Shoes and Servers

The shoemaker's children may not have shoes, but here's why Ben and Jeremy make sure their technicians have good technology.

Benjamin Wills

“The cobblers children have no shoes.”

This saying is a phenomenon that occurs in most small business environments. Within the IT service provider space, one would observe the lack of getting upgrades and replacements to internal equipment and software as the typical state of the provider network. All the while, clients are being encouraged to keep current on technology to achieve excellent business practice.

I would surmise the reason for any small business lacking its own service or product is attributable to the fact no one can afford himself.

For example, in the case of an IT service provider, upgrading technician laptops is done with fear and trepidation, not so much because of the cost of the equipment as much as the time involved in migration. Often the technician has an array of tools and software to support client networks.  Upgrading a laptop means a lot of time is put into battling compatibility hassles, all the while the technician must be ready for all client support instances.

If time is typically the measurement of cost for the business to service itself, that actually becomes the largest opportunity cost possible. If you charge $150/hr for your service and you have a choice between working for a client during that hour or servicing yourself for that hour, what is lost?  Quite possibly the $150!  But on the other hand, you are not going to hire someone to do a job you can do. In my case, it would be upgrade my laptop. So, you can see that I will naturally choose to bill my time, but always defer the task of upgrading myself. 

Where is the real cost then to not putting shoes on your children?

The cost comes when your children get pneumonia and you are paying unnecessary doctor bills! In the IT world, our cost comes when we are forced to upgrade at the most inopportune time because of one incompatibility, decommissioning or another. So there is always cost in not shoeing your children as there is in making the shoes.

The question really is when are you going to spend the time and money, now or later?


Jeremy Wills

There are certainly industries where the tendency for the cobbler’s kids to be the worst shod holds true. However, there are also industries where what you do or make naturally leads to leveraging your gifts and talents for your own benefit as well.

A chef is most likely going to dine well, even if it is on the go; a tax preparer, though possibly late, will still have a thoroughly prepared tax return in the end (for those who know me, know this is true!). 

However, it is definitely true that all companies face procrastination of their own business in one area or another.

In my experience over the years, and whenever I’ve spoken with other business owners, we all agree that running a business often seems like the never ending merry-go-round — we oftentimes are only able to focus on the aspect of our business immediately in front of us, and that only for a brief time before moving on to the next pressing issue.

Truthfully, running a business should be more like a see-saw than a merry-go-round.

The trick is in finding the balance between when and how long to be working on the business verus working in the business. Without a willing partner to balance the weight and push at the right time, your see-saw can quickly jolt you or halt you if there is an imbalance on one side or the other. This balance is especially critical when people, time, and financial resources are all demanding creativity in order to accomplish one's goals. (Small business owners, anyone?)

The see-saw for our industry is building our own technology and processes, versus managing those of our clients.

AIE is built on the principal that technology is not to be viewed as an overhead expense, but rather to be seen as an investment — the means for one's business to both save and make money. As we let this philosophy direct our consulting with our clients, we strive to keep it mind ourselves, always asking what investments we are making that are accomplishing these two objectives. 

So, in order to protect ourselves from becoming the busy shoemaker, we’ve broken down responsibility and power departmentally — we task each department to make sure we are staying on the cutting edge with our tools and processes, as well as to ensure that our people are trained to be able effectively understand their role with the newly adopted processes or tools. The departments provide an effective balance and serve as the other rider on the see-saw for each other.

As I reflect back, AIE has used technology to create a significant amount of integration in our processes—something for which I am very grateful.

Our engineering and help desk departments use four software applications that all integrate together, while our sales and accounting departments combine four different pieces of software integration themselves, in order to have an end-to-end experience both internally and for our clients. Each one of these solutions took time to evaluate and implement—with well over a thousand hours when all said and done. These shoemaker's children are very well shod.

There are some industries where one can solve this problem by hiring someone else to do it for them

Recently I asked my hair stylist who cuts her hair. She said her sister. I asked my chiropractor last week who he uses to adjust him and he said he travels quite a bit down the road to use a trusted colleague in the industry.  In both circumstances, they are professionals in their own right, yet they can and must place their trust in another industry colleague to provide them service in their own area of expertise.  

Unfortunately, as a technology services company, we don’t have that luxury.

Let’s admit, that might be a little strange if we were to outsource our internal IT support to another firm. We need to support our own technology, so that the technology investments we make in our firm can have a direct impact on our clients' experience as well. If our kids are wearing the shoes we make, we stand a much better chance of making quality footwear for our clients.