Big versus small is a lousy way to judge IT service companies

Big versus small may be one of the oldest debates in business.

Big companies are perceived as safe, stable, predictable, comfortable.  Small companies are the opposite; just prefix “un” to all those adjectives.  This debate is especially contentious in the IT industry, where everyone wants safe, stable, predictable, and comfortable.

Full disclosure – Infrasupport is currently a one person company. I’ve lost business simply because I’m a one person company and the victim of a negative stereotype.  Frustrating doesn’t begin to describe the feeling after pouring countless hours into crafting a quality solution to a customer problem, only to lose to an inferior solution at the end because of my company size.

So in this article, I want to examine some of the stereotypes around big companies to determine if they match reality.  Am I nuts?  Are big companies really safer partners?

At a macro level, here are the top 15 companies by revenue from 2007 :

  1. Wal-mart
  2. Exxon Mobile
  3. General Motors
  4. Chevron
  5. ConocoPhillips
  6. General Electric
  7. Ford Motor
  8. Citigroup
  9. Bank of America
  10. American International Group
  11. J.P. Morgan Chase
  12. Berkshire Hathaway
  13. Verizon Communications
  14. Hewlett-Packard
  15. IBM

Of those top 15 companies, at least 5 companies –  GM, Citigroup, Bank of America, AIG, J.P. Morgan either received a US Government bailout or ceased to exist during the great 2008 recession.  Do I really need to rehash the horror stories around American International Group and the other supposedly stable large financial powerhouse companies?

Over the past few years, Hewlett Packard fired a CEO who wanted to be a rock star, created a scandal when members of its own board of directors illegally spied on each other, fired another CEO in a sex scandal, spent $11 billion to buy a software company based on questionable accounting numbers, and shocked the IT industry by threatening to pull out of the PC marketplace after buying a failing tablet company.  This is stability?

Here are a few more recent big company horror stories:

  • Most of the entire US Airline industry filed for bankruptcy in the past few years.
  • The entire US Auto industry would have failed without a taxpayer bailout.
  • When the entire US Financial industry melted down, I bailed them out with taxes from my small company.
  • Top managers at companies such as Enron, Adelphia Communications, Qwest, and WorldCom are now retired and living in prison.  Most of these companies no longer exist, having been taken down by massive fraud.

The IT industry is littered with the remnants of once large and supposedly stable companies now in the ash pit of history.   Make a case to the 120,000 former employees of Digital Equipment Corporation about big company stability.   Other names, such as Burroughs, Sperry/Univac, NCR, Control Data, Honeywell, and Cray are now either long forgotten or skeletons of their former selves.  More recently, Sun Microsystems no longer exists, and now the entire PC segment is in turmoil.

Closer to home, during the dot com bust of 1999 – 2001, the IT Service market in the Minneapolis St. Paul area collapsed by roughly 50 percent.  Does anyone remember local companies such as Born Information Services, Ranier Technologies, All Systems Go, Benchmark Computer Learning, and a host of others?  In the late 1990s, these were among the leading IT consulting firms in the Twin Cities area, with combined revenue in the hundreds of millions.  Today, they are all long gone.  One firm, All Systems Go, sold to a national chain.  Within the first few years, everyone in the original All Systems Go either left or was forced out, leaving a legacy of unsatisfied customers and angry former employees behind.

This is stability?

The 2013 Twin Cities IT service industry is still tumultuous.  In at least one large firm, technicians hired two years ago are now the most senior employees in the company.

Despite the overwhelming body of evidence to the contrary, many customers still use company size as a major factor in finding an IT support partner.  The perception of a deep bench seems to offer an illusion of stability and this prejudice against small companies is deep and extraordinarily difficult to overcome.

Let’s put prejudice aside and start thinking rationally.  The fact is, nobody in the IT service industry can afford a deep bench.  People are expensive, and people without paying customers will quickly kill any service company.   If you’re a potential customer looking for IT service, and a deep bench is your primary selection criteria, you will likely be disappointed.

I propose using a more accurate set of criteria to evaluate IT service companies.  Look at the quality and longevity of the relationships between individual people who work for the customer and individual people who work for the IT service company.  The key to a successful IT support experience is the quality of these human relationships, not the size of the bench.

All IT support companies, including Infrasupport, can build nice looking websites and publish meaningless statistics about all our certifications.  Look past that to evaluate what is really important.


Ask me about Infrasupport’s long standing relationship with customers.  Get to know Infrasupport by trying a small project as a test.  If you like it, try another bigger project.  If my company earns your trust, then reward Infrasupport with your business.  If Infrasupport fails to earn your trust, we can both learn from the experience and move on.

All I ask is for a level playing field.