If you’re the owner or director of a business with anything up to 50 staff, outsourcing some of the key functions will be familiar territory to you.
It’s very common to outsource functions such as HR management, bookkeeping and accounting, marketing – and of course IT management and support.
The question for many business owners and directors is not whether to outsource. But once the business grows, at what point do you take these functions in-house? Which one first? And what factors are key to the decision?
In this article we’re going to take a look at the issues around outsourced IT systems and service. Or put another way (as it’s commonly all classed under the one heading) “IT Support”.
What’s so special about IT support?
IT – more than ever before – is a 24 x 7 function. Employees need access emails and other systems from different devices constantly, and so email servers and database systems need to be available to match their requirements.
With businesses and employees connected round the clock, websites up and running 365 days a year for ecommerce or promotional purposes, IT has the potential to be a headache for business owners. These systems need looking after and maintaining – and it’s an expensive function to resource.
As well as the everyday business requirements placed on IT functions, business growth in itself brings with it a whole range of complex issues from:
- New network users
- Additional computers and mobile devices
- More complex software systems and applications
- More data
- Increasing security requirements
A key question of course is “What, exactly, are you outsourcing?” For the purposes of this article we assume that the IT services outsourced comprise of 3 main elements:
- Helpdesk support for users or a single IT co-ordinator
- Remote support, including diagnostics, for critical IT systems such as firewalls and servers
- Full management of all IT systems and services
At this point there’s a choice: outsource or hire in an IT Manager to take care of any or all of these elements.
Outsource or insource? That’s the question.
Views of the benefits of outsourcing may vary from business to business, with certain types of organisation preferring not to do so for their own particular reasons. At a high level, some business functions are easily outsourced, while others may be very difficult to manage by a person or business outside the organisation.
As for IT Support, and in no small part due to the very technically-intensive expertise required, it is one of the more readily and frequently outsourced of all business functions.
Your stance on which company to select should you go down the outsourcing route will be based on a number of key factors. The main assumptions will be that:
- You outsource to a trusted and experienced 3rd party IT support partner
- Your intended partner has sufficient numbers of staff, skills and expertise to cover the core systems, software, network infrastructure and hardware that your business uses
- The partner can provide helpdesk services as well as remote support and full management
- That partner can showcase examples of other clients it supports – or has supported in the past
We’ll cover these and other aspects of what your IT Support Provider should offer in a future article.
The business case for IT Outsourcing
There are many reasons to outsource your IT support to a partner with the characteristics described above. These include:
An experienced IT manager can cost anywhere from £40K - £60K per year (more than this the more experienced he or she is).
That person will then need a budget for new hardware and software, network infrastructure and ongoing license and support costs. They may also go on holiday – and occasionally be off sick for the odd day.
On the other hand, most outsourced IT Support contracts are costed on a “per user” basis, meaning that the fewer users you have, the lower the cost.
Plus, depending on the contract you source, your IT support provider will be there working for you every day – and certainly won’t disappear for 4 or 5 weeks holiday each year.
Access to up to date expertise:
Most IT providers are bang up to date with the latest software and technology including the most efficient ways to run IT.
Good IT support companies send their engineers away for training on the key technologies they must support, ensuring they are certified to the latest versions.
A lone in-house IT manager will struggle to take the time out for continuing professional development, much though he or she may want to do so.
Depth of knowledge:
No single person can have sufficient knowledge about every system or application. It’s just not feasible.
With the multitude of software applications today and their ever increasing levels of sophistication, just managing a single system or functional area (such as a firewall) can be a highly complex task beyond all but the most skilled technicians.
On the other hand, an IT support provider worth its salt will offer multiple staff with skills across many platforms, technologies and functional systems so that ‘support cover’ for your infrastructure will be the responsibility of different individuals or teams.
Once you invest in network hardware or systems, your capital is tied up. Resourcing in-house IT infrastructure means you’re going to be tied to that hardware for an appreciable period of time, and even if you do build in scalability, it will need updating in a few years’ time.
You’ll also need to invest in building and maintaining the human skills to manage that infrastructure. So it’s a big investment, and your capital and operational costs are then tied up.
The benefit of working with an outsourced IT provider is that it will help you keep both capital investment and IT headcount costs down, allowing you to divert resources to profit centres instead.
Then, if the time comes for change, you’ll have the flexibility to move fast.
Time to focus on running the core business:
Every successful business owner and manager knows that in order to be successful, you need to focus on running and growing your business rather than dividing your attention with – and worrying about – tedious operational matters like IT systems.
Outsourcing your IT requirements to a partner with the requisite skills will allow you to focus on what you do best – i.e. managing and developing your business.
Like most areas of the business, IT operations benefit from a strategy and plan, if for no other reason for the purposes of budgeting.
It may seem like an unnecessary overhead to many, but planning the evolution and development of your IT infrastructure, and in particular building in scalability and contingency to your systems will save you both time and money in the long run, particularly if you are about to experience rapid business and headcount growth.
A good IT Support partner will help you by planning for the strategic evolution and development of software, hardware and systems. This will ensure that they are set up both now and into the future to perform the single most important task: to continue supporting the operational needs of the business.
User support and incident response:
Badly managed IT systems can slow – or at worst cripple – a business.
As every computer user knows, technology can “go wrong” occasionally. So having access to a professional IT or technical support function that can respond to issues when they crop up can be invaluable for the operational efficiency of the business.
It’s also a very useful ‘comfort blanket’ for a business owner to have the assurance that help is at hand, or at least not far away, in the event that there is a serious IT incident such as an email server going down or a database being hacked.
What should you do next?
If your business is growing and you believe you could benefit from the services of an outsourced IT support provider, contact Alliance Solutions on 0800 292 2100 or firstname.lastname@example.org and ask us for a for a free IT Systems Audit.