While it makes sense for most large companies to employ IT staff to maintain and improve their systems, it’s sometimes difficult to tell when it’s time for a small or even medium-sized business to hire a full-time IT professional.
Most small business owners are wary of taking on a recurring expense unless it’s absolutely necessary, and with the IT outsourcing options now available, you’ve probably thought twice about whether you need someone in house.
If this is your current quandary, there are a few factors you should consider to help determine whether your business really needs an IT expert full time.
Probably the most important consideration is the type of business you run and how it uses technology. If your company is a technology-based business and relies on computer equipment for the smooth day-to-day running of its operations, you may need someone available at all times to troubleshoot problems and keep your systems updated and running well.
Determine how much computer downtime costs you in terms of business interruption, repair, and customer satisfaction. You may find that these costs far exceed what it would take to employ a full-time IT staffer. Remember, when a critical system goes down, it can cost you considerable time and money to locate an expert who knows enough about your system to repair it in a timely manner.
Perhaps you have a savvy staff of IT users who do a pretty good job of maintaining their own equipment and fixing small problems as they arise. But even in this case, you will want to evaluate how much it costs you to have your staff spend part of their day on IT maintenance rather than being as productive as they can be at their own jobs. For example, if your top salesperson is your de facto IT expert, you could be losing valuable deals while he or she is trying to figure out why the printer won’t print.
Besides lost productivity, do-it-yourself IT maintenance comes with another downside: you don’t have the expert insight of an IT professional who can help you streamline and grow your business through the smart use of technology.
If you have an IT-based business, you’ll probably look to technology professionals to help plan the direction of your company. In this case, it makes sense to have an IT professional on staff dedicated to your company’s goals. You can get some quality assistance from outsourced IT experts but they are usually handling multiple clients and may not be as invested in your projects as a full-time employee would be. There’s also the matter of intellectual property. For most IT-based businesses, tech capabilities and expertise are core business assets and this knowledge should be kept in house. (If you don’t have one already, be sure to read Implementing an Intellectual Property Protection Program.)
At the other end of the spectrum, your business may not be very IT dependent. You’d prefer it if the computers don’t freeze and the printers run, but the cost of IT downtime could be relatively small. In this case, it could be in your best interest to call in a trusted IT expert only when you need to fix a problem or install new equipment.
The best advice for small business owners is to look carefully at your IT use, spending, and downside costs and determine how important it is to have full-time help. Look at your IT budget and how technology fits into your business and growth plans. If you can get affordable and reliable outside help without endangering your ability to serve customers and safeguard your intellectual property, this may be the path to take. Otherwise, budget for in-house IT help and make the most of the insight and expertise you have at hand.
Be sure to also check out Recruiting Technology Workers Requires a High-Tech Approach for an interesting feature on one company’s method to find the best tech staff.
Scarlet Pruitt is a freelance writer and business consultant based in San Francisco. She has covered business and technology for publications in the U.S., Europe, and Latin America.