Solution providers who have established or are putting the finishing touches on their managed services practice should look to a little known private wide area network provider in Toronto named AKN, or Advanced Knowledge Networks.
AKN this year will be offering IAAS in a box that outsources the entire infrastructure in a per month cost model. This will spare solution providers upfront capital costs. It also helps resellers who have customers outside their local area by providing a connection and extending its reach and control of the customer relationship from coast-to-coast. The company motto is to partner and not be a vendor. AKN’s sweet spot is the mid-market or customers with 10 locations up to 700. This includes non-profits. For example, AKN helps the Children’s Wish Foundation, who has 10 sites as well as CML Canadian Merchant Labs, who has 700.
“2011 will be AKN’s coming out party,” said Monica Rok, the CEO of AKN. The company has gone through a rebranding process and wants to be more aggressive. AKN is also readying its cloud and 3G services offering.
AKN was founded by Rok at the turn of the century. She said that the advent of ADSL technology, which was more nimble than frame relay, was her opportunity to start a business and focus on private networks for mid-size customers that was national in scope and not just for Canadians but for the U.S. as well.
“There was a hole in the market for mid-size,” she added. Carriers such as Bell, Telus and Aliant had their own expertise, but it wasn’t coast-to-coast. AKN became a single point of contact for customers who wanted a private network that could be managed for their specific business.
“AKN enabled businesses to focus on their business and not have to deal with carriers,” Rok said.What differentiates AKN from others is that they provide wholesale services for the deployment of data networks. This means local solution providers can get the same reach that nationwide resellers or managed services provider have.
“The network is the Achilles heel and the end user experience lessens because of it. We control the network and can provide a better end-user experience. If a solution provider is offering software-as-a-service but the client can’t get on it because of networking issues than the service doesn’t work for them.” she said.
AKN’s secret is that they have long stable relationships with most of the big carriers.
“Carriers aren’t the easiest to deal with, especially with customer service and billing problems. They’re just too big and cater to big business,” she said.
AKN’s fully managed Network Operations Centre (NOC) is in Toronto and runs 24/7. They also have multiple data centres, including a 1000 sq.ft. facility at 151 Front St. in Toronto, better known as the Telecom Hotel.Carriers like to work with AKN as an extension of their networking services, Rok said.
AKN has a channel program in place and its partner base is growing organically. However, to partner with AKN a reseller must have its own NOC or have a partnership in place with a NOC provider.
Rok said that in 2011 the company wants to look for new partners. AKN’s channel plans allow resellers to invoice the customer directly and enable them to charge market rates.
AKN also provides competitive discounts. The goal is to double the company’s size in the next two years. Currently, AKN is a $10 million company with 28 staffers. AKN has already planted roots in Vancouver with a sales office. “I’m not patient when it comes to growth,” she said.
Rok added that AKN just went through a mission statement exercise and tried to figure out exactly what makes them different in the market place.
In the end, a catch phrase such as “committed to the customer” was replaced with good enough isn’t good enough. “Everything we do such as watching for new trends or our employees’ level of quality should never be just good enough. You have to go that extra step because if you don’t, you’re just like everyone else.”