Rochester Business Journal – Written by: Kevin Oklobzija
The tidal wave of businesses migrating to the cloud during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a boon to Innovative Solutions.
The company’s own day-of-reckoning moment, however, began three years earlier, which is one reason the recent workload has increased so dramatically, owner and CEO Justin Copie said.
Innovative Solutions is an Amazon Web Services (AWS) Premier Consulting Partner and provides cloud migration, cloud consulting and cloud-native development to small- and mid-size businesses.
With those services in high demand due to a spike in remote work, remote learning, telemedicine and online services, the Henrietta-based firm has enjoyed 100 percent year-to-date growth. The surge in business earned Innovative a spot on the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce Top 100 list of fastest growing privately owned companies.
As a result, Innovative has increased its employment base by 33 percent in the past 10 months and expects to nearly double the current number (80) by the end of 2022.
“One of the things that COVID ended up doing, it has accelerated every business’s adoption of technology,” Copie, said. “It was a race to the cloud.”
Essentially it was sink-or-swim time, he said.
“If you were a small business and you dipped your toe in the water with tech prior to COVID, then post COVID things just completely accelerated for you — if you were not only going to survive but if you were going to figure out how to differentiate and ultimately serve your customers better. That’s what’s fueling my company’s growth. Demand is just so high, and we can’t hire fast enough.”
Indeed, Innovative had 18 open positions when the month began. The primary need is for cloud architects and cloud engineers, the people that know how to design, build and support AWS cloud environments.
For Copie and Innovative Solutions, their pivot began in 2018 after he attended Microsoft Inspire, the tech giant’s annual partner conference.
“I’m out at Las Vegas at the world’s largest Microsoft conference,” Copie recalled. “I just got done hearing the CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, talk about where Microsoft was going with the cloud.”
Copie didn’t like what he heard.
“I got out of the keynote, I picked up the phone and I called two of my guys who were in New York City at an Amazon Web Services conference and I said, ‘Guys, we’re in trouble. Microsoft is not leading, they’re not innovating and they’re not going to be the horse that we want to bet on in the future if we’re going to go all in on the cloud.’ They had this following mentality.
“They (his colleagues in New York) go, ‘Justin we literally couldn’t have more of an opposite reaction to what AWS is doing. They are innovating, they are absolutely the future, and this is the horse we need to bet on.’”
Over the next two years, the firm’s leadership team, along with 22 other employees, devised a plan to align fully with AWS.
“We’ve always been a Microsoft partner,” Copie said. “We started (in 1989) by supporting small- to mid-sized businesses that were using IBM technology. Innovative had expertise specifically around the systems that small- to mid-sized business would need from IBM that needed to be supported.
“That obviously grew to the Microsoft world and to a customer who wanted to connect its business to the internet in the late 1990s or the company that wanted to build a web presence or e-commerce presence. Or the small- to mid-sized businesses that wanted to support their local end users who are now using laptop computers or desktop computers on a corporate-based system.”
By 2021, the company began focusing on migrating customers to the cloud, foreign as it was to most.
“The cloud is nothing but data centers upon data centers and miles upon miles of cabling that another big tech company owns that you decide to host your information on,” Copie said.
The majority of that space is owned by three firms, he said: Amazon, Microsoft and Google, with close to 40 percent of the overall market owned by Amazon, he said.
“They are the biggest, they are, by technical standards, recognized as the most technologically advanced, and they are most scalable,” Copie said. “That means Amazon has the ability to scale their cloud, to grow their cloud, with capabilities faster and more efficiently than any other cloud service provider in the world.
“And it should be no surprise that the reason that they have all this infrastructure is they’re running one of the world’s largest retailers on that same infrastructure.”
The need to adopt cloud-based practices and the attractiveness of AWS has meant business is good for Innovative Solutions. The firm even hired Ryan Boyer as vice president of product away from AWS, where he worked in partner solutions architecture.
“All we do every single day is we move customers to the Amazon cloud (AWS) and we support them once they’re there,” Copie said. “Once you’re there, there’s new piping so to speak that needs to be managed, because things change, because security needs to not only be monitored but managed.”
There are more than 10,000 AWS partners worldwide, but only around 120 have the AWS Premier Partner designation. And of those, fewer than 40 provide services for commercial businesses, Copie said.
From restaurants needing the cloud to provide online ordering and home delivery, to a Syracuse research laboratory pivoting to COVID-19 testing services, Innovative Solutions helped a wide variety of businesses make the transition.
Ensuring his own employees have the ability to grow is also critical, Copie said. He believes the key to success comes from engaged, happy, productive employees that also find fulfillment away from the office.
“This company is built to give employees the opportunity to architect their very best selves,” Copie said. “I want people to not only explore what it is what they want to do, but I want them to go home at night feeling extremely fulfilled by the work that they do.
“It’s a philosophy that I’ve found creates an environment where employees, if they really find fulfillment in what they do and they find that the relationship they have with the business is one that they genuinely feel invests in who they are, not only are they willing to put their blood, sweat and tears into helping customers achieve what needs to be done, but everything is ROI positive. You have happy customers, you have a customer base that wants to do more with you, you have employees who are doing the things they want to do for those customers. You’ve got this perfect cocktail for good things to happen.”
Innovative supports about 500 customers across 250 cities, with around 200 with the company for at least five years. Besides Rochester, the company has employees in 14 other cities.
It is the headquarters in the Riverwood Tech Campus in Henrietta, however, that is inspiring Copie. During his own keynote address to his employees in 2019 regarding the migration from Microsoft to AWS, he pointed out the irony of being in a former Eastman Kodak Co. building.
“I said, ‘Look at these bricks on the wall,’” Copie recalled. “They should all be a reminder on why you want to cannibalize your own business and never let somebody else do it for you. Kodak didn’t follow their own advice. They didn’t cannibalize their own business — film. They allowed their competitors to do so with digital, and they became irrelevant within a decade.
“We will not let that happen with our business. We will go all in with Amazon and we will support our customers when they’re looking for the best cloud provider in the future.”
He only foresees more demand.
“The estimate is less than 15 percent of all future cloud workloads are actually in the cloud, meaning we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us,” Copie said. “Businesses are rapidly moving. The amount of data in the world doubles every year. Meaning a huge portion of the data that exists today is freshly created, so the data requirements are continuing to increase.”