Ely, Nevada might only be a four-hour drive from the bright lights of Las Vegas, but for solution provider Business Continuity Technologies, it felt like an entirely different world.
The seat of White Pine County sits 190 miles from the nearest Walmart and 240 miles from the nearest moderately-sized metropolis. And the IT situation was also well outside what BCT was used to seeing.
When BCT began working with the county school district a decade ago the schools were still running some old IBM AS/400 servers that dated back to the 1980s and used tape systems for data backup, according to Rory Jackson, BCT’s manager of technical services. All of the schools in the county were still relying on DSL modems, Jackson said.
And as far as network security was concerned, Jackson said the school district didn’t have anything, not even a firewall. That gaping hole was only amplified by some machines having WAN public IP addresses open for anyone to access, Jackson said.
“It’s almost like you have to start fresh,” Jackson said during a breakout session at CompTIA ChannelCon 2017. “And sometimes it almost takes more time to just fix the mess than start anew.”
In short order, Jackson said BCT created a centralized network operations center (NOC) for the school district, installed a wireless point-to-point system, eliminated half of the district’s servers, and instituted a three-pronged approach to security, which included firewalls, anti-virus protection, and email filtering.
“The best thing you can do is to give your clients bragging rights,” BCT CEO Lester Keizer said Tuesday at the conference in Austin. “Once they have bragging rights about you, it will be incredible how they spread the information around.”
After the school district superintendent sung BCT’s praises, Keizer said his company began doing business for White Pine County itself. Working with the county gave BCT’s technicians and engineers the chance to touch technologies they had never dealt with before, Jackson said, from police dispatch and firehouse systems to the tools used by the county judges, assessors and treasurer’s offices.
“They were in a state of basically very big disrepair where things were just misconfigured everywhere,” Jackson said. “While it was a challenge, it was a good challenge because everybody rose to the occasions, and everybody learned something different.”
Based on BCT’s work in White Pine County, Keizer said the solution provider was brought on to do work in neighboring Eureka County without even having to submit a request for proposal (RFP). All told, Jackson said, BCT has ended up saving White Pine County $250,000 and Eureka County $330,000.
“You’re really making a difference in the lives of people in rural counties that so many times get neglected,” Keizer said.
When beginning an engagement with a rural entity, Jackson said solution providers should first focus on structure, security, stability and speed. From there, Jackson recommended looking into providing proactive monitoring systems and alerts, ticketing systems, managed services, and business continuity and disaster recovery services.
After that, a solution provider can begin addressing the wireless and phone systems, as well as consolidating servers, Jackson said. And finally, Jackson said, the channel partner should look to move the entity to a hybrid cloud platform and assume control and responsibility for managing the vendor relationships.
“It kind of takes the headache out of it for them,” Jackson said. “It’s been a huge, value-add for us, and all we have to do is make a couple of simple phone calls or emails.”
Jackson cautioned solution providers to only work on one project at a time with rural counties since balls will get dropped if multiple engagements are in motion at the same time. Partners additionally won’t make any money in the first couple of months given the considerable upfront investment that’s required, Jackson said, but it will eventually get to the point where those accounts will be profitable.
“It’s just a very rewarding experience,” Keizer said. “Once you start building those relationships, it’s for life.”
Rural communities face not only access challenges when it comes to IT, but are often also more limited in terms of the technology-related education and information they’ve received, according to Chris Phillips of Vergent.
Public sector entities additionally have their budgets subjected to more scrutiny since they are not-for-profit organizations, said Phillips, director of business development for the Dallas-based solution provider. As a result, Phillips said channel partners need to make sure the key client stakeholders receive the necessary technical training so that they can show a return on their investment.
“A lot of people just don’t know because they’re not with communities like CompTIA,” Phillips said.