Bears Vice President of IT Justin Stahl says CDW’s partnership with the team helps bring its technology strategy to life.

Dec 05 2023

How Businesses’ Tech Staffs Benefit from Managed Service Providers

The Chicago Bears and other small businesses have found expert help with IT management.

For a professional football team such as the Chicago Bears, trust is an important element of success. The quarterback needs to trust that his offensive line will protect him from the pass rush. The defensive linemen must trust that their teammates behind them will have their backs.

Trust is also essential off the field. Employees throughout the entire organization must trust that the IT team will support the technology they rely on to do their jobs.

The Bears represent a global brand in a multibillion-dollar sport. But with roughly 250 employees and a staff of eight IT professionals, the organization is also a small business. Its IT team manages a wide and deep scope of responsibilities — and sometimes, it needs support from partners.

“We need trusted partners that we can rely on for expertise in areas that we don’t necessarily have on our team,” says Justin Stahl, the Bears’ vice president of IT. “This happens all the time with the nature of technology.”

Over the years, the Bears have come to count on CDW to address a variety of challenges, from building out a new IT infrastructure to protecting against security threats. Getting help from the outside helps the team to meet the needs of its users and succeed in a highly competitive industry.

Brent Johnson IT Security Architect for Chicago Bears

Photo of Brent Johnson, the Bears’ IT Security Architect. Courtesy of Chicago Bears.

Get Expert Help with Infrastructure Updates

The Bears and CDW have worked together for decades, but the relationship has evolved in recent years. Once a supplier of IT hardware and equipment, supplying products such as networking cables and desktop computers, today CDW is a partner that can help the Bears meet a variety of business objectives.

“It starts with the relationship,” says Steve Miller, a senior account executive with CDW who has worked with the team for about 15 years. “They know that I’m someone who has been here and is always here, and who they can trust.”

READ MORE: Managed service providers can help your organizations achieve its business objectives. 

The evolution began in 2017 when the team was looking to refresh its IT infrastructure. Its IT staffers have the skills to handle large, intense projects, but researching new equipment and then migrating workloads to it can put a strain on them. To ensure that the project went off without issues, the organization looked for a partner that could not only provide the new hardware the Bears needed but also supply subject matter experts to help ensure it was deployed effectively the first time.

Justin Stahl
I’m really proud of the fact that we’re at the forefront of innovation in terms of our technology.”

Justin Stahl Vice President of IT, Chicago Bears

“Partnering with a very strong technical resource from CDW that was able to come in and understand our environment and very quickly advise us on what we needed — it was a great project,” Stahl says.

Having a strategic partner was important to Stahl, who joined the Bears in 2016. One of his first objectives was to create a strategy that would serve as a roadmap for the Bears’ IT team. CDW’s expertise helped the team see it as an important part of that roadmap.

“We really have started to think of CDW as an extension of our IT department,” says Brent Johnson, the Bears’ IT security architect. “They are able to really help us solve some of our more complex problems.”

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More Businesses Get Help from Managed Service Providers

The Bears are hardly alone in reaping the benefits of outside expertise. Small and midsized companies are increasingly turning to managed service providers to augment their IT staff, says Roy Illsley, chief analyst for Omdia.

MSPs offer a wide range of services, including managing computers, networks and security. They can also help in specialized areas such as building cloud-native applications with Kubernetes. Some even offer higher-end services, such as helping businesses design, architect and deploy IT solutions, Illsley says.

“Organizations are turning to managed services because they don’t have enough resources or the skills or expertise they need,” he says.

As a small consulting firm, Trident Proposal Management doesn’t have its own dedicated IT staff. But it recently turned to an MSP to manage, secure and troubleshoot its employees’ laptop computers.

RELATED: Find out how managed services lend expert support to IT departments.  

The Encinitas, Calif.-based company helps clients identify and pursue bids for federal government contracts. Historically, Trident’s owner served as IT manager, and its employees, who all work remotely, used their own computers.

But with the firm expanding rapidly, proposal manager Ben Galendez was asked about two years ago to double as IT manager and invest in new notebook computers for the staff. Galendez knows technology, but after doing some research, he recommended that the company hire a managed desktop service provider to equip employees with new laptops and manage them for a monthly fee.

“Our company was growing fast, so we needed to step up our IT capabilities and security,” Galendez says.

In late 2021, as part of a one-year pilot, Trident’s MSP furnished the company’s seven full-time employees and about seven part-time staff with new Latitude notebook computers from Dell, featuring Intel Core i5 processors, 14-inch screens, 512 gigabytes of solid-state drive storage and 16GB of RAM.

45%

The percentage of of small and midsized businesses that do not employ full-time IT staff

Source: SMB Group, “SMB Business and Technology Challenges and Priorities for 2023,” January 2023

Managed Service Provider Oversees Tech Hardware

Trident’s MSP configured each laptop, delivered one to each remote worker and helped migrate the staff to Microsoft 365, including Outlook email, which was important because most of Trident’s clients and many federal agencies standardize on Microsoft 365, he says.

During the pilot, the MSP proved its worth, so Trident executives signed a month-to-month contract. The MSP provides 24/7 help desk support via phone and email. If needed, the provider’s support team can remotely connect to employees’ computers to troubleshoot.

The MSP remotely monitors the health of the laptops and secures them by applying critical software updates and patches and ensuring anti-virus software is up to date. If a notebook needs to be replaced, the MSP sends a new notebook to the employee, and the employee ships the old one back, he says.  

Overall, Trident is happy with the process. Outsourcing is more affordable because the company is paying a monthly subscription instead of one large sum for the computers. It also enables Galendez to focus on helping clients rather than on help desk support. 

“Most small businesses make money off of billable time. If we didn’t have the MSP, I would be doing less billable work, and that’s not good for the business,” he says. “Overall, we are happy with it. I think this is the future for small businesses.”

DISCOVER: Find out four reasons why CDW solutions and services help your business.

How to Stay on the Cutting Edge of Tech

Not long after Stahl arrived with the Bears, the team started planning for an IT infrastructure refresh. One thing the team was looking for in the project was simplicity. The Bears had been relying on a variety of vendors for different pieces of hardware to build out infrastructure. This created multiple points of potential failure and complicated the process for getting support.

Ultimately, the Bears’ IT team settled on a hyperconverged infrastructure solution from Nutanix to meet its evolving computing and storage needs while also simplifying management. That experience in 2017 simplified planning for its next refresh earlier this year. The team decided to replace its equipment with the latest Nutanix hardware, which delivered an upgrade in processing power and memory while adding some new features for security and management.

LEARN MORE: What are the three questions to ask when considering a managed service provider?

“They want a cloudlike experience, just like you would get with AWS or Azure,” says Ken Viggiano, a principal solution architect for hybrid infrastructure with CDW, who worked on both the Bears’ 2017 and 2023 refreshes. “Essentially, what we did was to simplify their infrastructure.”

The team also takes its security — both cyber and physical — very seriously. When it expanded and upgraded its headquarters facility, Halas Hall, in 2019, CDW helped it deploy a range of security cameras and physical access control. And to ensure it had state-of-the-art recovery capabilities, it again partnered with CDW to deploy a Druva solution to back up both on-premises and virtual machines.

The Bears and CDW share a vision to retain and grow the team’s status as a league leader when it comes to technology. “They have a need, and we have specialists in all these categories: data center, networking, security, cloud, re-platforming applications,” Viggiano says. “We have all of these engineers and experts.”

Stahl says the game plan is working: “I’m really proud of the fact that we’re at the forefront of innovation in terms of our technology.”

Courtesy of Chicago Bears
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