December 22, 2016
Thomas Clancy, president of Valiant Technology, is a technology expert for the creative industries.
We recently checked in with Thomas to learn more about the IT challenges facing those in creative industries and get his take on the future of technology management for businesses. Here's what he had to say:
What sets your business apart from other tech consultancies out there? What niche are you filling?
We are dedicated to providing services to what we call "the creative industries," which are advertising, fashion design, public relations, film/TV production, art and architecture, fine dining and fashion retail.
What makes you uniquely suited to serve the needs of creatives?
At the most basic level, I am a creative person myself! I went to a specialized high school here in NYC (The High School of Art and Design), and learned everything from color theory to photo developing (a dead skill, sadly), to commercial illustration and animation. I'm also a musician (if you count drummers as musicians) and have spend hundreds of hours in recording studios fiddling with their technology.
After spending years in advertising as a studio support tech, and then eventually becoming an IT Director for an advertising firm, I really speak that language well. My team by extension have had similar paths and have struggled through the learning curve of the tools and understand the demands these tools put on computers. From huge, unmanageable data sets to color sensitivity to lightning-fast storage, creative folks have long had an uphill battle in the world of the commodity hardware.
What are the biggest pain points or frustrations facing your clients today?
Their industries are getting more open and less exlusive. It's easy and inexpensive to set up a functional studio, couture atelier, offshore development team or three-person branding shop. With social media helping to inflate a micro-firm's market presence, Alibaba making it easier to get stuff manufactured and the rapid drop in prices for tech gear, there's less advantage in being "big." So, these micro firms are putting a lot of downward pressure on prices. Why spend 10MM with a major firm and get a junior account manager because they reserve the "pros" for the Coke/Johnson&Johnson/Target account, when you could spend 1MM and get the best folks at a small firm that will treat you like gold?
Outside of business challenges, the technical challenges are:
- Backup and disaster recovery is expensive for their large data pools.
- Security and functionality retaining a balance for folks that are trying to stay "in a groove" is tricky.
- The cloud revolution hasn't fully eased the burden for local storage expense.
- The reliance on the web and SaaS tools has exposed the weakness of the final mile of web infrastructure in the U.S.. Other countries (and many other American cities outside New York) have fiber everywhere, for low prices. In NYC fiber is still through-the-moon expensive, often unavailable and the lack of effective competition allows firms like Time Warner to deliver sub-par service without penalty.
What are the most common mistakes you see your clients making in managing IT?
- Not testing their backup. No. 1 biggest, saddest, easiest to avoid problem. I have had to hand over tissue boxes to folks that lost a lot of data. it's avoidable. Just test the darned thing!
- Being comfortable saying "oh I don't know ANYTHING about computers (awkward giggle)", and using that as an excuse for tragic errors. Ignorance of usage of critical tools is not an OK thing to be proud of. None of us can do our job without our computer anymore. We have to have basic facility using them. You don't have to be a bloody expert, but you can't pretend that basic computer knowledge is unimportant.
- Not recognizing that technology spend is a component of business operation. From Internet service to web hosting to tech support to antivirus, there IS a required basic level of tech spend that every business must accept. If your tech budget is "as little as possible" then you are not poised for success. Your competitors are eagerly using emerging technology to improve their product. Actively, every day, in every way, there is someone out there younger, smarter and faster than you, using technology that you don't understand more effectively than you. I'm not suggesting that every business sink every penny into technology, but every business should get a good tech partner in their corner guiding their tech dollars into the proper buckets.
Can you share a customer success story that you feel reflects the type of work you do best?
We began working with Mr Youth (now known as MRY) when they were a very nascent business. Ten to 15 people at card tables in a Class C building in Manhattan. We began providing our comprehensive support and quickly enabled their internal tech "guru" to focus on money generating projects instead of infrastructure and desktop challenges.
They were quickly able to be a part of the micro-site revolution, creating rapid fire mini campaigns for their customers, effectively combining street teams and tech tools to radically improve engagement with their target audience.
As they scaled up due to more customers banging down their doors (JetBlue, Microsoft, etc.), we scaled our commitment to them, even putting an onsite tech there to handle day-to-day challenges. We managed their spending, storage and security so effectively, that when they were acquired by Publicis, the new internal tech team that was taking over paid us multiple compliments for making a clean, efficient, easily understood environment for them to take over, and we were able to minimize the spend the MRY team was going to have to inherit to get compliant with Publicis standards (because we, too, have high standards, that closely mirror theirs).
How has infrastructure management for companies evolved since you started your career?
The tools are more capable, work faster and the automation opportunities are more broad reaching. We can do things with Powershell and Bash today that were dreams 20 years ago. Environmental monitoring is less expensive so we can keep our eyes on rising temperatures, flood waters, etc.Reporting tools are more accessible, easier to use and understand.
What advice do you find yourself repeating to clients over and over?
Understand your exposure to disaster so you can make a business decision about how much to spend on your "insurance policy" (backup, business continuity, offsite storage, etc). The temptation is to think the IT guy is "selling" something that they don't need (like the insurance broker stereotype). We're not. We're trying to explain a complex web of threats in plain language. The effective IT guy uses plain language, versus obfuscating jargon.
What should organizations be doing now from an IT perspective to set themselves up for success in the future?
Understand how cloud computing can help reduce their expenses. Look at their No. 1, 2, and 3 highest expense categories. Talk about those categories with their IT people. Ask for help in doing what they do, for less, via better technology. If payroll is your No. 1 expense, you need tools that can reduce headcount via automation or outsourcing. If rent is a biggie, can you do more with less space by getting rid of that file room, server room, pack and ship area? If insurance is high, can you get discounts by demonstrating just how sophisticated your business continuity plan is? there are so many ways to use technology to REDUCE expense, its tragic that many business owners simply see the IT guy as a plumber unclogging drains, rather than as an architect/engineer that designs efficient water systems.
What IT innovations or trends are you most excited about right now? Why?
Docker and other containerizing solutions are powerful because they reduce the reliance on local or even cloud infrastructure. Developers can build anywhere and deliver anywhere and with a series of simple bolt-on procedures that bring application loads live in a cost effective way.
The IT environment is always evolving. Make sure your business is prepared for the future. Download our ebook: Are You Ready for the Next Generation of Network Management?