Advance Expands While Retaining Focus on Customer Service
At its Cockeysville headquarters, Advance showcases the products and services that have put the family-owned company on the map. Its building on York Road serves as both a workplace and a meeting/training facility, boasting a display of business technology – ranging from copiers and digital commercial printers to interactive whiteboards and digital displays.
|Advance’s Fully Managed
• Strategic IT Planning
• 24/7/365 Help Desk
• Proactive Monitoring
• Firewall & Virus Protection
• Data Back-Up
• Vendor Management
Well-known in the Baltimore area for its office products and commitment to customer service, Advance’s business has evolved to include IT services.
One glance at the Command Center on the second floor of its headquarters confirms that Advance is a serious player in this arena. The rows of 75-inch flat screen TVs displaying bar graphs, pie charts and grids and the carousels of desks swarming with engineers as they remotely monitor each customer’s system are an indication of the success the company has already experienced.
The Command Center, which opened in 2016, stands as a testament to the company’s dedication to its customers, according to Jeff Elkin, president of Advance. “Managed IT services is a natural progression of what we do,” he says. “We find and implement the technology and processes that businesses need to keep moving forward. The Command Center lets us monitor and manage our clients’ IT infrastructure remotely and proactively. We find and resolve IT issues before they ever reach the clients’ desks.”
Elkin is the son of Advance founders Alan and Lois Elkin, who opened the business in Baltimore 53 years ago. “Our philosophy today is no different than when we started. It’s about the customer experience. It’s service at the highest level,” the younger Elkin says. Indeed, the company’s website is crystal clear on customer service: “Every product provided by Advance, whether it is equipment, supplies or service, is unconditionally guaranteed and carries the Advance Commitment. This is supported by key management who are as near as your phone … Advance will be there where and when we are needed. Period.”
Elkin explains that when copiers moved to digital in the early 2000s, Advance began working with the customers’ networks. “Our customers asked if we could do more, and we expanded our service into the IT space,” he says. It made good business sense to pursue this industry, given the increasing amount of support needed by the company’s business technology customers. “We also found there was a chance to stand out among our competitors with our customer service in this space,” he notes. “This became a huge differentiator for us.”
Elkin says the key to maintaining this level of customer service is employing the right people. “In order to deliver customer service the Advance way, we promote from within and hire based on the person. Technical skills can be taught and developed, but you can’t teach caring about a customer. Our employees must be committed and passionate about solving the customer’s problems.”
Advance IT managed clients have their own Virtual Chief Information Officer (vCIO) who assesses the client’s network and provides an IT roadmap based on business objectives. It is IT designed to move
businesses forward, when most businesses find it is holding them back. Kevin O’Brien, an 11-year Advance employee, currently holds the vCIO position. He is a technology guru with a business mind. O’Brien works with a dedicated team of engineers to gather data and translate it into information that is meaningful to a company’s leadership team – from the impact to the bottom line to the initiatives that would be required to meet the client’s goals.
Advance gives clients the benefits of having a fully staffed IT department to ensure that networks are running at peak performance, and they are committed to keeping the client’s IT strategies on course. “We offer customers a comprehensive program to improve their technology systems, not just repair them,” O’Brien says. “Our objective is to provide world-class IT support, and our customers realize benefits such as reduced downtime, cost predictability, peace of mind and support whenever they need it.”
Among the services Advance offers in its all-inclusive IT package are back-up and disaster recovery, continuity solutions, data verification, 24/7 help desks and vendor management. O’Brien says the help desk team, based in the Command Center, resolves 97 percent of all issues remotely. In addition, clients experience a huge time saving benefit with Advance’s vendor management program. By moving the daily management of any technical vendor to the Advance team, it frees the client to return to the mission of his or her business, instead of eating up valuable time dealing with IT issues.
O’Brien says one of the most challenging aspects of the marketplace is keeping in front of rapidly changing technology. “It is changing every day now, not every year, as in the past,” he says. Advance has a full research and development department, as well as partnerships with various vendors, such as Microsoft. The company’s engineers and technicians are trained and certified, and they work hands-on with customers and vendors.
Some of Advance’s biggest customers are also its community partners. The company became the official Business Solutions Provider for the Baltimore Ravens in 1992, when it consolidated the services from the Ravens’ four vendors to Advance as the sole provider. “We take tremendous pride in this relationship, which includes nearly the entire breadth of our product and service offerings,” Elkin notes. As a dedicated member of the Ravens All Community Team, Advance and the Ravens partner not only from a business perspective but also on various community efforts such as trips to the food bank, the Ravens’ Play 60 project and the annual “Stuff-a-Bus” campaign.
In addition, Advance provides business technology for the Baltimore Zoo, and the company also sponsors the Polar Bear exhibit. Advance is an operations partner and corporate sponsor of the National Aquarium in Baltimore, and the official business solutions provider for the University of Maryland Terps Athletics.
Elkin says Advance will continue to grow and evolve as both a business technology company, inclusive of the copiers and software for which they are best known, and an IT partner for organizations. “There is room for growth in both worlds. We want to move the perception of Advance as a copier company to Advance as a true business partner. Our satisfied customers are our best advertising.” I95 Content Marketing