Making IT Chocolate Cake

2620ce1Internet technology has become an essential part of every day life. The economic boom in the United States during the late 1990s was in part due to the expansion of websites and search engines. Over time, businesses began to utilize the technology in order to remain profitable and relevant.

Today, computer technology continues to evolve. Many companies need people who are fluent in the language of the Internet. Internet technology consultant firms play an interesting role in how companies function in the 21st century. Daniel Cohn, an IT consultant from Atlanta, Georgia who created his own firm over twenty years ago, says the purpose of his company is to provide hassle-free managed IT for other small and medium businesses.

“We talk about providing IT chocolate cake for our clients: Delivering the best experience for them without them having to worry about the ingredients. We help avoid the avoidable problems and minimize the impact of the unavoidable ones,” said Cohn.

His company, Cohn Consulting Corporation, provides services ranging from cyber security and maintenance to disaster recovery solutions for small business owners. Since the business of IT consulting depends on the state of other businesses, his consulting firm tends to mirror what the overall economy does.

“Our business is spread over multiple sectors. We are not niched, so things may be down in one sector but up in another, which keeps us in a fairly steady state.”

Cohn says the ‘infrastructure-focused’ and ‘utility-like’ nature of the IT consulting business keeps economic activity flat for most of the year. However, during the first and fourth quarters of every year, companies do their budgeting and spending, which leads to cyclical fluctuations in economic activity.

“Companies look to change their IT environment or at least spend on it while they have the money,” said Cohn.

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During the recession, the company changed its business model from break/fix to management services. Instead of paying a fee for a single service, clients started paying a regular fixed amount on a monthly basis. It gave the firm an opportunity to gain new clients, dealing with higher-priced services, who were looking to control their costs.

“Even in a down economy, we tend to stay flat or grow,” said Cohn, “From 2008 through 2014, we grew revenues each year by 10 to 20 percent.”

Due to investments in new technology and the recent growth in profits, the Cohn Consulting Corporation continues to expand with an efficient system benefitting the consumers and the producers. Nevertheless, the company faced and continues to face major challenges in keeping the profitable machine functioning.

“A lot of small businesses run their business more on hope and nerve. When I first started my business, it was easy to spend money. Once things flattened out, I lost money and I didn’t even know it. I hired a business consultant. There’s all sorts of metrics you need to be looking at like individual profitability of clients. I learned how to understand numbers,” said Cohn.

Cohn also mentioned the reason some of the IT consulting firms did not survive the recession was because they did not switch their business model to match the needs of the clients.

“The financial goals of the services and the company are not in alignment,” said Cohn, “You could make a thousand bucks profit if the client has more problems. It’s now in my interest for them not to have problems.”

Folders_CloudOnce Cohn restructured his organization, part of his growth plan involved getting larger clients. This led to his firm competing against national and local IT consulting companies with larger pools of clients.

“I’ve been having strategic wins against Dynasis and Blue Wave. They are the big gorillas in Atlanta. You see them on billboards. They have brand recognition,” said Cohn.

Companies like Comcast and Dell have now entered the competition, providing their own Internet services including phone updates for customers. Cohn believes the commoditization of the IT consulting industry makes it a greater challenge to make sure his company remains a viable choice for customers.

“Everyone does management services,” said Cohn, “Suddenly you’re competing against the cable vendor. Now, the price is being driven down. But, the other companies will just throw an engineer at the problem.”

Cohn thinks many people today are now questioning the need for IT consultants as they move their information to a cloud provider. He argues clients need people like him to help them pick the right Internet option for their business.

“The question remains whether you want to be Godiva or Hershey’s chocolate,” said Cohn, “How do you be the Godiva? When there are people that can safely say you are more worth it than these other guys. If you own the relationship with the customer, you will be successful. You want them coming to you. You want to be the trusted advisor. You are the indispensible option.”

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