Nyasha Tunduwani is the founder of Real Impact Technology Consulting (RITC), a five-person information technology consulting company based in Seattle, started in 2004.
RITC operates as an IT department for organizations — both businesses and non-profits — that are don’t have an internal team and for those struggling with retention of IT talent.
“In Seattle, we have a very competitive marketplace, so the ability of organizations to get quality IT people at a reasonable cost for small and medium-sized businesses and non-profits is practically impossible,” Tunduwani said in a telephone interview with Small Business Trends.
Reasons for Starting Real Impact
Tunduwani started Real Impact for three reasons: to see the impact his work had on customers regarding positive outcomes, to give smaller companies access to the same real-time data that larger enterprises had and to promote ethnic diversity in business ownership, which was lacking in the IT industry.
“As someone who was involved in technology but also customer service, being distant from clients was not something that worked for me,” he said. “I wanted to see what the outcome was for the work I was doing.”
Regarding his desire to help small business, Tunduwani said, “[S]o if you think of file sharing and what it looked like in 2004, when I started, we were able to expose file and core infrastructure for a real estate organization that gave it a significant advantage over its competitors in this area because they have access to that data. The data was a big thing, and how to get people access to data quickly so that they could make decisions, that was huge.”
As to diversity, he remarked, “I attended a lot of events where I was the only person that looked like me. Having an opportunity to create a business where we could be very intentional about how we approach diversity and trying to bring a diverse set of perspectives into our company and also serve a diverse client base was something that was critical for me.”
Tunduwani’s Cloud Journey
Tunduwani’s journey into becoming a cloud-ready business began eight years ago, in 2008.
“We started using the Microsoft Cloud infrastructure and its iterations internally back about 2008,” he said. “At the time, it had a suite of hosted server applications called Business Productivity Online Services that included Exchange and SharePoint. It has since been replaced by Office 365.”
Tunduwani said an ah-ha moment regarding offering cloud-based services commercially came when one of his clients had an issue with his email system, which required the rebuilding of an Exchange database.
“I started thinking, ‘If we moved this stuff and had someone that had ridiculous amounts of resources available, it would actually be less work for us,’” he said. “I didn’t have to charge my clients any less, but I could make sure that someone who had huge amounts of resources could do that.”
Another realization came when one of his clients came to him and said, “I’d like to be in the clouds.”
Tunduwani, trying to keep a straight face and hold back laughter, asked the client what he meant.
“Well, I heard that everyone is going to the clouds and I need to be there, too,” the client said.
Tunduwani’s decision to move clients into the “clouds” was accelerated by the fact that Microsoft started provided products that fit the small business market, enabling him to make a compelling case to switch services away from on-premise.
He added that this shift to the cloud was not just something he encouraged his clients to embrace; his company began the transition as well.
“We left our office space and went to a virtual work environment, inspired by one of our clients that was entirely virtual,” he said. “Then, we realized our phone system didn’t have to be on premise; our file system didn’t have to be and our authentication system did not have to be either. If we chose to have servers, we could have them anywhere in the world that we please.”
As a Silver Microsoft Cloud partner, Tunduwani places emphasis on making sure his clients consume cloud-based services in some capacity. According to him, practically all do, to some extent.
“I think the reality, for us, is that we don’t have a client right now that is not consuming cloud services in some capacity,” he said. “We are Silver Microsoft Cloud partner, so we have the Silver Cloud competency. However, we integrate every one of our clients in one way or another.”
Businesses Still Resistant to Change
Not everyone is as excited about the opportunities transitioning represents, however. Tunduwani cited a prospective client that had an on-premises server. He proposed the use of a hybrid backup solution that involved saving data to the cloud as well on-site, but the prospect refused. Later, the server crashed, and the company lost all its data. It took three months to restore the server to the pre-crash condition.
“For a 30-person company, what would have been a nominal investment and a nominal adjustment on the front-end had huge implications, especially since their physical hardware failed, their local backup failed and they didn’t have cloud as a fail-over option in that scenario,” Tunduwani said.
Difficulties with Cloud Transitions
Not everything always goes well when transitioning, according to Tunduwani. As examples, he cited three instances where the choice of third-party vendor partners proved to be less than satisfactory.
“We were reviewing a CRM provider for one of our clients,” he said. “It looked really good, and the client wanted to use it. The next day, we logged onto their website, and they were gone!”
In another instance, during the process of migrating a client’s data, the vendor experienced a three-day service interruption, leaving Tunduwani with no choice but to pull the plug.
Lastly, a major vendor offered what it termed a “great file synchronization solution” that “everyone was jumping on,” Tunduwani said. “The reality is that the product was so constrained that we had to stop using it. We ended up going with a competing technology.”
Types of Problems Clients Present
Because he deals primarily with small businesses, Tunduwani is often approached by companies that have an aging infrastructure that requires upgrading or by business owners who desire the level of competency his company offers.
“There’s a lot of people doing this who don’t have the breadth of knowledge across all the applications, which is why the competency issue comes into play,” he said. “We’ve been doing it long enough that we know what the perks and eccentricities are with the platforms.”
He added that “For the most part, the people who come to us know they need help. They know what they have isn’t working the way it should and realize they need someone to take the reins because it’s inhibiting productivity. At the end of the day, our job is to provide the options needed to achieve the best results for the client.”
Challenges in Transitioning to Cloud-ready Business Model
Tunduwani shared some of the challenges he faced when transitioning away from a traditional IT business model to becoming cloud-ready.
“Getting an understanding of the landscape and the solutions, because we do have the trust of the clients when they approach us” was one such challenge. Another had to do with the loss of control to other vendors for the services they provide.
“If you put your faith in the wrong provider, you’ve also lost control of the ability to affect the outcome significantly,” he said. “But you do have to give up control and, ultimately, that makes the vendor selection so much more critical.”
A final challenge had to do with the number of options available via cloud services companies.
“The number of options that are available are tremendous,” he said. “Just understanding who your viable partnerships are and what they bring to the table, and even within those partnerships, which components make sense, presents a huge challenge.”
Tunduwani concluded his remarks by saying that his goal has always been to provide the solutions his clients need to achieve their best outcomes — solutions that are, most often, found in the cloud.
That desire is, after all, one of the reasons he started the company.