Melbourne University lecturer David Austen joined Enspire in an unofficial capacity to review the business. First step: sorting out who was in charge.
Enspire operated with three partners; Austen recommended that one step forward to assume daily operations as CEO, with the other two taking a back seat. Geoffrey Nicholas (pictured) took up the role.
"David taught us to distinguish our roles as directors and shareholders rather than employees in the business. It took some adjusting but we did it."
The next step was to develop a strategic plan. The directors spent "weeks and weeks" in meetings, hammering out ideas on butcher's paper that stretched around the walls of the boardroom five times, says Nicholas.
"We had to identify what we stand for, why Enspire is relevant to our customers. They were really quite difficult questions to answer."
They finally emerged with a list of steps which they rolled out over the past year and a string of quarterly, annual and long-term goals.
Crowning it all was one "big, hairy, audacious goal" - to get 10,000 seats under management, up from 2000. "It's something everyone can visualise, everyone can understand that," says Nicholas.
The goal turned out to be useful not just as a motivator for staff but as a selling tool. "We're quite open to going out to our clients and prospective clients and showing them our strategic plan. It's really quite reassuring for them," says Graham Blackstock, national sales manager. "They say, ‘So you do this cloud computing yourself?' We want to become the dominant player in this space in Australia."
Practical initiatives arising from the strategy session included automating more of the business. Engineers in the managed services department wrote scripts to carry out health checks and monitor activity on internal and client servers such as thresholds, CPUs, temperatures and disk space.
The task was previously carried out manually on several hundred servers each month, a task none of the engineers enjoyed.
Nicholas automated the sales department by signing up to Salesforce.com, which turned out to be a marked improvement from CRM function tacked onto the ticketing system used by the engineers.
Clients' details entered into sales forms automatically populate the engineering and accounts tools. Rewriting proposal documentation has made it simpler to get proposals out.
The reassessment of tasks within the sales department revealed staff gaps. Extra people were hired, including a telemarketer and a sales-support person who revises quotes, deals with new clients, makes sure engineers turn up on time and right parts are ordered.
"We've identified beyond the small company mentality of ‘one salesperson can do everything'," says Nicholas.
"We are going to ramp up our marketing activity. That's a role that previously hadn't really been filled. One person was responsible for their little area in the past."
Apart from increasing efficiency, the automation is designed to free up the engineers to spend more time in front of clients than their computers. It should also increase the appeal of Enspire's managed services business to its existing client base; 1500 customers are supported on an ad hoc basis and just under 1000 are managed or hosted in the reseller's data centre.
"One of the things we haven't done well in the past is demonstrate what it is that we do for the clients. All their systems work but they don't know what we've done to help them do that. The account managers can [now] sit down with the client and tell them what we did for them," says Blackstock.
The reseller has kicked off a social media campaign, linking Salesforce to LinkedIn and Twitter so it can look at Twitter conversations with clients.
This has helped lift sales efficiency to 40 percent based on the number of clients and revenue growth, says Blackstock.
"I base that on the increase of new sales coming in. We've got a lot more clients and the pipeline value has increased significantly with Salesforce," he says.
Nicholas says that through the software he started learning where deals were being lost in the sales cycle. The detailed reporting gave the company a chance to improve its systems, he said. "Maybe this person isn't a good closer, or maybe the proposal didn't reflect information that the customer didn't see."
Enspire came up with four pillars to direct the company's efforts. "People matter, service excellence matters, scalability matters and sales capacity matters," says Blackstock. More than slogans, these pillars gave management the direction and confidence to invest in the business.
The managed services provider moved from its Collins Street premise to the more modern Rialto building in Melbourne's CBD, which was better suited to building a state-of-the-art data centre. It is backing up its service excellence and scalability by buying a Cisco vBlock1, an integrated data centre platform that combines networking, compute and storage.
"In the past we probably would have gone the prototype environment, but going to a vBlock, which is built by experts in their field, builds that scalability. We sell peace of mind and confidence. We need to have that capacity and that robustness behind us," says Nicholas.
Enspire will use the vBlock to run data centre services, disaster recovery and its hosted desktop application, Go Desktop.
Nicholas notes that the years spent building a remote desktop business puts the reseller in good stead for cloud computing. In 2006 Enspire tackled the most difficult market segment: accounting firms and financial services which needed to run scores of applications rather than just one Microsoft Office.
A 40-seat accounting firm might have 70 applications, including multiple versions of QuickBooks and MYOB.
"They need to be able to open up all those data files," says Nicholas. "We got it working - we built quite a robust platform but it's not as scalable. We really see this vBlock as something a lot more scalable for us as a business."
It is serious about its ambitions in the cloud services arena and has already started chasing larger customers.
"We think we have the capacity based on the skills of our engineers and management team to deliver," says Blackstock. While Enspire is tiny next to global integrator CSC, which is also building a cloud services platform on vBlock technology in Austalia, Blackstock believes that the little integrator can be more flexible and responsive to customers.
Enspire won't be ditching its heritage as an ISP and integrator, although Nicholas says he sees these services as commodities. "We certainly provide those for our clients but we wouldn't go out and sell products or bandwidth."
The review process has sharpened the company's drive. "Every day it's just exciting. We work full-on, it's a fast pace, and there are new opportunities. It's never really dull. And that's part of the drive we try to instil throughout the whole team," says Nicholas.
Next: The before snapshot