One of the challenges for small business is what they can and cannot afford from an Information Technology perspective. Many decisions are made based upon limited information. Usually those end up as minor mistakes. The wrong router, a server ends up being too small or under powered for an application or some other mistake that may cause earlier than expected retirement of equipment. All of these just cost money and even though several thousand dollars may seem like a lot of money, it is nothing compared to what can happen when hiring the wrong IT employee.
Many of these IT employees don’t do it on purpose. They do what they are asked to do and many go above and beyond. Somehow, they make it work. At one company, there was a former IT employee that used two different technologies for VPN access. The reason was that one technology work fine for Windows XP, but did not behave well for Windows 7. So the enterprising IT employee found a low cost solution for all of the Window 7 users. From the CEO’s perspective, the employee got the job done. The challenge came when that employee left and no one was quite sure how the system was all band-aided together. Usually, if there is one instance of several technologies being employed to solve one problem, there are more.
Several thousand dollars in expensive consulting and a replacement solution later, the various puzzles were unraveled.
Greg Stevens, CEO found this out at JBC Enterprises when his longtime IT person left for greener pastures. “When everything is working fine, you don’t focus on it if it is not part of your core business.”
So how can the non-IT manager keep this from happening at their small business?
- Count the number of technologies and match them to the roles that they serve and keep the number as low as possible. Just like in manufacturing, complexity increases the likelihood of variability and variability is the enemy of predictability.
- Consider the popularity of the technology. Paying twice as much for a brand name for the same product may not make sense in the grocery store, but in IT, sometimes it makes a lot of sense. Yes, the capital outlay may be more upfront, but you save significantly later on. The more popular the technology, the more engineers there are that can service it. The more engineers there are to service it, the lower the hourly rate for the same expertise. The more engineers here are for a single technology, the less likely you will be held hostage by a departing IT employee.
- Get help when blazing new trails. The best role for an IT generalist is for them to follow a good plan developed by someone with a deeper skill set. Any project that has the potential to introduce new technologies, pay for the consultant. And then pay the consultant again to make sure that it was implemented correctly.
- Consider outsourcing IT operations. Many outsourcers hire some very impressive talent. They can hire this talent and charge small business less money than it would cost to hire an IT generalist. They can do this, because they spread their talent out across several customers. Also, outsourcing to a Managed Service company is a win/win. The MSP makes their money on the monthly recurring revenue. The fewer visits they have to make to the location, the more money they make. As a result, the fewer times that the MSP sends a resource to your company means that your company is up and running and productive.