Rob Bracey isn’t your typical businessman. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario, Bracey spent 13 years in academia, including a full scholarship to Japan’s Keio University, where he earned his MBA in Japanese. The experience proved vital, as Bracey would later import that culture’s emphasis on relationships into his company, Quartet Service Inc.
with Rob Bracey
1. How do you innovate on a day-to-day basis?
There’s a chasm between theory and reality, between knowing what you want to do and having the budget and the reality of maintaining it and making it work. We make sure these things are executed.
2. Is there a technology, trend, or idea that’s driving your company forward?
The cloud. Multitenancy options are higher now than they used to be. We are moving into mobile-device management in the cloud and doing things on a virtual desktop.
3. Where do you hope this innovation will lead you in the next five years?
We expect the cloud world to mature, and we will morph with it. What will come with that is taking accountability for the efficiency increases our clients were promised. IT is fundamental to making the sales numbers, so the IT group becomes jointly responsible. We’re going to have to take responsibility for how well technology impacts our clients. We will guarantee cost decreases over the life of the contract, and it will be written in the contract. That is something we are all excited about. That’s innovation within IT.
4. How has the notion of innovation changed in the past decade?
I think continuous technical innovation has become standard, whereas relationship innovation is just getting started. We’re moving toward IT taking responsibility for frontline results, not just operations.
5. How do you cultivate innovation among your workforce?
I educate them like crazy. We try to make sure it’s a fun environment and trust is engendered everywhere. We have a maternity program, flex hours, a full benefits package—in an industry that’s not known for treating its employees well.
At Quartet, Bracey has pioneered the concept of fixed monthly retainers for unlimited IT services. Instead of just selling hardware or providing one-time solutions, Quartet now offers an ongoing relationship with customers with service-level guarantees, reminiscent of what he experienced while studying abroad.
“When we started out talking about managed service retainers in the IT industry, no one knew what we were talking about,” says Bracey. “We wanted to build solid relationships, and that takes time. The Japanese are all about interpersonal relationships and community—and that’s what we’ve done at Quartet. We treat our customers as part of our neighbourhood.”
Ten years ago, Bracey bought Quartet Service out of receivership after a three-year stint heading up its consulting group. Almost overnight, he says, he put together a group of investors, with himself as the majority stockholder, and won bidding for the company. He then set about restructuring it, and today Quartet Service has grown fivefold from a decade ago, with 75 percent of company revenues coming from support retainers.
“I bought this company because I would buy services from a company like this,” Bracey says.
Quartet’s new business model was to focus on unlimited service-retainer relationships while offering smaller businesses the technology of larger corporations without the upfront capital costs and maintenance expenses.
“We invest in IT infrastructure on behalf of our clients, such as a private cloud or phone services, and then deliver services on a multi-tenant basis,” Bracey explains. “Performance is guaranteed, there are no capital costs, and contracts are flexible. None of the services by themselves is all that spectacular; but rolled together and made accessible—that’s the different approach.”
Quartet’s latest innovation is the “community cloud,” which offers all the cloud benefits without the ambiguity. Community members know exactly where Quartet’s facilities are, and Quartet takes full responsibility for security and compliance.
With Quartet as an IT partner, small and midsize businesses benefit from the economics of 53 skilled technicians managing 9,000 computers, servers, and phones.
“The things we learn on an aggregated basis are distributed back to our clients,” Bracey says. “Together, our community is way more efficient and effective.”
Today, Quartet Service has built a community of more than 160 companies with ongoing relationships. Its personnel focus is on strengthening the relationship, rather than stepping in periodically to provide hardware or other one-off services.
Bracey also finds ways to innovate within the IT industry while serving as copresident of Venture Tech Network, North America’s biggest IT service provider association. There, Bracey sees what services might benefit his clients and how he might offer those within the framework of Quartet’s relationship-centred business model.
“Our guys understand the value of the relationship,” he says. “It’s difficult to quantify the value of a relationship, but the longer we are in business, the more we believe in them.”