Inforonics: Spotlight on Employee Career Development

In the wake of the recent global economic meltdown, organizations of all types are outsourcing their IT needs, realizing that such technical processes are not in line with their core competencies and represent a good place to reduce costs. As such, outsourcing was expected to grow in usage in 2009, according to research by Gartner.

Littleton, Mass.-based Inforonics is one firm poised to capitalize on this growth area with the help of a select group of IT professionals. Ninety percent of the company’s staff is dedicated to IT work as it relates to its outsourced managed IT services and technical support. These services include business service modeling, applications performance management and infrastructure management, and they are provided to large companies throughout the U.S. The company also has international ties via service calls from its clients’ clients.

Matthew Hooper, vice president of professional services for Inforonics, stressed that the company is a boutique firm. “We’re not just doing [quick] fix PC things for lawyers and doctors. Our clients are usually software manufacturers or larger enterprises” with larger, business-related IT issues.

Hooper said his firm has a record of long-term employees and has a reputation as a great company to work for. One reason for this reputation is the effort Inforonics makes to ensure upward mobility in the company through a tiered workforce and a focus on training across the career.

“For retention purposes, we’re always providing good opportunities to move up internally,” said Hooper. “The typical career path has been Tier I goes to Tier II, and you end up as a shift supervisor or a shift manager. After that, there’s opportunity to go off and be an off-site consultant.”

Tier I consists of tech support professionals, who account for the bulk of Inforonics’ hiring, said Hooper, mainly due to the higher rate of turnover among those workers.

When hiring for Tier I, “we always look for some basic PC skills,” said Hooper, “[and] usually we’re big on hiring college students. [They may] have A+ certification with CompTIA. If they’ve got any further certification, we may fast-track them to Tier II so they can develop some more of those soft skills and get some more experience.”

Tier I employees are hired on a monthly basis, said Hooper. “We may add three or four people, but we may lose a few people, too.”

While the company tries to look internally first, Inforonics does regular hiring from outside the company, as well — including the recent hire of a veteran network engineer.

While Tier I provides the biggest volume in hiring, a much more critical role is service management consultants, who are the company “moneymakers.”

These professionals “have strong systems knowledge; they understand networks, applications, databases,” said Hooper. They understand how the system is measured and managed. “They understand capacity, performance, availability [and] security. They look at the end-to-end solution [to be sure] that that solution is going to meet the business requirements as it operates.”

The Ideal Candidate
When evaluating the academic backgrounds of potential employees in the consultant space, a master’s degree is preferable, said Hooper, but not required. A good substitute might be operational experience of 10 to 15 years and a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) certification. The MSCE is a certification for a candidate with at least one year’s experience in the design and implementation of infrastructure for Windows Server-based business solutions.

Other certifications are desirable, such as Cisco or Oracle, said Hooper. As a general rule, a good candidate would have an MCSE and some type of SQL certification at a minimum.

The ideal consultant candidate should have previous customer service and management experience in a large organization, such as Fidelity or JPMorgan Chase.

“They know how to put presentations together; they know how to document; they can deal with high-pressure situations; and they’re used to dealing with big numbers and high-level folks,” Hooper said. “They understand business implications of the technology. They can speak to the value in business cases of implementing the system, making changes. They understand how to evaluate risk.”

Consultants should also be ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) or MOF (Microsoft Operating Framework) certified, which helps them have an awareness of the business side of IT.

“[Certification] is pretty important to us, [but] we look at certification in a balanced view. I’ve certainly had my scars from hiring folks who were ‘paper’ engineers. They couldn’t do it. A lot of [balancing the certifications] is looking at their experiences, talking through their understanding of what the technology has done, how it’s utilized.

“But for the most part, if they’re experienced and certified, that’s definitely a plus,” Hooper said.

The Interview Process
At Inforonics, the first step to filling a vacant position is to review internally if there’s a candidate who could be molded to fit the role.

“They’re evaluated for some of their core skills and capabilities,” said Hooper. “[Then], if nobody’s matched, typically there’s an internal awareness made,” so family and friends can apply. In addition, postings will be made on the company Web site and other industry job boards.

When candidates are identified, “[they] are brought in through a fairly rigorous interviewing process. It’s usually multiple interviews: at least two phone interviews first. Then they’re brought in internally to meet face to face.”

On-site interviews include face time with multiple tiers at the company, including the reporting manager, and many candidates even get to meet with the company president, Bruce Mills.

Interview questions depend on the job role, said Hooper, but questions relating to soft skills are important. Examples include: How do you handle an angry customer? How do you handle a situation where you’re unsure of what to do or who to go to?

If it’s a consultant role, the hiring manager will ask questions pertaining to past projects the candidate has managed and what level in the organization they are familiar working with, as well as how they view sales and marketing.

“[We would] talk about some of their strengths and really drill them down on some scenarios where a system is not meeting business requirements [and ask] what they would do,” said Hooper.

The interview might also include simulations to test technical or soft skills, but this is only done when necessary.

When a candidate is chosen, the hiring manager usually has autonomy in making the decision, and the company uses benchmark data to give it a good sense of what it should offer in terms of compensation in order to be competitive within the industry.

Learning Focused
Inforonics places emphasis on educating its workforce. In fact, Hooper himself, along with workers at all other levels of the company, recently went through a three-day simulation.

“So even after we’re trained and onboard, simulations are big,” said Hooper. “Experiential learning is big for us.”

Since Inforonics is a boutique firm, it’s important for employees to get training on custom applications, which helps them meet their clients’ unique needs.

“We’ve designed a fairly intelligent system that helps [employees practice] how to handle things,” said Hooper. The system is the creation of an Inforonics director, and it helps employees learn and review company procedures. “Even for the higher-end project work we do, everything’s pretty procedure driven. [It is required because] it is fundamental to how we operate.

“Because we’re an outsourcer, everything is about optimizing,” Hooper said. “If we can handle 20 calls with one person, as opposed to our client handling 20 calls with two people, we’re immediately providing a cost savings.”

Another example of Inforonics’ learning focus was a recent company-sponsored event during which participants learned about trends in IT — such as cloud computing and virtualization — as well as service value. Afterward, attendees participated in a simulation in which a real business scenario addressed lessons related to making critical decisions about business issues — decisions that could cost a lot of money for the organization.

“[The activity shows] you need business-IT alignment,” said Hooper. “You need to be integrated, thinking the same thing, acting on the same priorities. It’s a great simulation for people to look at how they naturally tend to go into silos.”

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Meagan Polakowski

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