Striking the Proper Balance Between IT Outsourcing and Insourcing

Thomas Schwab, President of Encore Technology Services & Solutions

During my early days in the world of IT, the “computer guru” was always thought of as this oddly nerdy resource who kept everything running. No one really knew what they did or how they did it, but they were responsible for supporting everything from horribly unstable desktops and network devices, to paper jam-prone printers with exhausted ink cartridges, and this thing called the Internet that nobody knew what to do with. That was the early 90s, and businesses have transformed dramatically from using the internal “computer guru” who owned everything and was considered overhead to figuring out the proper mix of internal and external support personnel. Mixed IT teams can keep your employees safe and find ways to get access to important data instantaneously and from anywhere to give you advantage over your competition.

Clearly, advanced technology solutions and safe connectivity are now key enablers that allow businesses to function in 2018, and expectations have shifted dramatically. Immediate access to information such as connectivity to applications, data sets, analytics, as well as collaboration solutions is now expected anywhere and at any time. It’s like walking into a room and flipping on a light switch; you expect the lights to come on, it’s just a given. Or like going into the kitchen and turning on the faucet; you expect water. When you don’t get it instantly, you are annoyed because anything less than immediate gratification is just not good enough. It’s the same with our connectivity to important data, the internet, and each other. When you sit in your office chair or pull up your end-point device on the train, you expect to connect right away. The “computer guru” gets a passing grade when that happens. Not an “Attaboy” but “OK, that is what is expected”. When you cannot connect, not only is it unacceptable, but it could possibly have severely adverse consequences on your business.

The “computer guru” of old has transformed into what we see typically as the IT team, which is made up of some mix of skilled internal resources and outsourced partners. The number and type of each depends upon many factors but suffice it to say that gone are the days of having one technology propeller-head who can take care of everything from databases to data cable. As one of my former colleagues used to say, you cannot eliminate complexity, only hide it. End user demands for applications to be extremely easy to use and access while remaining safe, as well as consumable at light speed has brought extreme complexity, placing heavy burdens on the back-end teams. Technologists generally must specialize and dive very deep in their respective areas to be capable of designing and implementing the solutions that fit the needs of the business, not to mention being able to provide support in an ongoing fashion.

And, to further complicate the discussion, just how strategic do businesses feel keeping servers and network devices running really is? Not very; remember, that stuff is expected. Businesses want strategic results out of their IT team. They want advanced analytics that provide reporting and views into data that give insights they’ve never had before, enabling them to make strategic decisions. They want collaboration from anywhere; they want to join a video meeting on their device on the way into the office, then sit at their desk and seamlessly flip the conversation to their laptop or the board room solution. The vast array of demands often places an unrealistic and unwieldy burden on the overworked IT team. How the IT team leverages each member and utilizes partners makes all the difference; so how do effective internal IT Teams strike the proper balance?

Building the Infrastructure – Meeting the needs of the Business

In the past, businesses dealt with the capabilities—and often limitations—of IT. Today, effective internal IT teams and IT consulting companies seek first to understand the business’s requirements and pains coupled with the plans both near and long-term. Once business needs are understood, IT plots a course of how to enable the organization with technology solutions that:

  1. Are effective, stable, and scalable 
  2. Priced competitively 
  3. Can be supported either internally or by trusted partners 

This is an area where we strongly recommend relying on a partner like Encore Technology Group, as it can make all the difference for success in the long-haul. IT firms like Encore constantly seek out and partner with the best manufacturers in the industry, offering the most strategic solutions to fit all budgets. There is no “one size fits all”, and it’s important for enterprises of today to get advice from those that make the IT arena their business every day. You should expect your partner to bring you options that vary in complexity, capability, and price so that you can make the best decision that will check the most boxes.  

IMPORTANT: Your provider should never be a “box pusher” trying to sell you on what they have on the shelf. Rather, you should only partner with a firm who offers a range of quality solutions and only recommends the proper goods and service paths that fit your needs and are in your best interest, period.

Maintaining the Infrastructure: Keeping the End Users Happy

Maintaining IT infrastructure is table stakes. If your business relies heavily on IT, (and what business these days doesn’t?) you must have monitoring tools in place to alert you when devices are failing or have failed, have reached or are approaching capacity, or are faulty and throwing errors. Then, you must ensure that the issues are fixed, and production is not adversely affected.

You must first decide if your internal IT staff has the capacity to monitor and administer the infrastructure. This means you must first understand the amount of time it takes to effectively maintain the infrastructure (patch, optimize, configure, respond to incidents, recover) and then truly ascertain if your team has the time. Properly configuring device alerting is a tricky business of ensuring that the proper level of alerts reach the team. If your configuration is too liberal, you get inundated with alerts of all types and at all hours. However, if it is too constrictive you might miss telltale signs that can alert you to a serious issue before it’s too late. Do you have the capacity to respond to alerts at all hours effectively? Can your internal team perform triage on the alert, determine priority, and become engaged based upon severity in a timely manner?

Secondly, you then must determine if your team has the skill to effectively maintain the infrastructure at all levels. Effective IT individuals are not necessarily the ones who always find ways to fix it themselves but know how to effectively leverage teammates and manufacturer support to fix issues quickly and effectively. Most commonly, there are at least 5 types of individuals required to maintain infrastructure:

  1. End User or Helpdesk-type personnel who are there to provide you with your devices and fix them when they are broken.
  2. Applications experts and/or developers; the folks that program/develop/ and maintain applications to fit the needs of the business.
  3. Datacenter people who design and maintain servers, storage, virtualization, backups, replication, disaster recovery, anti-virus and anti-malware solutions, and help plot the course for any cloud-based adoption.
  4. Network folks who maintain wireless networks, wired networks, software defined networks (SDN), firewalls, content filtering, and keep things safely talking with one another in general.
  5. People that are what I will call “specialists”. Different companies need some or all of these at varying levels depending upon your business model, including database administrators, IT security officers, analytics/reporting/data engineers, phone or collaboration engineers, and physical security engineers.

Plot a Course Forward

It is not common for corporations, public entities, universities, or school districts to be able to consistently maintain internal teams of this size and complexity. Since the first 4 types listed above are always needed and it is common that elements of the 5th type are also needed, our strongest recommendation is to focus on what you are consistently capable and effective at delivering within your internal IT team and partner with a trusted advisor-type partners for balance. Determine the true skill level and availability of your internal team, getting outside unbiased help with that analysis if needed. Then plot out where you have gaps or concerns that will keep IT from effectively serving the needs of the business and get outside help for those areas. Focus on your internal team providing for the strategic needs of the business first and at all costs, and work with a partner, if needed, for the table stakes type requirements like infrastructure maintenance. We oftentimes see rural corporations or school districts that struggle to keep skilled and dedicated internal IT staff. If they hire talented IT professionals, that person typically doesn’t stay long. Consider that working with a Managed Services partner like Encore Technology Group to fulfill one or more of the five IT areas above typically enables you to take advantage of a whole team of professionals for the price of a single new hire.

Keeping the IT Team Happy

A skilled and effective internal IT team can be one of your biggest assets. It is important to keep these types of resources happy and fulfilled. We oftentimes see that the best performers with the most skill are extensively over-burdened because these players can quickly handle whatever you throw at them. Please consider: 

  • Getting these resources help to strike a better work/life balance 
  • Investing in training to give them the skills to be more effective 
  • Including them in business planning: get their advice and plot a course for their career trajectory 

The Best Mix

The best team includes a mix of a fulfilled, respected, valued, and trained internal members who are supported by trusted partners that look out for their best interest and that of the company. In that scenario, everybody wins.

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