Zohar Shiff is owner of Shiff Atlanta, a small-business-oriented IT company, who’s made approachability and user-friendliness his organization’s mantra. Shiff Atlanta is entirely cloud-based, a structure that dovetails with IT’s goal of smoothing the friction between the work you’re trying to do and the work you’re able to do. He’s passionate about making information technology work for, not against, his clients. “I look at computing as a utility,” Shiff says, “like you plug stuff to the wall and you just have electricity. This is behind what we’re doing.”

AnswerConnect Client Spotlight: Shiff Atlanta

What is Shiff Atlanta’s primary service and clients?
Outsourced IT for small businesses, across the board. We specialize in doctor’s offices, but we have a mix of clients.

How do you approach your clients’ IT-based problems?
We have a unique service. It’s unlimited remote support and unlimited onsite support for one flat price, calculated per user. So if you increase or reduce the number of users, it is going to change your bill. Other than that, it’s all-inclusive.

We have technicians that are standing by between 8:00 and 10:00 on the phone. Those technicians are qualified enough to resolve any “settings” problem—anything that’s wrong with your settings. But they’re instructed not to spend more than 10-15 minutes on a call. What they do is get into the customer’s computer, they ask to see the problem, and then they start the process of fixing the problem. Most problems are fixed that way.

If the technician doesn’t have the answer or it will take a longer time to fix, he will escalate to Level 2 support. That’s a higher-level engineer who will go further, do deeper troubleshooting, and stay with the problem until it’s resolved. And if that doesn’t work, we move to Level 3 support, with an on-site team. These people will physically come to your site and resolve the issue.

We look at the user first and their computer next. If the user has a computer that is locked up and we clean that computer and it locks up again, and we fix it and it locks up again, and we fix it and it locks up again, then we’ll just replace that computer. It’s not so important to us to find out why or what’s going on with their computer. It’s much more important to have the user go back to work.

How have you seen cloud-based applications affect businesses as a whole?
You’re talking to a cloud-based company. My server is not a physical server. It’s virtual; it’s in the cloud. All of my services that I use for my company are in the cloud: email, file services, accounting. Nothing physical is on my computer. I use my computer daily, and if my computer crashed, God forbid, I would not miss a beat. I’d go to another computer and be up and running in seconds, because everything is in the cloud.

My engineers are almost never in the office. Today is the first day I’m in the office this week, and it’s Thursday. I was meeting with clients this whole week. So were my technicians.

Companies that are more stationary, companies that have an office and work in the office between 8:00-5:00 and have, let’s say, ten people in the office—to live on the cloud could be risky. The T1s and the Comcasts of the world are not as reliable yet. What would happen is, if something does happen to that connection, you are in trouble. If you are a doctor’s office, say, there’s no way you can rely on this. So we have virtual cloud computing. We take a slice of the cloud and bring it to your office. You still pay for it as if it were on Amazon or Google or something. But it’s replicated from the cloud and located in your office. You are completely secure from all sides.

And for start-ups? How does cloud computing help them compete?
I can show entrepreneurs how I can build their whole business with him or her not needing to build any physical presence anywhere, unless they want. And even then, we’ll set them up. If you consider the disaster recovery plans that we have, you can have the whole physical presence crashed by a tornado or a Katrina-type hurricane, and you go to your hotel room and have the whole company run. You almost don’t miss a beat.

Technical work aside, how much PR are you doing to clarify people’s understanding of IT?
Not even close to what we need to.

Because we’re too busy! I think PR is so important. But when you are starting a company—and my company is not even a year old—you have to run between a lot of different things that you have to do for the company. PR is extremely important and it gets pushed aside all the time.

People think that IT is “Oh, I’ll get a computer, and you’ll help me set that computer up.” Or “I’ve found this server for $1,000 online. Okay, so I’ll buy this stuff and you’ll help me set this up.” IT is no longer that. But a lot of IT companies still work that way. They want you to purchase the equipment from them and then they’ll maintain it for you.

The way I look at it? I look at computing as a utility. Like you plug stuff to the wall and you have electricity, and you never think of what happened to generate that electricity. You never think, “I’ll buy a generator.” You just plug in. Or some people use a septic tank, but most of us just hook up to the sewer line of the city. It’s the same with computing. There’s no point buying infrastructure. You just pay for what you use.

This is behind what we’re doing: “Don’t worry about which computer to buy. Don’t worry about how it’s going to work. You will have the computing power you need and want. If it’s not good enough, you tell me, and we’ll turn the turn it up a notch. If you have 10 people and you’re paying for 20, we’ll turn it down.”

You’ve spent 20 years working in IT. How is the reality of IT now different from your perception of the future, 20 years ago?
To tell the God-honest truth, I thought we’d be further along by now. Sometimes I’m baffled at some stuff that’s not out there. Why don’t I have an iPad built into my car? Why don’t I have a connection between my phone and my iPad? Why do I have to kill my eyes every time I need to dial when I have this beautiful device next to me? I Why am I not able to be on your website, click on your phone number, and then my cell phone dials you, not Skype or something like that? It’s simple stuff.