In my last post, I stated that small to mid-size businesses do more harm than good by hiring IT employees. Yet, technology is a critical component of any modern companyâ€™s growth plans. So whatâ€™s a business owner to do?
First, understand the difference between Infrastructure and Applications.
Infrastructure = Servers, desktop PCs, file storage, email, backups, printers, network security, etc.
Applications = Packaged software, custom built applications, databases, reporting, your website, etc.
For the infrastructure component, find a Managed Services Provider (MSP) with a local presence. They do this work for many companies so they know what theyâ€™re doing and they make sure their staff keeps up with latest developments. Make the investments they recommend. Theyâ€™ll keep your servers and desktops running and your network secure; they canâ€™t do their work if you wonâ€™t follow best practices. Trust your MSP to help you get this foundation right and focus your energy on the stuff that truly has the ability to help your business grow.
In the applications area, identify consultants that do software development. You may actually need to find several resources, because software development, database work, web development, and MS Office programming can be very different animals. Depending on your personal preferences and business philosophies, you can find large organizations with a variety of development skills in-house, use a roster of local contractors, or find developers across the globe who can do the work at much lower rates than youâ€™d find in the US. (Sourcing will definitely be a future topic in this forum!) Make sure the people you identify have the bandwidth to either give you a set number of hours per week or jump in quickly when you have needs.
In both areas, be certain to talk to client references. For MSPs, youâ€™re looking for pro-active support, availability during your business hours, published service levels with penalties for failure to comply, and regular reporting on incidents and performance.
In the applications area, youâ€™re looking for consultants who can deliver a usable solution in a timely manner that doesnâ€™t require ongoing support. Understanding user requirements is key, so they have to be good at communicating with all levels of your organization. And be concerned if the consultant doesnâ€™t insist on end-user participation in testing the application before it is delivered.
To be sure, if your companyâ€™s product is technology, then this approach may not be right for you. But most other companies shouldnâ€™t seriously consider hiring internal IT resources until they are sufficiently large enough to maintain expert level IT staffs.
Thereâ€™s still one more missing piece. Who gets to be in charge of managing all these different vendor relationships? Thatâ€™s the subject of my next post. Tomorrow, Iâ€™ll put the final piece of the puzzle in place and show how this can be more cost effective than hiring an internal IT resource.
Read Part 3