helping him adjust his business model to come out of the recession even stronger than they were before.

     Another focus for Charlotte Tech Care Team is community involvement. Crall founded the Charlotte SMB (Small and Medium-Sized Businesses) IT Pro Group as a way of bringing people in the IT community together—even his competition.

     “People question my motivation,” Crall affirms, “but I believe we are doing what is best for our customers by helping to bring a higher level of competence to the marketplace. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

     In addition to his affiliation with Charlotte Small Business Server Group, which now has over 400 local members, Crall is well-known and respected among the IT community, both locally and internationally.

     He serves as a subject matter expert for Microsoft Partner Talent and Development, helping to produce exam and certification content for Windows Small Business Server and Windows Essential Business Server. He also works with Microsoft marketing, product and partner teams as a U.S. Small Business Specialist Community Advisory Group member and a Partner Area Lead.

     “My objective is to help shape the direction of the Small Business Specialist Community program and help Microsoft better understand the unique needs of Small Business Specialist Community members,” Crall explains.


Caring Partners

     Perhaps the most convincing argument for Charlotte Tech Care Team’s impact on a business comes from their clients.

     Travis Doak, operations manager for Charlotte-based Bagby, has worked with Charlotte Tech Care Team at Bagby and even before that, on different clean-up and recovery projects.

     Before contacting Crall, he says that the company was trying to handle their IT needs in-house, which, looking back, he calls as a crazy decision, noting that they are in the business to sell lighting, not fix computers.

     Today, all of Babgy’s IT needs are managed by Charlotte Tech Care Team.

     “They have had a tremendous impact on our business—100 percent uptime,” he boasts. “With everything electronic- and Internet-based, our business cannot afford for computers or Internet connections to be down and if something does happen, we have to have a service provider that can react quickly to resolve the problem.”

     In short, Doak says the value they provide is the peace of mind they have in knowing that their network is going to be up and we can do our jobs without interruption from computer or network issues.

     “We consider Charlotte Tech Care Team as a partner in the success of our business. Their service and professionalism is impeccable,” explains Doak. “They are great consultants, and frequently suggest ideas to improve our network. When it comes to technology, they all work very hard to know what the best in the business is.”

     Doak’s enthusiasm is shared by Brian Haupricht, president of Park Inc., who was referred to Charlotte Tech Care Team five years ago.

     “Charlotte Tech Care Team handles the monitoring and maintenance of our computer systems in three cities,” Haupricht explains. “They’ve helped us increase the speed with which our offsite users access the company server; they also assisted us with creating a more secure firewall.”

     And he is quick to list the benefits these services have offered his company. “Charlotte Tech Care Team has freed up time that we used to spend dealing with our own IT issues and enabled us to focus on running our business and spending time with our customers and employees.”

     He continues: “They work hard trying to stay on top of the latest technology. They take the time to learn about new products, systems, etc. so they can make the best recommendations for our business.”

     Driven by their passion for technology and affinity for small-business owners, Crall says he and his team are ready to partner with your business and invest in your future success.

Janet Kropinak is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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