As an important player at a small to mid-sized business or nonprofit (SMB), you understand the critical role technology plays in helping you respond to the needs of your customers or constituents and in maximizing the productivity of your staff. Like many SMB’s, you’re often frustrated by the difficulties of dealing with emerging technologies. And you know you’re not getting the best possible performance from your IT applications. You want to ensure that your technology is responsive, reliable, flexible, and cost effective. So what is the best way for you to manage your technology?
There is no single cookie cutter approach that works for all SMB’s. In practice, there are four basic methods for IT management:
This is exactly what it sounds like. You, or a member of your staff, take direct, personal responsibility for managing your IT systems and resources in your spare time. You, or they, research and resolve IT problems, perform routine maintenance if time permits, purchase hardware as needed, and install new software.
Studies show that owners of SMB’s who do it themselves average two hours a week managing their IT –100 hours a year. This is typically just fixing breakdowns. It doesn’t include the maintenance, monitoring, and other proactive steps needed to keep systems working optimally. And, when handling your own IT needs, you waste valuable time working on your systems instead of managing critical business activities.
The Do It Yourself approach generally works best when:
A common error of many SMB’s is to hire a full-time “IT person.” Few have the business savvy and the technical expertise to address all the IT needs of even a small business. And, if this person isn’t available or leaves the organization, this can be a single point of failure for your IT systems. Even fewer can justify the committed costs of a complete IT department.
If your business model depends on a unique core IT application, it might make sense to have a dedicated person to manage that application. But they’re unlikely to do so effectively if they also have to administer the IT infrastructure, perform routine maintenance, and support end users.
A Dedicated IT Staff generally works best when:
This is a widely used IT management approach among SMB’s. An IT consultant is “on call” to solve technology problems as they arise; the business pays a fee for these services as they are provided. At first glance, this can seem appealing as there is little or no upfront committed cost. However, the Break / Fix Approach has a number of important limitations.
The hourly Break / Fix consultant is typically an individual or other very small business. Some nonprofits even rely on volunteers. While volunteers’ motivations are commendable, they often lack the needed skills, and may not be available to address problems on a timely basis. This approach can be very risky for an SMB for several reasons. Will the person needed to resolve your IT problem be available when you need them? Will they understand your business and systems well? Will they have the full range of technical expertise needed to address all your potential problems? Or will they be learning at your expense?
Even more critical for SMB’s are flaws in the basic Break / Fix business model. Break / Fix maintenance services only correct problems as they crop up. This means that something must go wrong before you receive any service. By definition, this results in a reduction in system performance while you wait for the problem to be fixed.
By billing hourly, Break / Fix companies are often forced to do only what’s needed to resolve the immediate issue rather than looking at the big picture. This may let the root causes of many issues go unnoticed until they become large and unmanageable, so that resolution requires a costly and intrusive overhaul. Also, consultants may not be motivated to keep clients’ networks and systems running optimally if they make more money when the technology breaks down. This can result in repeated downtime and lost productivity.
With this approach, the SMB assumes all the risk. Because breakdowns in systems that are not managed and monitored routinely are unpredictable, your service call expenses are equally volatile and can spiral out of control. It becomes very difficult to manage your IT costs. Few SMB’s can afford the risk and uncertainty of hourly Break / Fix services.
The Hourly Break / Fix approach generally works best when:
In contrast, Managed Services Providers (MSP’s) partner with your organization to leverage advanced strategies, processes, and tools. Thus, they can solve small businesses’ complex technology problems for a cost-effective, fixed monthly fee.
Proactively maintained computers and networks always run better. So managed services cost less than Break / Fix – especially when including the costs of downtime. 24/7 monitoring, maintenance, and prevention of major issues make MSP’s more efficient than those who must travel to customer sites to fix problems. For MSP’s, it’s more profitable to maintain your systems in optimal condition. So MSP’s can offer more comprehensive service without charging more.
MSP’s have substantial cross-trained staffs available full time. Unlike “Do It Yourselfers,” MSP’s can provide the full range of professional expertise required to address your IT needs. Also, MSP’s support multiple organizations whose needs for specific expertise varies significantly over time. Hence, for all but large enterprises, they can apply those skills for a much lower cost than a Dedicated IT Staff.
MSP’s can afford enterprise quality technology and tools. Thus you gain peace of mind with state-of-the-art hardware and software. This is important to mitigating risk. A knowledgeable provider with more robust tools means less risk of such catastrophic threats as data loss, downtime, theft or intrusion.
Hiring an MSP simplifies operations. Instead of devoting employees to coordinating vendors, and evaluating, deploying, and supporting technology, you outsource these functions to a single reliable company to manage your computing infrastructure. This frees up your people to focus on core business needs and strategic initiatives.
Managed Services works best when one or more of the following apply:
To learn more about how Managed Services can increase
your productivity, improve your customer service and better
control your IT costs; please call SWFL IT Support.