Article

Avoiding the Accidental Techie

Outsourcing IT Saves Time and Money

Spencer Sutherland

January 20, 2012

One of the greatest benefits of having your own company is the control that comes with it. You decide who to hire, what hours to work and where to locate the office. Unfortunately, as the company grows certain responsibilities quickly become difficult to manage in-house—none more so than information technology (IT) resources. So what do you do when you find that you have more computers—and more computer-related headaches—than you know what do with? Many small- to mid-sized companies are utilizing third party IT providers to manage their technology so they can focus on their core business. Getting More for Less When it comes to maintaining computer resources, there are plenty of options. You could hire a full-time IT employee, use an hourly tech support service or just hope that someone in the office is tech savvy. Though each of these approaches may meet your needs, they may not be the most cost effective. "The decision to outsource is generally driven by cost," says Phil Robinson, CEO of Sandy-based i.t.Now. "If you outsource correctly, you can get more support for less." While it is very convenient—and comforting—to have a full-time IT employee, Robinson says it may be less expensive to have an entire team of outsourced specialists. "Outsourcing saves you the payroll taxes of an in-house specialist. Also, the team is never unavailable because of vacation or sick days like a full-time employee." Paying a monthly outsourcing rate also takes the guesswork out of IT budgeting. Whether you're adding new employees to the network, deploying a new application or just troubleshooting current systems, hourly support fees can quickly add up. "Before a service [hourly based] provider even begins working with a client, there is a conflict of interest because the more problems the client has, the more money the service provider is going to make," says Dan Atkinson, vice president of marketing and alliances at Lindon-based IT outsourcing provider DirectPointe. "We take that model, flip it upside down, and try to minimize the variables and provide a fixed fee so we both have a common goal. If [the client] has fewer problems, we're going to be more profitable as a company and they can put more money into research and development tools to stay ahead of the competition." Robinson says the biggest IT mistakes small businesses make is creating what he calls the "accidental techie." This is the employee who knows a bit more about technology than the others in the office. Rather than pay a professional, this person is asked to fix a simple computer problem and then soon becomes the company's defacto IT specialist. In addition to causing potential damage to the company’s resources, the accidental techie can be a drain on efficiency. "Not only can the techie not do his assigned job, but the other person can't do his job because he's waiting for him to fix the problem incorrectly or do it over and over again," Robinson says. Facing Security Fears The idea of outsourcing any part of a company is often met with some trepidation, especially when sensitive material is involved. Employers often fear that data could be lost or stolen or that they are giving up too much control of the company. "Outsourcing is pretty common for larger companies, but small- and mid-sized companies are used to doing things on their own," Atkinson says. "There is a mentality that they've bootstrapped their business and they are going to do things in-house. It's mostly just a change factor." But are the security concerns valid? Atkinson asserts that companies may actually be safer when they entrust their information to a third party. "In most cases, [companies] don't know what they don't know. They don't understand that the virus software hasn't been updated on half their PCs for over a year, or that there's a large amount of spyware or malware on their systems," Atkinson explains. Robinson adds that greater security risks can come from entrusting all of your sensitive information to just one individual within the company. "[That individual] could get fired or quit and take all of your passwords with him and hold your network hostage," he says. "A company who wants to keep a good reputation is less likely to do something like that one employee who gets disgruntled." When is a Company Big Enough? When a company has need for a server—generally necessitated by five to 10 machines—they also have need for IT help. "[At that point], someone should start paying attention to Microsoft patches and antivirus and backup issues," Robinson advises. "Because a company of that size wouldn't have an IT guy, outsourcing becomes very appealing. With that size of a network you could do it very cost effectively." There is also a point at which a company needs its own internal IT department—typically when the number of computers tops 100—but even those companies can benefit from outsourcing certain tasks. "There is a lot of mundane, stupid stuff, that your high-paid IT guy shouldn't have to spend his time on," Robinson says. "If you have an IT guy making a good salary it would be cheaper to outsource Windows patch management or the antivirus updates or monitoring backups. That way, you can let your IT guy focus on the bigger picture, like growth and development, and larger projects rather than the regularly scheduled maintenance." Regardless of the size, or even the type of company, the biggest benefit of outsourcing remains the same, Robinson says. "You can free up your existing resources to be more efficient and focus on your core business."
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