Information Technology Solutions | Business Forward | #343
- PNC is proud to support "Business Forward" where local leaders discuss the challenges and opportunities and how we do business in Central Illinois. (cheerful upbeat music) (gentle cheerful music) (gentle cheerful music continues) - Welcome to "Business Forward." I'm your host, Matt George. Joining me tonight, two very special people, but tonight's topic is a hot topic right now for every business out there, it's technology in the work place. Listen up, people, you need to hear this. Joining me tonight, Jim Burwitz, Vice President of Basic ITS and Taylor Nieman, Director of Business Operations, Basic ITS.
Jim, Taylor, thank you for coming on. - Thanks for having us. - Well, let's just start off, Taylor, with you.
Let's talk about, really, the overview, what is Basic ITS? - Sure, so Basic ITS is meant to be that wholistic IT service provider for organizations. We're meant to supplement your existing IT department. So anything from IT staff augmentation to lifecycle management, warranty, non-warranty repair.
We can really do an all-video security is another aspect of our business as well. So organizations can come to Basic ITS, say, "Hey, we're having this problem," or "we need this kind of management," we're able, then, to step in and be a part of their team. - So you said augmentation, what do you mean by that? - So businesses, say they have a short-term or a longterm project, we have staff that's able to come in and either assist or manage that project for them.
We have project managers, we have staff with very specific skill sets as well. So say you don't wanna do a longterm hire, we're able to come in and be that arm for you. - You know what I've noticed with a lot of businesses, they have a good team, or they have, but you also don't know what you don't know. I mean, there's always bandwidth issues in IT and I think that is something we'll talk about a little later in the show here, but I think that's something that I do wanna touch on some, Jim, but first, let's talk about the history 'cause this company, we talk a lot about entrepreneurship here and we talk a lot about scaling your business here, and scaling your business is the name of the game in today's world. So, talk about really the history and the owner, Julie, and what she's done just in these last few years alone.
- Yeah, it's a great local story. So the company originally was founded in Saint Louis. Gentleman was from that area, knew that area, probably 25-ish years ago, had a lot of growth, started seeing opportunities in Central Illinois and expanded into Peoria, Springfield, Bloomington. Julie Mawazini, our current owner, at that time, was an IT professional. She'd worked for a few different organizations and ultimately, ended up going to work for Basic ITS as an employee. - Okay. - So when the gentleman from Saint Louis decided it was time to retire, Julie decided she wanted to be the owner and she started working on putting that together.
There was a vice president at Basic ITS, the original version who she brought along with him, and that was back in 2011 that she purchased the organization- (speaking over each other) Sole owner ever since, yeah. And I think they started with three employees and now we're up to 40 and growing like crazy as Taylor was just talking about. - Think about that aggressive mindset, 12 years ago, seriously. - Not that long ago, yeah.
- Yeah, you're an employee and you sit there, obviously you have to have some entrepreneurial mindset, and you also have to have the wherewithal to be able to sit here and take that leap into ownership- - yeah. - Different than being an employee and so that's what, really, I'm kind of most impressed with, with Julie, is because you go from three employees to 40 employees and you tell me if I'm wrong or right, right now, you probably could have 80 employees if you could find the people because it's just hard, in general, no matter what business I talk to, it's just hard to find people, and this is specialized. - It's amazing and you and I have known each other a long time and run around with some of the same people- - [Matt George] We have the same hair. - And we have the same hairstyle, which is pretty cool.
How many people in a week, in a month, tell you some version of that, right, "God, I got these jobs and I can't fill 'em." - [Matt George] Right. - And we certainly have the work where we could bring on some more folks and we're definitely gonna do that. One of the things I like about the Basic ITS story and Julie's story, in particular, I tell this a lot, if Taylor and I are interviewing a candidate or I'm out speaking somewhere, or wherever we might be, one of the neat things she did, one of the many things she did that helped our community and showed the commitment to longterm thinking into growth, right smack dab in the middle of COVID, 2020-ish, spring of 2020, Julie bought a building that had to be gutted, renovated, expanded.
So you think about what was going on in that time period, people were getting laid off, doors were closing, she did the exact opposite, kinda saw it as, you know, this is a speed bump and yeah, there's a lot of bad things happening, but I'm not gonna let that deter the larger plan and we actually grew during that period. I wasn't there, I started in 2021, but I've heard this story many times and it's just one of the things I'm especially proud of. It says a lot about the organization and about our owner and the leadership. - Yeah, if you think about it, we've had, oh man, I can't tell you how many businesses on here that had to really hit the pause button and maybe even took a backseat to some things and some went belly. And then you had this whole group of entrepreneurs that were sitting here with somewhat of that aggressive thinking and saying, you know what, now's the time, it's ripe.
- [Jim Burwitz] Yep. - And it sounds like that's what she did. Taylor, let's talk about industry trends. - Mmhmm. - [Matt George] What does that even mean? Is that what the future of IT looks like? Is that what the assumption is? - A little bit, but also in part, just what we're seeing the demand for right now, and especially too, often, because of COVID, two areas of our business that just exploded were the staffing. - Okay.
- As people are starting to cut their overhead, they were looking for businesses like Basic ITS, to come in and help them so that they could still deliver on what they needed to do day to day. Also the video security has been massive. We've seen all kinds of grants come that people are trying to either increase their security through video security, access points, but also during COVID specifically, tracking COVID, being able to see where the outbreaks were, the hotspots, monitoring their buildings, okay, where has there been a ton of activity? Where do we need to sanitize? So that really, now we're seeing it more in schools, but at the time, that was really the catalyst for tracking those COVID cases. - You know, if you think about it, so when I ran Children's Home for many years and we probably, honestly, have more video cameras than anybody in the city, I mean, it's a ton.
And, you know, I always thought, like, five, 10 years ago, the clarity of those were, you always looked at a casino as being the best of the best when it came to clarity of videos. Now it's on the corner grocery store or it's at any small business, the technology itself has just grown to where, I guess, even it's equivalent to an Apple phone, like to take a picture. I would think that most businesses now, it's almost a must-have, and if you don't have it, it doesn't make sense to me. Is that what you're seeing? - We are seeing that, yes. - That is crazy.
I mean, who would have ever thought that? - Taylor handles a lot of our security solutions too with our operations manager and we have a senior technician too who's very well versed in that. And I'm not technical, as you know, but I'm blown away by, specifically, this electronic security technology. We partner with a company called Verkada and just one of the many things, Taylor knows this better than me, crystal clear license plate resolution up to 80 miles an hour. So you think about a passing vehicle, flying by, right, that a crime was just committed or whatever- - Cameras smart enough to know when they're down and to let you know when they're down so you're not, you know, missing an incident and you didn't know, hey, that camera's been down for- - Yeah. - For three months. Even people analytics down to say, "Hey, "I'm looking for a red shirt, I'm looking for a backpack "within this time frame," or even in this zone, and the camera is going to be able to pull that footage for you, saving our partners hours and hours of work. - Instantly, yeah, the customization and the search-ability is just, it's so user friendly.
I'm blown away, the first time I saw a demo, I just, I couldn't believe my eyes. - You know how I know this is true? Because I get the tickets for the tolls that I blow through. (everyone laughs) Totally joking, so- - License plate clarity, yeah. (everyone laughs)
- So let's talk about, we touched on it earlier, but I'm really interested in the IT staffing piece- - [Jim Burwitz] Yeah. - You know, let's say you have a team of eight, and they're actual employees- - Mmhmm. - And with, you know this, with employees comes benefits, and it's important, people need jobs, but there's also a fine line with some businesses, especially small business, that they actually need 10 people- - Mmhmm. - And so, the bandwidth may not be there, but what can we do to get an additional 10 to 20 hours, whatever it may be- - Right. - That's what we're talking about. - Absolutely. - So talk to me about that.
I'm interested in it. - It's a fascinating part of our business and it's such a mixed bag. I probably overuse that phrase, but it's absolutely true. So we have customers from all walks of life, right? Some medical, some educational, some insurance, nonprofits, for profits, educational institutions, municipalities, you name it, and they all have different needs, right? So somebody might need two part-time help desk people for a fixed period of time. Somebody might be looking for a senior project manager who eventually will start on a contract basis, but we really need this person longterm to come on direct.
We can structure it anyway a customer likes, but what's fascinating about it to me is every organization's different. So it's not like we have these cookie cutter sort of IT solutions that only fit very narrow sets of criteria, right? So as a result, we're constantly learning about what people are touching, you know, we're not always technology experts. We've seen an awful lot in our time there, but every day is a new learning experience for our people.
That's the fun part for me. - And you have access to people. And so the other thing, too is, what you're saying, is I like it, it's individualized work. So if there's 100 projects, there's 100 different projects.
- Yep, that's exactly it. - And so, like, the example that I, you know, I look back at a project I had about five years ago, and I made a mistake and the mistake I made was not, we didn't have the person to jump in and take control of the implementation and maybe even the project management piece of a platform. - Mmhmm. - And if you don't know what you're doing, it takes three times as long, a lot of money wasted- - That's right. - There's a lot of different things, a lot of different scenarios, but I have heard this from 100 different businesses out there.
- And you've mentioned the benefits and the compensation piece and the work comp insurance and all the things that come with hiring a direct employee, and that's where we can really help keep the cost down too. Typically, they are basic ITS employees, on a contract, for some fixed amount of time, not always. Like I said, sometimes, there are customers we have who don't really have an HR department or at least not a robust one, so they'll pay us a little fee, we'll do the screening, we'll do the interviewing, we'll do the recommendations, we'll do the onboarding, we'll basically be an offsite HR department. They hire them directly and they pay us a little fee for that. We have an HR and staffing manager who's, like Taylor, is very busy, but a huge part of her job is recruiting, every single day, whether we have open jobs or not, and we always do, but even pretending that we don't, we're not recruiting to a job, right, or a project, we're looking for good, solid IT professionals from all walks of life, novices to 20 year people who have the same sort of philosophical mindset that we do when it comes to serving customers.
That's hard to find, but that's why that job is so important for us. - Well another thing too that people need to realize is that having it be individual projects, it's not Groundhog Day every day. You're not going in nine to five and sitting at a computer and doing this.
You have something different going on every day and what I'm seeing, especially with my older kids, is that's what they like. - Yeah. The favorite call that we get, I get looped in on these things, but is when somebody calls and says, "We know you guys don't usually do this, "but- - (laughs) Yeah. - I mean, at first it makes me a little nervous maybe, but we had one for a large manufacturing organization where they're like, "This is gonna sound a little weird, "but we're completely remodeling," whatever building, whatever all the wings, all the floors, and, "what if you helped us construct a crew that could come in, "move the stuff out," you know, the carpet people, all those folks come back in, do their thing, your guys come back, put everything back and then they unbox and hook up and do all of our IT setup, and we don't typically do that, but we were like, yeah, that's something I'm sure we can do and that goes back to, you gotta have the right candidates in the pipeline otherwise that's just not something we're gonna be able to deliver on the fly.
- Right. So let's talk about the importance of giving back to Central Illinois. I don't know who wants to take this, but you know, you know my background and you know my- - I do. - Philosophy about community. And you have a very similar philosophy. That's where I met you is always doing something or volunteering time or boards or other things- - Not as much as you, but I try.
- Well that was my career though. (Jim laughs) No, so what does it mean, culture-wise, to maybe Julie and to the team, when you're talking about giving back to Central Illinois? - I think we can both talk about this, I'll start. It's, and you've probably, I'm sure I've told you this story, the job I had before this one, I assumed I would retire from. I was working for Afni and Bloomington and loving every second of that, hadn't updated my resume, wasn't interested in moving on.
Great culture, yeah, just a cool, innovative, interesting company. I'd known Julie professionally and socially for a few years, hadn't talked to her, I can't remember the last time when she called me in 2021. And I wouldn't have left what I was doing for very many people in Central Illinois, but I knew all those values that you just rattled off, she and her husband and her family are the exact same way and the company is an extension of that. So she's massively philanthropic, financially, with her time, she sits on board all the things that you do, all the things we talk about all the time and you know, it sounds cheesy, but I mean, it feels good, it's really rewarding. - Yeah, it's actually important for a small business.
I mean, what's your thought on that? Do you have anything to add? - No it is, and she's like that professionally as well as personally, I mean, she's the first one to head down the road, hey, so and so is needing support here and you'll see her leave the office sometimes to go run that errand for somebody. - Yeah. - You know, deliver that support to them.
I know, too, we're working on some initiatives right now to even get the employees, as a whole, give them those opportunities as well to give back. So that's very important to her and something that she's built deep within the business. - And all that starts from the top.
You know, you were a CEO, it's like, if that example isn't, so everyone talks about it, right? Everyone talks a good game- - Yeah. - But if your leadership's not living it and showing it, then what kind of message does that send? - Well that's a perfect segway into the word collaboration. - [Jim Burwitz] Yes.
- Because, you know, I probably beat a dead horse with this term, but, you know, I say a lot of times that people, everybody's got a definition, their own definition for collaboration, but recently had Dr. Sheila Cortbaily on the show- - [Jim Burwitz] Yeah. - And with Don Shaffer, with ICC and, you know, we were talking about this IT accelerator grant and really just what is being brought to the region as a whole, all the positive things coming out from Illinois Central College, the leadership, and it feels good. And then, in talking to you, you were talking to her and you're collaborating with her on some things and so talk to me about that. - Yeah, we're really pleased to play a small part in that very important project. So we were involved, pretty much from the beginning, Don reached out to me and then I connected him with some of our team members and his staff and our staff got together, but we contributed to the initial community assessments, the community needs assessments to talk about what kind of IT skills are necessary in this area, what do we wanna develop, what are we currently teaching people, what are we not teaching people.
So that was sort of step one, at least from our participation. We've had staff members speaking at their various IT classes to talk about IT careers and kind of what your future could look like, right here in Central Illinois. If you wanna go to Chicago or L.A., that's cool,
but you sure don't have to. There are plenty of great tech jobs right here and there are gonna be more because of this project. And then we're also helping with resume building for students who maybe haven't done a lot of that. - Right. - And then the big thing, of course, is a jobs pipeline because, like Taylor talked about, we always have open IT jobs and they change every single week.
So the more talented people we can have, up and coming, and kind of ready to step into those roles, better for them, better for us, better for Central Illinois. - I mean, if you think about it, IT, just technology in general, now has a role in everything we do from our cars to getting up in the morning, to, I mean, it is crazy. And so it seems to me, as it's shifted over the past 15, 20 years, that you're looking at job openings that will forever be there in a sense because it's ever evolving, if you think about it. Am I right? - Absolutely. - Well yeah, and thinking about the jobs that haven't even been created yet, but will be here next year and the years after. - I hear that all the time, and it's hard to imagine, but when I had, at the time, it was Facebook and it was transitioning to Meta, but I had the head of, basically, the Metaverse of Facebook on my show and talking about the jobs of the future and I couldn't wrap my head around it, you know, it was almost like I felt dumb, (laughs) talking about it because it was so interesting.
And now, that was about a year and a half ago and now I'm starting to see some of the things come to fruition from that interview and it's crazy. - It's mind blowing, it's it? - It's mind blowing. So let's switch gears here- - Sure.
- Because I think one thing that's lost, (sighs) I'm seeing it in so many different businesses, and I really am a uh, I don't know, a small town business guy, you know? I love family owned, I love all of that, but customer service is lacking. And customer service, to me, equals customer loyalty. So when I was talking to you about one of your, I guess, your service model maybe? - Yeah. - Is that right? - Absolutely. - It's important because you have competitors- - We do. - And there's people out there that are gunnin' for ya, they want your market share- - That's right.
- And so what separates you from the others? - It's kind of like what we were talking about earlier, right, at every organization, every organization I've ever worked for or volunteered for, says they have great service, right? Nobody goes out there and says, "Our service is average." - We're terrible. - Yeah. We live and breathe it every day, and again, that comes from the top down. So some of our clients are medical, they can't afford to ever be down. I can think of one example, I wasn't here, but I've heard the story told many times, this organization had a 24/7 service contract with Basic ITS and some of their machines went down on Christmas. Guy jumped in his car and drove right down there.
Yeah, they just can't be down, right? - Can't be down. - And that's really, you know, that's the proof in the pudding, right there. We can talk about it, when it comes to contract signing time, but we've gotta be there. If they call my cellphone at 11:00 p.m., I've gotta be ready to answer it, or Taylor's. And that's the way this organization was founded on day one, Julie had been around long enough to see, that's how you're gonna differentiate yourself from the other IT companies out there, way before she even knew what technology we'd be selling in 2023, right? The fundamental pieces don't change and I don't know if you guys feel this way, but I do, sounded like a little bit of a grumpy old man, but the more technology advances and the more bells and whistles there are, it makes some of the foundational things more unique.
You and I are about the same age, Taylor's young, but you and I are about the same age, so we sorta grew up being trained that you gotta network and you gotta be a good communicator and you gotta go to these things and you gotta do this and- - Shaking hands. - So young professionals now, who can do that, look like superstars, right? Where we just couldn't have got from first base to second base without that in our background. So that's like an interesting sort of weird byproduct of technology. - I agree. Yeah, and the other thing too is when I think about my own kids, I mean, my youngest, my oldest is 29, my youngest is 11, he knows more about technology than I do. - [Jim Burwitz] Yeah. - And so when my phone came in, I shouldn't even say this, my daughter's the one who sets it up.
- [Jim Burwitz] I hear ya. - And so, and she's gonna be 13. (pair laughs) - It's incredible, isn't it? - It's incredible.
So let me ask you something, Taylor, I was reading, and what is PC imaging? - PC imaging is the image that organizations have, from their softwares, to permissions, anything that's going to be on that PC will be predefined. Setting that up can be a pain if you're doing it for 10,000 plus computers. - [Jim Burwitz] Yeah. - And we have a very capable team that does and I've seen our warehouse when they're doing it, it's insane, but they get it done. - I wondered what that meant.
So you're talkin' like Word and Excel, downloading all that, the software into the server, or onto everyone's computers or what? I'm a little- - It goes beyond that and people way smarter than me could speak to that, but I mean- - Yeah. - [Matt George] But that's what that is though. - Yeah, mmhmm. - Okay.
- Preparing it, essentially- - Yeah. - To go onto the network- - Exactly. - And be ready to go, so- - Making that transition seem less- - Yeah, there are some Illinois hospitals that hire us just to do that for the reason, exactly, that Taylor just said. It's tens of thousands of devices and they just don't have the bandwidth for that. Their people are swamped taking care of their day to day stuff. So we have a group that will simply, all that comes into our warehouse, they image it for however long it takes, and then it heads right back out the door.
- I think another thing, why people could hire you, or at least have ya on the sidelines, is ransomware. I read about different things, just to have a technology company that specializes in things and at least can advise me on where to go because to be honest with ya, in technology, I'm not that sharp, and so I need people. - Absolutely. It's a scary world out there, from a cyber standpoint. It just happened to my wife recently. - Isn't that crazy? - I know.
- And to me it just doesn't, it's just sad and it doesn't make sense, but I think what the businesses are looking at now is when they're doing their budgets and I know this is a problem, is they don't know how to budget for what they don't know. - Very true. - If that makes sense. - It makes perfect sense. - As a CEO,
I don't know all of the pitfalls that are gonna happen and so there's the cyber insurance side, but there's also, then, all of that. So, well you've got some very, very interesting stories and interesting jobs, both of you. I think I'm gonna have you back because I still have five pages of questions. - We would love to come back. - Yeah, (laughs) I always sit there and I plan, but I always get off on a tangent because I think of my own businesses.
I have a lot of viewers that actually come to me and say that they like talking about the individualized businesses. So, thank you Jim Burwitz, Vice President, Basic ITS, Taylor Nieman, Director of Business Operations, Basic ITS. I'm Matt George and this is another episode of "Business Forward."
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