ASK: Taking the Hassle out of TechnologyBy Jane Whitttington on July 31st, 2017 /
No business can succeed if it resists change. This is especially true in the world of technology. What was new yesterday is old news tomorrow, and any tech company that wants to grow and remain relevant has to be nimble enough to keep up in the every-changing world of modern technology. ASK, a Michigan-based, full-service IT solutions, security, and services provider, has mastered the task. By virtue of its success, it has been named one of the “50 Companies to Watch” by Michigan Celebrates Small Business, a partnership of the Michigan Small Business Development Center, or MI-SBDC, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, or MEDC, Edward Lowe Foundation, Small Business Association of Michigan, U.S. Small Business Administration and Michigan Business Network.
The company was founded in 1993 by three former employees of IBM who had taken early retirement and had been encouraged by IBM to start this new company to sell IBM Mainframe computing in partnership with IBM.
Mike Maddox, President of ASK, says, “In the 90’s the business model was based on selling these mainframes to businesses in Michigan. ASK was the only premier level IBM partner in Mid-Michigan at the time. They had a very loyal client base due to their previous work with IBM and their current partnership with the company.”
He continues, “I worked at IBM at the time all this was going on and got to know ASK because I was territory manager for IBM. Many of the accounts I called on worked with ASK to buy their mainframe technology. I was impressed with their technical talent and their ethics. They were deeply committed to doing the right thing for the customers.”
Maddox points to one line in the mission statement, which was, and continues to be, “The customer’s best interest will guide every decision we make.”
He says, “By the early 2000’s, mainframe technology was at the end of its life cycle, and it was becoming a Microsoft world. The leaders of ASK knew that their business was based on this technology that was declining. They realized they had to do something different if they wanted to continue with the business. In 2004, they recruited me to take over the operational running of the business. We started down a path of finding technology that was business-class and proven that would provide real benefits to the customer.”
He continues, “We found a lot of technology that fit that bill. That led us to a focus on small and mid-size businesses rather than the large companies ASK had been serving.”
It was at this point that the idea of managed IT services was developed, a concept which in the early 2000’s was in its infancy. This model says that a business, increasingly dependent on technology, could choose to set up an IT system, wait for it to fail, call the IT repair company into fix it and repeat the cycle over and over. Or they could choose to hire a company like ASK who would monitor and maintain all the technology within an organization. Problems would be managed before they interrupted the functioning of the company. There would be a 24/7 help desk available.
Maddox says, “That was a much better model for the customers. It offered predictable costs with much less interruption of service. That became our business strategy and spurred our growth; from 2004 to today, we have grown over 500 percent.”
He continues, “We have been able to buy software and technology that allows us to manage thousands of users. By outsourcing functions, our clients save money, time, and inconvenience. And we can bring solutions to companies of any size.”
The company now has 40 employees but, behind that, some 2,000 contractors who can be tapped for support.
Maddox says, “What’s unique about ASK is that we have invested heavily in client facing personnel, so we have a virtual CIO for each account as well as a dedicated engineering solution team and technical account managers who work with clients on a technical level to make sure the technology is being used to its maximum capacity.”
Working with ASK is an education in itself. Maddox says that they look for people who are passionate about technology and are ready to learn on-the-job to augment their professional education.
Part of the culture of the company is a commitment to contributing to the community. Besides corporate donations and sponsorships, employees are given paid time off to volunteer. Maddox says that the value of any company should not be just on the bottom line but also on the good it does in the community.
What’s next for ASK?
Maddox says, “We are putting a lot of time and money into the field of cybersecurity. We now have a division called Enhanced Security Services (ESS). The team members have one job: advanced cyber security protection. In IT, it’s no longer enough to just have the basic software in place for protection. They work to a degree, but ransomware attacks and the increase in cyber criminals has made the world a dangerous place. ESS has a tool box that’s way more proactive in dealing with these problems. The old technologies are still relevant, but they are no longer sufficient.”
In the future, Maddox anticipates that they will need to look at a new facility in the near future in order to house their increased business. Lansing is their only location at this point although they service customers in several states and even in Europe.
For entrepreneurs, Maddox has this advice: Hire the right people and treat them well. Honor life/work balance. Establish a culture of ethical dealings with customers and employees and give back to the community.
For ASK, business is about doing well by doing good.
For more information about ASK, visit their website at www.justask.net