It’s hard to imagine our world without personal computers, smartphones, tablets, or the internet. But when Mahyar Okhovatian, owner and CEO of Compu Systems, Inc. (CompuSys), started computer consulting in the late 1970s, people still sent mail via the US Postal Service, and a small business with a fax machine was considered “high tech.” For almost four decades Okhovatian has watched as technology transformed business, all while building his own one-man operation into a full service information technology (IT) firm. What is his secret to success? Keeping a flexible business model and a strong, intellectually nimble team whose number one focus is customer service.
Ready for Take-Off
Iranian-born Okhovatian’s first love was aviation, and he came to Daytona Beach in the 1970s with a scholarship to pursue a degree at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU). It was an ERAU professor who first noticed Okhovatian’s ready grasp of computer technologies, telling him he was gifted. Through his professor’s connections, Okhovatian soon had a lot of side work developing custom software for area businesses. Unfortunately, political unrest in Iran led to a loss of funding for his scholarship, and Okhovatian had to drop out of the ERAU program. “I was left to figure out how to support myself,” he says.
The turning point for him was when a Daytona Beach-based business contacted ERAU in a panic. The troubled company had invested heavily in a computer system, but, more than a year later, they were still struggling to make it work for their business. They hired Okhovatian to help. Within a couple years the company completely automated their systems, and, as a result, became very successful. When the business was later sold, Okhovatian was again out of a job, but he had a revelation. The world was on the cusp of a technology revolution, and no one, it seemed, was providing the consulting and training users needed to fulfill its true potential.
In quintessential high-tech pioneer fashion, Okhovatian started CompuSys in his garage, manufacturing IBM compatible personal computers (PCs). Although the PC opened the computing world up to smaller businesses, users faced a steep learning curve. Unlike today’s computers, the PC of the 1980s lacked the graphical user interfaces of Windows® and Apple® operating systems; learning MS-DOS or Linux was like learning a foreign language. Without properly trained users, businesses would not reap technological benefits, and IT investments could quickly become cost centers built on frustrated promises.
It was 1982, and while many others in the computer business were focused on making a sale, Okhovatian focused on the other side of the technology equation—the users. “I refused
to sell computers as standalone merchandise. Instead, I offered only customized hardware, software, and training packages—everything that my customers needed to successfully integrate technology in their businesses.” Okhovatian and his wife, Shirley, a CPA, met with every customer, probing to find out how they would use technology—automate payroll, control inventory, manage a database, and so forth—and created a technology package tailored to each business.
Okhovatian’s reputation quickly led to more business. “I used to say that if there was any honest way I could make a living off a PC, I would do it. In the early years, I manufactured hardware, wrote software, and trained customers.” But technological change was a constant challenge. Custom PCs gave way to out-of-box solutions. Large companies started designing off-the-shelf software. PC operating systems became more “user friendly.”
Okhovatian had to reinvent his business every few years and quickly realized that a one-man operation was not sustainable. “I saw many owner-operated tech businesses come and go, trying to keep low overhead and compete on price. The problem is that, as technology advances so rapidly, few individuals have the ability to maintain the know-how necessary to meet changing customer demands, let alone put energy into running their businesses and living their lives.”
Okhovatian pulled together a team of IT experts to help CompuSys divide and conquer each wave in the shifting sea of customer needs. Today, he has a core team of certified IT professionals with backgrounds in business information systems, information security, network management, and online marketing. To ensure that CompuSys can offer “Everything IT” to its customers, Okhovatian also partners with other local and national businesses that subcontract under CompuSys’s management and direction when necessary. Even as his business expands, Okhovatian is careful to cultivate a customer-problem-solving culture, and proudly says, “My staff are not trained to be sales people.”
“Today, technology and connectivity are business necessities,” says Okhovatian. One problem he often sees is smaller businesses adopting the most inexpensive or convenient technology, without thinking about their business’s future. By the time they figure out their technology setup is actually hampering business growth, it is firmly entrenched and tough to change. “From the get-go, you should consult with an IT expert as part of implementing your business plan to set the stage for standardized, scalable IT that can handle your business’s future,” advises Okhovatian.
Once they are up and running, many businesses also decide they don’t need ongoing IT help. “Technology has become deceptively simple for users to use, and smaller businesses often think they can handle the IT themselves. But technology is increasingly complex beneath the surface,” says Okhovatian. He notes that technology failure can stop an unprepared business in its tracks, generating sizeable and unexpected costs, such
as lost revenue, lost customers, tarnished business reputation, diminished brand value, and lost data, not to mention system and data recovery. Few smaller businesses are equipped to stay on top of constant updates, maintenance, and training needed to keep their business connected 24/7. “Just like every business needs a good accountant and lawyer, your business needs a good IT partner. That way you can focus on growing your business while the experts handle the IT,” says Okhovatian.
Cloud computing is the latest iteration of CompuSys’s service offering. “We see the cloud as an opportunity to help our customers streamline their business processes,” says Okhovatian. “With browser access over the internet, IT hardware is becoming irrelevant.” Businesses that operate “in the cloud” use the internet to access virtually all the applications they need to run their businesses—some can even run their businesses from a smart phone.
“The two biggest concerns for small and medium sized businesses as they move to the cloud are connectivity and security,” observes Okhovatian. To help ensure CompuSys’s customers have secure and reliable access to their data anytime, anywhere, CompuSys is expanding their data warehousing and cloud infrastructures and is one of only 200 IT service firms in the nation that are part of AT&T’s Partner Exchange program.
Back on the Runway
From humble beginnings, CompuSys has grown to a top-notch, Daytona Beach-born-and-bred IT center that provides consulting, managed network, and data services to many area businesses and nonprofit organizations. A longtime member of the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce, Okhovatian credits Daytona Beach’s business-friendly climate for the ability to realize his American Dream. “The economy has had its ups and downs, but I believe in Daytona Beach, and I think it is poised for continued economic success. It is a great place to do business. There is no place else that I would want to be,” he says.
If the numerous appreciation letters, plaques, and awards that decorate the entry alcove and conference room of the CompuSys headquarters are any measure, the feeling from the community is mutual. CompuSys often gives nonprofits, such as the Daytona Beach Symphony Society and the Domestic Abuse Council, the technology expertise and service levels they need but cannot afford. CompuSys supports many local nonprofit organizations such as Halifax Urban Ministry, Rotary Club, and the Boys and Girls Club. Many CompuSys employees refurbish old computers on their own time for Homefront for Veterans, and they participate in programs to advocate for battered women and children, among other charitable activities.
“When I started in this business, major technology changes came every five to eight years. Now things change every few weeks,” Okhovatian says. No doubt, little has remained static since CompuSys opened it doors in 1982. But through every high-tech trend, Okhovatian has not wavered in his connection to the human side of IT. Looking forward, he observes: “Technology has become an extension of our humanity—an integral part of who we are. It is only going to get more involved. Japan is already developing robotic shells that help the elderly and frail undertake everyday tasks. Like our health, we need to treat technology with respect and not take it for granted.”