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Business Observer Friday, Jul. 10, 2015 6 years ago

Manual labor

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A strict system of step-by-step procedures for employees isn't just good for big businesses. A small, but fast-growth company also embraces that philosophy.
by: Michael Hinman Tampa Bay Reporter

Building a global empire might be the entrepreneurial dream for some, but not Jason Caras.

The co-CEO of IT Authorities already expanded overseas once, into Australia and through the Asian Pacific market. When those contracts ended in 2013 and 2014, however, Caras was ready to do something new: Refocus business back on the Gulf Coast.

“We were doing integration work for very large companies,” Caras says. “But it was a distraction from our core business.”

The disbanding of the international division at the Tampa-based managed IT services company cost some jobs and sales initially. But IT Authorities is making up for it stateside. The firm added 24 new positions during the first two quarters of 2015, for example, and currently has 61 employees. The company hopes to have 80 employees by the end of the year.
Executives decline to disclose current revenues, though in a late 2013 interview firm officials say the company had $5.6 million in 2012 sales.

IT Authorities, finally, has outgrown its 8,400-square-foot leased space on West Laurel Street. It's about to close on more than 18,000 square feet it will own near downtown Tampa.
A rebound in the economy is one source of growth. Another reason is the firm, at least for now, remains independent and hasn't gotten caught up in an industry consolidation phase. That decision allows Caras and fellow co-CEO Jason Pollner to choose fewer, larger projects, rather than more, smaller ones.

There's one more reason for the growth, say company executives. That stems from the company's strict adherence to doing everything by the book. Literally. Every employee follows specific manuals and checklists to make sure nothing gets missed or glossed over when working with a client.

For example, something unexpected like a server crash wouldn't just be dealt with on the fly. The steps to identifying the problem and correcting it are spelled out in a detailed manual, including steps to create reports and provide accountability after the issue has been fixed.

Doing that might seem inefficient upfront. But the time saved from not missing any steps from beginning to end more than makes up for it.

“You can literally have millions of balls up in the air, but not one of them gets lost,” Caras says. “It's a system of checks and balances, which creates not just accountability on our end, but consistency for our clients. And when you can deliver as expected, the word of mouth will grow, and so does our client base.”

The policy-driven environment has quickly raised the growth ceiling for IT Authorities. While the company isn't infinitely scalable, Caras says, it is “massively” scalable.

“From day one we've operated like a Fortune 500 company, instituting policies, practices and philosophies early on,” Caras says. “Some told us it was counterintuitive, that we were concentrating too much on that. But even in the beginning, we knew we weren't going to be small forever, and we wanted to make that growth as smooth as possible.”

Expert Analysis
The stick-to-what-you-know business axiom resonates with Jason Caras, co-CEO at Tampa-based IT Authorities. That's why he has so far avoided the urge to merge with a competitor or peer, an ongoing trend in IT services.

“You see so many companies like ours merge with others because they are just too small to be able to afford walking away from any opportunity because they simply need the money,” Caras says. “They end up doing all kinds of other work that might not even be related to IT, because they're trying to be a lot of things they aren't, instead of just being who they are, an IT company.”

Some companies expand beyond IT into areas like websites, phone systems and cabling. That, says Caras, is dangerous. “Each one of those is a business in itself,” Caras adds. “If you wanted to get brain surgery, would you go to a heart surgeon, or worse yet, a general practitioner?”

Follow Michael Hinman on Twitter @BizTampaBay

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