It’s a challenge faced by most companies at some point. IT, and how best to go about staffing for their technology demands and requirements. A smaller, expanding business may wonder at what point it becomes worth their while to hire an in-house team. A larger, more established organisation may find themselves questioning whether they need to outsource certain elements - or all - of their IT requirements.
These decisions come with several important factors to consider. Cost is typically the first point of exploration, but that’s not to say it’s the only aspect that should be evaluated in coming to a decision about how to staff for IT.
To help you along, I’ve created a pros and cons list, outlining the general advantages and disadvantages of each IT staffing option.
Let’s get to it.
Hiring Internally: In-House IT Staff
It goes without saying that the physical location and proximity of an in-house department is an advantage. When something goes wrong, it’s convenient to pop over to your colleague’s desk and ask him to please come have a look. Being available on-site means that reaction times are drastically cut and first-level support issues can be addressed almost instantly.
In-Depth Knowledge Development:
An in-house IT department can spend significantly more time working through a particular, single issue. This ‘luxury’ of time allows for in-depth research and documentation of the processes and solutions. This is valuable information and can be shared with others in the department. Naturally, this process also leads to a far more intimate understanding of problems that may arise in your environment specifically.
A small in-house team needs to be able to cover the volume and complexity of work that needs to be managed to keep your entire IT infrastructure in shape. This need for a broad range of expertise means that you may need to hire several employees, some with specific skills and certification eg. networking, to form a full-service in-house IT department, which is a large staffing cost overhead.
HR Management and Administration:
As an addition to the above in terms of the expense of in-house hires, comes the management and administration of full time employees. Benefits, allowances and leave all comes into play.
More pertinent in a smaller organisation with a only a couple of IT hires, but a valid point of consideration none-the-less, is the risk associated with a select few people holding the intellectual property or metaphoric (and often literal) keys to your IT department.
While we’ve already listed having easy access to an internal IT department as a benefit, there’s an unfortunate downside for the employees in question. An in-house IT engineer is inevitably going to be bombarded with a large number of urgent issues that require immediate attention. You know – things like forgotten passwords and printer problems. It’s a classic case of establishing priority on tasks, based on importance and urgency. Internal staff often struggle to prioritise properly as they’re too close to the problem, leading to valuable time being wasted and IT feeling overwhelmed and frustrated.
Outsourcing IT: Virtual CIOs and Managed Service Providers
Employing in-house equates to an increase in fixed overheads, whereas outsourcing is a more flexible operational expense (OpEx). Hiring internal staff is a long-term investment but the demands of the business shift frequently. It’s far more cost effective, and easier to true up or down IT needs as required, with a support management contract in place.
Experience & Skills :
Most managed service providers (MSPs) will employ an extensive team, with specialist skills across the full spectrum of IT, ensuring that they’re able to solve just about any problem you face. They’re also bound to be certified with suppliers and obliged to keep their knowledge on developments in the IT world current. This up-to-date understanding means that they’re able to provide you with strategic and tactical services to keep your infrastructure and systems compliant and in line with recommended, modern-day best-practices.
In-house employees are going to get sick, take holidays and generally want to keep their weekends free for personal activities. IT emergencies are equally ‘selfish’ and rarely factor convenience into the equation. When your IT helpdesk is outsourced, you needn’t worry about this, as you’re hiring an entire team to ensure your IT is monitored around the clock.
An MSP that has chosen to shift away from being a purely ‘break-fix’ service, to more of a strategic partner (as we have) will use advanced infrastructure monitoring tools to manage and monitor your network and systems. This approach means that they’re able to detect potential issues before they become bigger problems, and the MSP can proactively make the necessary changes and fixes prior to complete disaster (and exorbitant costs).
Generally speaking, most of your support from an MSP would be handled remotely and probably via a ticketing system. With virtual monitoring and management tools available, unless physical hardware failures occur where replacements need to be made on-site, the majority of issues can be resolved virtually. This equates to less personal day-to-day interaction with IT and some people simply prefer having face-to-face access to support.
Having an MSP means that there’s people outside of your organisation with access to your data, network and systems. For some businesses that deal with highly sensitive information, this level of 3rd party access simply presents too much of a concern or risk and outweighs the benefits of outsourcing. Naturally, any MSP worth their salt would not hesitate to enter watertight contracts and sign disclosure documents with you, and would deploy the best data security processes to satisfy your needs, but this may or may not be enough for you to relinquish a level of control.
While I’ve listed the broad pros and cons above, there’ll be certain aspects that either don’t apply to you, or you may perceive one of the ‘pros’ as a ‘con’, or vice versa. In coming to a decision, be sure to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of each approach, as they relate to your specific business structure, culture and requirements. No-one knows your business better than you do, and ultimately you want to ensure that IT staff (whether in-house or outsourced) are going to have your best interests at heart.