The Atlanta Journal-Constitution “Up Close” Feature on MDI Group CEO Richey Brownfield

Information technology departments at many companies often lack the expertise or resources to keep all the hardware and software running while tackling longer term projects at the same time.

That’s where MDI Group and its CEO, Richey Brownfield, come in.

MDI’s 400 employees help clients with both short-term and long-term information technology (IT) projects. Most MDI employees work at the client’s place of business, which makes collaboration easier.

Q. You provide employees to companies. Is MDI a temp agency?

A. No. We provide information technology workforce professionals on a contract and contract-to-hire basis for mid-size companies to Fortune 500 companies that need additional resources to fulfill technology project needs and business objectives. That can include IT contract consultants or project teams. MDI also provides overall contingent or contract workforce management services to companies that want to outsource the procurement and management of all their contingent labor.

Q. When are your people needed?

A. When clients don’t have the internal resources to get a project fully developed and deployed. For example, when a company wants to develop a specific mobile application, they look across their IT department and may not have the skills sets or enough workers for the project. So they come to us and say, ‘we need to get this application developed’ and we work with them to define what they need and get it produced. We fill personnel gaps in areas where clients may not have the skills, expertise or bandwidth. It is typically the technical and functional knowledge our clients are paying for.

Q. What else does MDI do?

A. In some cases, our clients experience issues around the acquisition and management of their entire contingent or contract workforce.  MDI can create and manage a program designed to streamline the acquisition, on-boarding and off-boarding of all contingent IT labor needed by the client with just the right skills, at just the right time and at a price point to maximize the value they receive from their investment in contingent labor.

Q. How are you different from competitors?

A. First is the level of collaboration with our clients – it’s not just about providing a body.  We work to gain a deep understanding of our client’s business and the business problems they need to address with a workforce solution.  Secondly, the majority of MDI technology consultants are W-2 employees. Many other technology staffing companies rely heavily on subcontracting and 1099 independent contractors, or they use offshore resources. MDI manages our consultants as regular full-time employees and offers them a complete benefits package.

Q. Are MDI’s consultants on a company’s worksite for a while?

A. That’s right. About 90 percent of the time they are working day-to-day at the client’s location. A typical engagement lasts about six months. Once a project is complete, we move those consultants to another client.

Q. If your people are offsite, that is, onsite at a client company, how do you manage them?

A. Our obligation is to provide the right type of talent and manage their performance, doing the job as they should, all the way through to completion of the project. We have client managers who regularly communicate with clients on our consultants’ progress and performance to make sure everything is moving in the right direction.

Q. Do you have offices all over the country?

A. We have offices in Greenville, S.C., Dallas, Phoenix, Charlotte and our Atlanta headquarters.

Q. How many clients do you have?

A.  About 125, ranging from medium size businesses up to Fortune 500 companies.

Q. We hear so much about unemployment. What’s it like in IT?

A. Information technology employment is at an all time high. The technology unemployment rate is down to half the national average at around 4 percent. From June 2011 to June 2012, the number of IT jobs increased 2.7 percent – nearly double that of the overall jobs increase of 1.4 percent. Most notable, May 2012 marked the fifth consecutive month where IT employment reached a new record high, surpassing 4 million jobs in the U.S.

Q. What information technology trends have you noticed in the past few years?

A. Besides the rapid changes of technology, there’s a shift in the way that companies look at information technology. IT was once considered a cost center, a necessary evil. Our clients see innovative technology and the people who create these technology solutions are key differentiators for their business and strategic mechanisms of growth and profitability. We expect that this trend will continue.

Q. MDI says it provides ‘insights’ for clients. What’s that mean?

A. Some of the insights that MDI provides include guidance on what type of workforce solutions are needed to successfully address complex technology project requirements. This could include insight on the specific skills and experience needed for one role, the most appropriate contract worker engagement model to support a specific project need, or even helping define the composition of an entire project team, including each role and the skills and experience level needed.

Q. How do you help organizations tackle the ‘what’s next’ problems?

A. The key for us is, stay abreast of the latest technology trends so that we have the talent to address any problems. We work with our consultants and talk to our clients, really collaborating to forecast what the future could look like. It’s one thing to look at three months down the road, but it’s more difficult 12 months away. So we put plans together to address long-range forecasts. We try to determine workforce needs 18 months to two years from now.

Q. What are the most important characteristics of a CEO?

A. First is having a passion for the business. Next, it’s critical to set a vision that every employee in the company can understand and rally around – with a plan to achieve that vision.  Last but certainly not least would be a genuine appreciation for the employees. The rest is fairly simplistic – set clear expectations, provide people with what they need to be successful, cultivate a performance-driven culture, and reward employees for great performance.

Q. What do you say to kids thinking of majoring in IT? Is it a good field to go into?

A. Yes, absolutely. Kids these days are going to get exposure to all forms of technology in anything they do. The trend started several years ago to move many IT jobs offshore and that contributed to the reduction in the number of graduates with technical degrees from U.S. universities. Many companies have now realized the benefit from the collaboration gained by keeping IT positions on-shore. Java developers, mobile developers, .NET developers and software developers are in high demand by companies in the markets we serve.