Richard speaks to Norb Doeberlein, CEO of Netzbahn, about successfully running an IT company in a niche and the challenges of managing client security requirements.
An Interview with Norb Doeberlein
Norb has been in the IT industry for 30 years. He started out by hacking into the climate systems at his university, turning temperatures up and down. He also learned to talk his way out of trouble!
After graduation, he worked for a time in a computer store before setting out on his own, which he says was a learning curve. His business has progressed from being hardware-based to business-solutions based and explains that the key is combining what the client needs with the technology available.
Who is Netzbahn?
Netzbahn provides IT support, consultancy, everything that goes along with that, to government and law enforcement in the Wisconsin area. There is a team of nine, and Norb describes them as engineer supervisors, helping clients write and evaluate requests for proposals (RFPs).
Their main job is vendor management because, in law enforcement, every service provided is managed by a company with a state contract. Netzbahn ensures that the police are following the guidelines set out for them by Homeland Security.
Why They Don’t Have Competitors in Their Niche
Norb explains that the service they provide is to manage and support existing IT providers within the government or police force. The work is quite complex, which is why it requires specialist support.
To work within this part of the public sector, it’s essential to understand the 600+ page CJIS (Criminal Justice Information Systems) guidelines manual used by the FBI and Homeland Security, which is not something that most MSPs (managed service providers are familiar with). Netzbahn are able to meet that need.
Netzbahn isn’t the only company operating in this space, but they are the only one working for cities with a population of 30,000 or below – larger companies target bigger cities and metropolitan areas. The smaller cities are often overlooked and tend not to have IT staff of their own, so Netzbahn supplement that by having systems in place so they can escalate tickets to their provider and to enhance communication.
The Challenges of Finding the Right Tools
In-house, Netzbahn uses Autotask as their PSA (professional service automation), but work with people who use ConnectWise, CommitCRM and other tools. They don’t subcontract to anyone, as they all work directly with the client.
When considering new tools, the most important factors are that they follow CJIS requirements and are secure. Tickets often contain information that needs to be kept confidential, but at the same time, the majority of information a municipality holds is in open records, which can be a challenge.
Norb explains that if an MSP wants to deal with one or more municipality, everything needs to be within a CJIS-compliant data centre, including RMM (remote monitoring and management) tools, sync services, file sync utilities, offsite backup and BDR (backup disaster recovery) units.
The Positives of Working Within the Public Sector
Norb says that one of the best things about working in a secure and regulated industry is that processes move slowly, whether to start something or end it. This means that a business doesn’t put in a lot of work on a project only for the department to choose another provider.
Another big advantage is being paid in a timely fashion. Norb says that within the private sector, the norm is to wait 180 days to be paid, whereas with municipalities the average is 14 days, although Netzbahn is often paid within seven to 10 days.
To succeed in the niche, MSPs need to be patient. Although there are ups and downs, if they put the right contracts in place, their recurring revenue and additional services will guarantee a steady cheque.
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