West Michigan tech sector faces shared promise, challenges
There’s a lot of flux in the world of information technology, especially in West Michigan.
One need look no further than Switch Ltd.’s incoming SuperNAP data center to understand why the managed services and cloud services industry in West Michigan currently is experiencing exponential growth and increasing competition.
“If you keep doing what you’ve been doing five years ago, you’ll get lapped,” said Larry Andrus, CEO of Grandville-based Trivalent Group Inc. “So we’re perpetually and continually learning, we’re always adding to our offerings, we’re looking at some different encryption services now, and (the addition of) Switch will help us get sharper. Because we’re learning from them but won’t be pursuing the same clients.”
Trivalent employs more than 80 people across the state and has offices in Lansing, Battle Creek, Mount Pleasant and Traverse City in addition to its Grandville headquarters. But while other firms in the region might set their sights on some of the larger companies as potential clients, Trivalent targets small to mid-size businesses that have between 25 and 150 employees.
This attention to smaller companies has allowed Trivalent to differentiate itself in an increasingly crowded marketplace. As a full service cloud provider, Trivalent helps its customers from end to end of the spectrum, not just in providing the platform but also in helping clients get their data into the cloud and continue to manage their data once it’s there.
“For someone that’s not familiar with IT or for a company that maybe doesn’t have an onsite IT staff, we can help them go through the whole cloud migration process,” said Jim Bruxvoort, director of cloud services. “We are capable of working with larger clients that want to get their stuff up in the cloud and manage it themselves, but I think our sweet spot is for the business owner that says, ‘Everyone is talking about the cloud, but I really don’t get it or how to do it.’ And that’s where we can come in and show them what it is and help them get set up.”
While customers might hear about the cloud and think it sounds like a good solution for their business, sales director Ken Zimmer said he frequently has conversations where he has to determine whether that really is the case.
“We do a lot of looking at the customer experience and understanding that ‘managed services’ and ‘the cloud’ are buzzwords out there, but it might not be the right fit,” Zimmer said. “So we try to find the client the right fit for their business rather than just ramming it in there.”
Trivalent faces an issue common to IT firms: a lack of available talent.
Increasing competition in the industry has led to a dearth of talented industry professionals looking for work. Trivalent human resource manager Sara Parmenter said the company has tried to aggressively network and dedicates a staff member to focus on recruiting.
Parmenter said first and foremost, Trivalent is concerned with hiring employees who fit the culture of the company. Group interviews have become instrumental in determining whether a potential candidate would be a right personality fit for the company.
“Before we know if they can code, do C-plus-plus, we know if they’re a fit for our culture,” Parmenter said. “And if they don’t fit the culture, they don’t make it in the door. Because it’s not a short-term game we’re playing. We are playing the long-term game.”
Trivalent was one of nine companies across the state to form the Michigan Data Center Alliance as a resource for IT information. The group also led the charge for all data centers in Michigan to receive equal tax breaks as the state proposed incentives for Switch.
The formation of the MDCA last fall could signal a new era of collaboration in the industry, Andrus said.
“Nobody has all the solutions or all the best ideas,” Andrus said. “So I think the more we can collaborate, the better we can provide services. Not one provider does it all, so if you can help guide (the clients) and then pull together the services they need, deliver and put their own package together — that’s the beauty of the Data Center Alliance.”