Don't Spend Money Where You Don't Have To
Why are you wrestling with this problem? Its not your area of expertise or interest, but you know that your company couldnt survive without it. So OUTSOURCE it! Let somebody who likes the challenge and is good at it take those headaches away.
I just had a conversation with a CEO of a small company with an in-house, managed technology infrastructure. He was complaining he cant get his IT guy to do the little things that need to be taken care of like giving a new PC to a new employee. Theres a double whammy: a new employee thats not productive and an IT guy that youre paying to help get employees productive.
I asked him what he was paying for the IT in his company and he didnt know, but he knew that he was paying his IT guy about $60K. I looked at him and said, Why are you spending your money that way? He has less than 50 people that use PCs and can outsource the entire infrastructure support including PCs and servers for less than $100/month/user.
That comes out to less than what hes paying for one guy whos not doing the job and he gets a whole company that is dedicated, trained and has incentive to provide him with the level of support he wants and expects.
The SMB Challenge
The challenge that most small companies have is they built their infrastructure over several years and have never looked at where theyre at today versus where theyve come from. The rest of the company is typically focused on building product and value where IT is just the foundation on which all that building and value rests. This organic growth of companies leaves them little time to sit back and reflect on the foundations of the growth.
One day when the server crashes and it takes a week to get back online, they realize they have a problem, but the IT guy is working is tail off to get things back to normal, when normal is not where they want to be. They need a solid, stable, secure foundation on which to grow the company to the next level. Most companies dont understand how much they rely on the technology to get through each day. Its become ubiquitous and they dont take notice of it until its not there.
Step back and look at what youre doing. By now youve outsourced your payroll so people get paid the right amount on time. Youve maybe outsourced your sales process management to somebody like SalesForce.com or Microsoft. Why arent you outsourcing the other pieces of business process like IT support to somebody who knows what theyre doing across a wide range of company sizes?
Outsourcers have the experienced staff to solve problems quickly. They can help you put together a disaster recovery plan. They can help you protect your valuable information assets from theft and hackers. Your single IT guy cant do that no matter how smart or hard working he or she is. Get them some help.
If the IT person has the right stuff, theyll welcome the help and work on getting the right kind of partner in place. They can off load all those daily crisis projects on somebody else and focus on getting the truly business-value enhancing projects done. If they fear this kind of change, perhaps its because they fear loss of control. Tell them its not about loss of control, but gaining more control over more resources and lots more influence in the companys future.Considerations
Now that youre convinced to look at outsourcing, there are some essential elements of an outsourcing contract that you should look for before signing anything. These are typically addressed in the service level agreement (SLA) portion of the contract, but can be contained anywhere, as long as they are there and provide some enforcement mechanism.
An SLA has two major components, service levels and problem resolution procedures. In service levels there are two service level metrics that you want to address in order to protect yourself from some of the risk; they are uptime and response time.
Uptime refers to the amount of time a system is available for use. Its calculated as a percentage of the total available time. Response time refers to the amount of time that it takes to get a problem resolved. Both of these are measurable items and any good outsourcing company will be able to give you their averages across their client base. If they cant, move on to the next potential partner. Also realize that higher uptime percentages and lower response time numbers cost more, so be realistic about what you really need, want and can afford.
The second part of an SLA addresses how problems are resolved when things go wrong. It may be a critical problem where the system is totally down or just a minor inconvenience. In either case youll want to know whats being done to fix the problem. You should have your partner provide you with a set of priority definitions as they apply to problems, i.e. What does critical mean? What is severe?, etc. Along with those definitions you should also get a resolution timeframe, who to contact to report a problem, how often you will be updated on progress toward a solution to the problem and who you can call if you need to escalate the problem.
One last caveat, dont outsource and forget. You need to manage an outsourcing firm just like you would an employee. Its an important part of your company and you dont want to just let somebody else make all the decisions when they dont sit in your seat.
Sure its a hassle to find the right company that will give you the service levels that you want and need to continue growing, but its worth the hassle and time to get the right partner to share the load with. And just maybe, you might save a couple of dollars at the same time.
Formerly with B2B CFO, Mike Sheuerman is now an independent consultant with more than 25 years experience in strategic business planning and implementation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.