ChannelConnect explains the activities of an IT service provider.
This time, that's Open Line:
It's still possible: starting in an attic room and expanding within 20 years to a service provider with almost 250 employees. Managed Service Provider Open Line is a shining example. An interview in Beek, Limburg, with the CEO and co-incorporator Jo Verstappen and COO Emile Stam.
“Open Line has been a service provider right from the start”, Verstappen explains. “We started in 2002 in the attic of the former town hall in Amby, a municipality that had been absorbed into Maastricht.” Verstappen explains that at the start of this century there were still many parties active as hardware resellers . Consultancy was a side-line activity for many of them. “We immediately started working on the basis of providing consultancy.”
That originally consisted of advising on the design and layout of data centers. “With three incorporators and an employee, you soon have your work cut out.”
Later that year, a large IT service provider in the region ceased its activities. “That meant that their former staff were looking for work and assignments needed handling and we were able to take a big step forward.”
It soon became clear that the rapid expansion (the attic room became too small even in the first year) could not be fully financed independently and a financial backer entered the equation. “With that meteoric growth, we decided back in 2005 to also provide Managed Services.” There was a reason for that: “Clients said: ‘you built that data centre for us, could you also manage it for us?’ That’s how Open Line started providing those services with nine staff.” By immediately ensuring that we obtained the right ISO certifications, we laid a solid basis for expansion also with Managed Services.
Experience Level Agreements
Emile Stam, COO at Open Line, says he would like to manage based on Experience Level Agreements (XLAs). “SLAs are based on fixed agreements, such as the uptime percentage or the speed with which tickets are dealt with. XLAs are more about the experiences of client staff, but above all the fact that when the chips are down (the moments of truth), you are really there for the client. At times like that 100% is a must!” Stam concedes that XLAs are more difficult to measure than SLAs. Even so, he has an excellent example. “One of the best housing associations in the Netherlands is a client of ours. Two of their employees prepare the rents every third Friday of the month so that they can be collected after the weekend. If those two employees, who work from home, cannot prepare the rents, these cannot be collected on Monday and there is a risk that the tenants have already spent the money on something else and the amount can no longer be debited. And as we know: two non-payments of rent can lead to eviction. So as far as we're concerned: for one day in the month, these two people are the most important persons. Even if there is a fire in the premises, these two are the number one priority.”
Verstappen and Stam have known each other for years and both studied at Zuyd University. Stam: “The university had a Network and Infrastructure Design (NID) training programme. Those who followed that programme immediately gained a Microsoft and Cisco certification too. We still benefit from that every day.” Zuyd University not only became the main supplier of Open Line personnel (Stam: “About 150 employees received their training there”), but Open Line also gives guest lectures now.
In 2007, the Open Line management decided to reduce the number of activities and to focus on Managed Services and Consultancy. When two co-incorporators stepped down in 2016 and a Private Equity party acquired an interest, the focus became even sharper. Verstappen: “Since then, we have been concentrating on Managed Services for local authorities, healthcare facilities and housing associations. This creates a sense of calm within de organisation.” Such a focus also enables repetitive work. “One municipality does not necessarily function very differently from another. That increases the profitability of the business.” Open Line is now involved in a second round of Private Equity.
Open Line, with its head office at Maastricht Aachen Airport, expanded to a workforce of 242 employees. “At least eight more will be joining us this year”, Stam indicates. The business is not suffering from a tight labour market. “We are the largest IT company in the region, talented people are keen to work here,” the CEO explains. Staff are therefore recruited mainly from the local region.
Accent on managed services
Stam: “We no longer provide consultancy as a separate product, but always as an extension of Managed Services. Examples include onboarding new clients or innovations at existing clients or on the odd occasion when a client temporarily needs extra capacity. The major part of our turnover comes from Managed Services, which we perform remotely.” Stam points out that this type of working gives many employees a sense of calm. “No excessive travelling times in the Netherlands as a whole, despite the fact that we are active throughout the entire country.” And the CEO and COO are clear: “Managed Services do not need to be dull. On the contrary, the repetitive tasks are almost fully automated”, Stam explains. “Twelve people are continuously engaged with that automation”, Verstappen adds.
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