On one hand, it’s likely your business is big enough to benefit from having a full-time, dedicated IT professional on staff responsible for the ongoing management of your technology infrastructure. On the other hand, your business is still small enough where technology can be effectively outsourced to an IT firm, which provides access to a wider range of experience at a more cost-effective rate.
To help in making the right decision for your small business, we’ve compiled some key points to think about when weighing the two options.
In-House IT Management
Hiring an IT professional is a significant commitment, so before bringing someone on staff, consider the following:
- Competitive Compensation—A one-employee IT department requires a professional that has a breadth of experience and is well versed in many IT specialties—including networking, mobility, hardware, licensing, data storage, virtualization and cloud options—and also has specific expertise/certification for your current systems. According to Salary.com, median salary for an IT Manager in Cleveland is $108,489 (note that this does not include benefits). Hiring a less qualified professional may cost less, but sacrifices valuable experiences that in the end may cost you in technology efficiency and employee productivity.
- Career Opportunities—A big draw for top talent is the opportunity for advancement. For IT professionals, one of the bigger selling points on taking a position with a small business is the chance to get in at the ground floor and help build the business. Consider the IT career path you offer and whether or not it gives professionals the opportunity to impact growth and innovation. If not, prepare for possible turnover.
- Additional Support Needs—Even a highly proficient IT professional will not be an expert on everything. He or she will need occasional support and training to fill knowledge gaps, collaborate on optimal solutions, and lend a hand during technology refreshes, upgrades or system failures. Plan additional budget for contracting with a consultant or IT firm for major projects or obstacles.
- Productivity—Because an IT professional will be immersed in your technology daily, and can quickly and proactively make fixes or updates, there may be stretches where they have little work to do. Prior to hiring, ensure that there is a consistent flow of projects and ongoing tasks that will keep the employee productive and efficient.
Outsourced IT Management
While less of a commitment than hiring, finding an IT firm that will offer the expertise, attention and quality of service your business requires can be a challenge. Before contracting with a firm, consider the following:
- Established Processes—The IT firm you choose should have established processes based on best industry practices. For example, server installation and Internet connection setup is a fairly standard project. The firm you work with should have specific processes for this type of routine work that they’ve honed over the years. Lack of a process will lead to inefficiencies, which you’ll pay for in the end.
- Transparency—The relationship with your IT firm should be one of open communication. At no point should you be left to wonder what the firm did for you throughout a month. Ask potential partners if they share activity reports detailing what tasks where completed and when they were done. A confident firm that provides value will not fear transparency.
- Wide Range of Experience & Expertise—One of the benefits of working with an IT firm is that you are employing a team. To be an advantage to your small business, this team needs to have a breadth of expertise and many years of experience. Look for a firm that employs professionals of diverse backgrounds—from corporate IT management to recent college graduates—has certifications relevant to your technology, and a variety of skill sets.
- Internal Champions—Being offsite, there will be times where a fix will require the support of someone internally who understands technology enough to follow your IT firm’s direction. To properly support your partner, make sure you have an internal IT champion on staff, or that someone is willing to take on the role.
Recommendation: Seek Counsel
Before making a decision one way or the other, reach out to several trusted IT resources, such as colleagues, partners, technology vendors, consulting firms and forums. Ask for their opinion and recommendations. Also, talk to fellow entrepreneurs or business leaders at organizations similar to yours, and ask about their approach to IT.
One other aspect to remember is that this decision does not have to be one or the other. For some small businesses, especially those with a product or service based in technology, it can make sense to hire an IT manager AND contract with an IT firm. Take the time to fully understand your needs and goals, and what others have done, and then bring in the IT support best suited to help.
What are your major considerations in choosing to hire an IT manager or outsourcing support? Please share your questions and concerns in the comments below. I’ll be happy to offer guidance.