Blue Earth’s Midwest IT Company Makes Use of Owner’s CIA Background
There is a hacker attack in the United States every 39 seconds. Forty-three percent of cyberattacks target small businesses. The global average cost of a data breach is $3.9 million. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the FBI has reported a 300% increase in reported cybercrimes, according to trustwave.com. Now more than ever, businesses, small and large, can’t afford to NOT invest in cybersecurity.
“There are just more and more threats that are coming up,” says Allen Aukes, founder of Midwest IT Systems in Blue Earth. “With the internet there is always a threat. We’ve seen businesses in our area fall prey to some of the cybersecurity threats. One that comes to mind could have potentially lost upwards of $250,000. Fortunately for them they had some smart partners in the banking industry to help them stop wires that were going out. So it has really hit close to home. The threat is real and small businesses are a target.”
Allen Aukes and his wife, Morray Aukes, take the responsibility of protecting businesses in their community very seriously. As owners of Midwest IT Systems, they face the challenge head on with a team they trust.
“Businesses like Midwest IT are also heavily targeted because we take care of a lot of companies and have the keys to the kingdom for those companies with the passwords we store and that sort of thing. So if Russia or China or North Korea can get into the back door of a managed service provider like ourselves, then it opens up a whole new world of access for them. It’s a constant challenge and we have a very good team of information technology experts to keep everyone protected. There is a lot of responsibility, but we make sure we dot our i’s and cross our t’s. We are very process driven. With the training I had at the CIA we make sure we get the things done that need to be done,” Allen Aukes says.
Yes, you read that right: the CIA. Allen Aukes took a unique path to owning an IT services firm.
He says, “I grew up on a farm south of Kiester. Growing up, my dad was a crop duster and we had an airstrip right on the farm, so I grew up around aviation and just had a love for aviation. I tried to join the United States Air Force, but when I went to take the physical I found out that I was color blind. The Air Force said, ‘You are not touching an airplane for us.’ So I asked, ‘Then what can I do for the Air Force?’ They offered me a desk job and that just wasn’t for me.”
Still in high school when he took the Air Force physical, he announced to his dad that he wanted to be a crop duster. His dad told him to get his education and try something else first. So he enrolled in technical school in Austin to study electronics. From there he got hired by the CIA and moved out East.
“It was unnerving and a little stressful being undercover,” he says. “It was kind of weird when I left Minnesota to interview with the CIA; I came back and my folks asked if I got the job. And I said, ‘Well, not with the CIA, but with another organization.’ That is the story we were supposed to tell everyone.”
Allen and Morray got married and moved out East so Allen could pursue his career in the CIA and Morray could pursue her career in travel. Allen Aukes worked undercover with the highest top-secret clearance you could get in the CIA.
“I still had a desire to fly though, so I went ahead and got my commercial pilot’s license,” he says. “I left the CIA after six years and moved to Arkansas to crop dust. My brother had a business down there. I tried it for two years and decided my dad was right, it was a lot of long hours and just wasn’t for me. So we packed up and moved back to Minnesota. It was at that time we started Midwest IT. We just saw a need for computer support in the area. At that time, I was pretty much self-taught. I obtained certifications on my own through Microsoft.”
That was in 2001, when PC-based server networks were just emerging. So the Aukes entered the field at just the right time. It’s been a high-speed learning curve ever since.
“Early on, the internet was a way for companies to do some research, to look up things. Whereas now a lot of your systems are being hosted in the cloud and a lot of people are becoming more reliant on the internet every day. If the internet goes down, you’ve got everyone sitting around wondering what to do because you can’t get to your systems anymore. That’s probably been the biggest change: where systems are located. They are not locally at the business site anymore but in the cloud and you use the internet to get to them,” says Allen Aukes.
Though they can do their work remotely, the Aukes prefer to focus on businesses within a 60-mile radius of Blue Earth.
“We find it’s hard to build relationships if we don’t come face to face with our clients. It’s true that 90% of what we do we can do (remotely), but we still like to build that relationship. We like to work with them one on one when needed, we sit in on board meetings, help with IT budgeting and strategizing. We want to help them be as efficient as they can (be) with their IT expenditures,” says Allen Aukes.
Morray Aukes adds, “We only succeed if our clients succeed and we just really want to do what is best for them. We aren’t going to try to sell them something or do anything unless it’s going to improve their business and make things better for them.”
Besides the focus on a 60-mile radius, the Aukes are also focusing their business in a different way.
“Our growth has been primarily word of mouth,” explains Morray Aukes. “We currently have clients in a wide variety of business categories. We recently started to focus more on the medical industry, specifically nursing homes and medical clinics. Their need for security is huge and they also have regulatory compliance requirements that we help with. We’ve learned so much assisting our current clients in that group, and our focus is keeping them secure and efficient, as it is with all our clients.”
The Aukes are also going to try some educational, direct response-type marketing where they help educate prospects on IT services, prequalifying them to work with MIT.
While going from their small towns of Kiester and Bricelyn to Washington, D.C. was a culture shock, the Aukes are thankful to be back in southern Minnesota to grow their business and their family.
“As far as smaller towns being (a) good place to grow a business, it’s great,” says Allen Aukes. We have access to city council members and county commissioners. We know the people on the EDA. So we have all kinds of resources available to us, whereas if we were in a bigger city we might not have that.”
MIT has seven employees and counting. The Aukes say workforce is another challenge.
“When I was in high school the last thing I wanted to do was stay in this area, so I had to go out, figure it out myself that this is a great place to raise a family and you can make a decent living. We want to find people that want to be back here to raise their family,” says Allen Aukes.
The Aukes lead by example, with Morray Aukes stepping in to fill whatever role is necessary day to day. She says people are the key to their success.
Morray and Allen with team members, Anna and Ben.
“We have a great team that buys into our culture,” she says. “We have core values: to tell the truth, be fair, keep your promises, respect the individual, encourage intellectual curiosity and maintain profitability.
“We are committed to those things and we only have people on staff that are committed to those things. Our team of people are loyal and faithful and they genuinely care about those core values as much as we do. Having the right people makes such a difference.”
The Aukes have also found that having the right perspective makes a difference.
“Allen has always been entrepreneurial and I have been that same way, but it always made me nervous. When I thought about Allen starting a business, I remember just really praying about all of that when he talked about starting Midwest IT. We prayed about it and I had a peace about it that I never had before, so I knew it was right,” says Morray Aukes.
They also found the right location.
“We love Blue Earth,” she says. “This whole region is a great place to live and raise a family and we are sure thankful to be here.”
Allen Outside the Office
“I still like to fly and I keep my pilot’s license current. Golf is a big passion of mine, along with serving the community. I am involved in my church, planning and zoning for Faribault County, and I am on the airport commission.”
Morray Outside the Office
“I try to keep up with Allen!” she laughs. “I keep things going at home and I love to garden. Allen built me six big box gardens and they are full every summer. I really love being in sunshine. There is something about putting seeds in the earth, and watering them and seeing them grow. What comes up just never ceases to amaze me. Plus, I have dealt with health issues so growing my own food as much as I can means a lot to me. Healing through food is a passion of mine.”
Photo by Jonathan Smith