Smart IT Staffing Guidelines

Recent experiences have brought to light some common problems and misconceptions that small and medium businesses run into when managing their IT departments.  I thought I would try to shed some light and offer smart IT staffing guidelines that can help you select solutions that will offer the most benefits at the lowest cost.  These are general guidelines and can vary significantly based on the complexity of your network.

Overstaffed and Underutilized

Twice in as many days I’ve talked with IT staff at businesses that have about 70 employees.  In both cases they had a CTO or IT manager that was a senior guy with 20+ years’ experience.  They also had a junior help desk guy that did most of the day to day work.

My problem with this scenario is that on average businesses generate about 1.3 hours of support per user per month if done efficiently.  This is based on a sample of over 200 businesses for the last 5 years in various industries and includes onsite and remote support as well as full proactive services, backup management, security management and more.

With cloud solutions that many businesses are moving to lately that number can skew lower.  Math indicates this business would have need of 91 hours of support in a given month.  The problem is that they are paying for 2 full time IT employees that work 40 hours per week for a total of 320 hours in a month.

Even with this strange math one of these internal IT departments told me that they still have most of their company running on Windows 7 which is end of life in January.  They also mentioned that they have several 2008 R2 servers still hanging around which are also end of life.  You would think that with all the time they likely have on their hands the would have their network on lock-down.  That doesn’t seem to be the case.

A Potential Cause

There are a lot of possible contributors to this type of scenario.  I think the idea of career progression is one in IT that can make this happen.  A typical career path in IT is to be a help desk technician, a systems administrator, an IT Manager, and then a CTO.  Small companies typically don’t have need of full-time positions in all those roles and so a lot of IT guys get stuck.

Managers feel they need to reward time spent and will give an IT guy a new title.  However, for an IT guy those roles have distinct jobs.  An IT manager or a CTO doesn’t do help desk work.  It’s beneath them.  So, they start seeking out a junior team member to do the help desk work for them, and report to management that they “need” the help.

The result is a senior IT guy that doesn’t do a lot of hands on work, and who’s skills quickly erode as new technologies take place of the old ones that he’s familiar with.  Personally, I feel that IT guys at any level should continue to do service tickets and get training, so they stay current and maintain vital skills.

Contributing Factors

Additional factors that contribute to this type of wastefulness are that non-IT types in small and medium businesses are generally called upon to manage the IT team.  In most cases IT reports to the CFO.  Its no fault of theirs that they have little knowledge of their typical workload of an IT guy.  They’ve never done any IT work!

In most cases this means that the intelligent well-meaning CFO is left to simply trust his employees.  If they repeatedly tell him they are “so swamped they can’t stand it” and request he hire additional help, he is likely to do so.

Tools can make a pretty big difference as well for IT guys.  One of the reasons that they might feel swamped is that there is an endless stream of updates from Microsoft that need done.  Backups should be maintained, and problems fixed.  Log should be examined and acted upon.

Done manually these tasks can fill up a lot of those hours.  However, for an insignificant cost IT guys can grab a tool-set that will automate all those functions for them.  This gives them back all their time that they whittle away on needed, but repetitive tasks.

Good Intentions

Just to be clear I don’t mean to infer that your IT guy is intentionally misleading about his/her workload so they can get you to hire additional help and then sit and pick their nose.  I don’t think this is the intention.  They simply feel that they have progressed to the point in their career that some of these duties should fall to someone else.  Very little thought is given to efficiency or how it effects the companies bottom line.  They just make a case for getting what they feel are the right resources needed for their department to do a good job.

The Right Fit – Smart IT Staffing Guidelines

Part of the problem stems from just not having the right fit for all the needs a company has.  Square peg in round hole syndrome.  There are complex network issues that require a senior guy with 20 years’ experience.  They can also offer a great deal of value in strategic planning and other areas.  The problem is that those high-level skills are needed a small percentage of the time.  Most issues can be solved by a help desk technician or a system administrator.  CTO’s don’t like to do help desk tickets.

Outsourcing for businesses with less than 100 employees can be a great option.  This gives you an entire team of professionals at your disposal for a fraction of what you would pay otherwise.  In the example of the above business with 70 employees they’re likely paying around $15K per month in salary and benefits to their 2 employees.  Managed IT services would be somewhere between 6-7K per month.  This would provide an excellent solution for their IT needs and save the business around $102K per year.

There are exceptions.  I was recently discussing IT with an in-house IT department at a small private airport.  That business had multiple hangers with private jets, pilots and mechanics on staff, and many specific proprietary IT systems.  There were 120 security cameras, servers that sync up with FedEx and UPS for private transport, special fueling stations with software.  The IT staff of 2 seemed to be an efficient solution for all the additional systems they had to support.  Complexity matters.

Time to Evaluate

If you have suspicions that your IT department might not be as efficient and cost effective as it could be, we’re here to help.  i.t.NOW has been in business for over 20 years helping businesses streamline their IT solutions and put square pegs in square holes.  We would love to do a free evaluation of your small business network to see if we could add efficiency or cost savings by following these smart IT staffing guidelines.