Jim Simpson, president and CEO of MSI Systems Integrators, is a keen observer of business solutions trends. That’s what his company was founded upon—the need for a solution to the fly-by-night technology trends companies were wasting their money on. Beginning in 1994 with a somewhat simple idea concocted on the front porch of MSI founder Jeff Sauvageau’s house with his brother, Phil, and cofounder Tom Morrison, MSI has grown from three guys in Omaha, Neb., to more than 400 employees in 17 states. This spring, an MSI center opened in Peoria.

The cofounders’ shared vision? Take people’s IT talent and technical skill beyond the hardware and build for business solutions. The business model proposed on Sauvageau’s porch drove a no-nonsense approach to information technology: that it should be a business centered on people. “Our founders knew it was best executed by working with the customer to identify the business need, propose an IT solution with proven ROI, and provide a value-add by building the solution with the highest level of engineering skill,” Simpson explained.

In the mid 1990s, “many companies were making impulse decisions with their IT infrastructures, buying products and applications they thought were hot, or chasing e-business functionality without determining their long-range goals,” Simpson said.

In other words, clients—and the industry as a whole—were getting caught up in the latest technology. The negative long-term impact of these short-lived solutions drove a major change. “This forced a significant shift in the industry and a niche for us—realizing a need for complete, enterprise-wide IT solutions,” he said.

And MSI proved it could fill this niche successfully: after six years of remarkable growth, the company began a major transformation to enterprise solutions in 2000, working to help companies improve their ROI and operational efficiency. By the same year, offices had opened in Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas, and MSI was positioned for even more growth. In 2002, MSI invested in its first Technology Enablement Center (TEC) in Omaha—a key milestone for the company. It invested in training and lab equipment to allow customers to experiment with the technology and explore the potential of a customized solution. Since then, nine TECs have opened throughout the Midwest and Pacific Northwest: these labs include technologies from IBM, Cisco, Microsoft, NetApp, and McDATA. Today, MSI offers creative, fully integrated, enterprise-wide solutions, as well as products such as storage, servers, software, networking, print, and data centers.

Simpson said the company’s founding vision included a value-added service model that placed a premium on people, teamwork, and technical skills. “This was our first differentiator—the depth and breadth of architectural and engineering talent. This matured into our next and most significant differentiator—the creation of the TEC. The TECs are a place where our people and talent can work with companies to build solutions that improved their overall business.”

Rather than making impulse decisions, companies can determine long-range business goals for IT planning at these centers. The TECs are complemented by business solutions such as infrastructure simplification, enterprise security, business intelligence, business integration, business continuity, and content management. These solutions back the founding vision of MSI’s service model: pull together a breadth of solutions to address the client’s business issues.

Simpson attributes MSI’s growth to its ability to track corporate IT needs, stay on the cutting edge of the industry curve, and build the right solutions. “The solutions focus has been a catalyst to MSI’s growth as it addresses the true business need of the organization—not just the need to replace hardware,” he explained. Helping our clients succeed in business has helped our business succeed as well.”

The MSI skill level—more than 50 percent of its workers are technical employees—serves a market niche and is built to deliver the best value using a repeatable, process-driven, and predictable methodology. A typical MSI TEC team consists of a client executive, architect, specialist, developer, engineer, project manager, and client services representative. Every team member is at the customer’s disposal, regardless of the solution implementation. “We bring the full strength of our talent to the local level so all skill sets are available to our clients when they need them.”

This approach has earned MSI prestigious awards from leading technology companies. In 2005, the company received the IBM Distinguished Blue Diamond Beacon Award for the Americas—only one of 6,000 IBM business partners is chosen from each of the three worldwide IBM geographies. IBM also has awarded MSI Leadership Awards for five years running. In addition, MSI earned Partner in Excellence Awards from First National Bank of Omaha, the Great Game of Business All Star Award, Microsoft’s Rising Star Award, and Best Places to Work Awards in both Kansas City and Omaha.

Simpson said the biggest challenge MSI faces is the tight competition for talent, but its recruiting efforts are rewarded regularly. “Once a potential employee has the opportunity to see what’s special about MSI, they choose to join us, further enhancing our talent base. When we’re able to recruit at a national level and have people choose us when they could have worked for a much larger company, we’re thrilled.”

And in a reverent gesture to the humble beginnings of MSI Systems Integrators, all employees take part in monthly porch meetings. These relaxed gatherings are designed as an open discussion and update for the entire company.

In addition to these meetings, he said the following four critical factors set MSI apart from others in the industry:
• MSI’s depth of expertise.
• MSI’s ability to provide clients with early access to emerging technologies through R&D programs—facilitated through its TECs.
• A TEC’s ability to allow clients to experience solutions live and build truly customized solutions.
• MSI’s ability to pull together solutions for clients’ enterprise business issues through talent and strong partnerships.

One common misperception Simpson encounters in the community is the belief that only large companies need enterprise IT solutions. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. “The best way a smaller company can grow at an accelerated pace and nip at the heels of its larger competitors is simply to be on the leading edge of information technology solutions. In five to 10 years, companies will not be able to survive without IT solutions,” he said. “Our job goes beyond that to help them stay ahead of their competitors, keep up with regulations, and enable a healthy bottom line.”

MSI continues to grow at an accelerated pace—working to double its revenues, strategically positioning for geographical coverage, and building more TECs throughout the United States. “I want to reaffirm our commitment to growth and a focus on providing solutions at a national level, as well as an increased emphasis on the manufacturing industry and health care organizations,” Simpson said. “We’ll continue to build solutions that drive the customer’s competitive edge and profitability, forcing companies to answer the question: does your IT plan match your business plan?” IBI