You Can’t Afford an IT Department. Now What?

Picture it: Everyone is working furiously on a fast-approaching client deadline when your company server sputters and seizes up. Work progress grinds to a halt, and employees with knock-your-socks-off skills in areas like sales and logistics suddenly look like untrained apes trying to tinker with your faltering IT.

That IT meltdown costs you the client, and you realize an ad hoc approach isn’t going to cut it anymore. The only issue? The roughly $80,000 base pay a small business can typically budget for a full-time, on-site IT manager. Ouch.

But increasing head count isn’t your only option to getting this vital need met. We scrutinize the alternatives.

Ask an Existing Employee to Take on IT Duties, Too

You think: Jane in accounting is pretty handy with a mainframe, so she can be the go-to gal when people run into a computer problem. And because she’s already familiar with the business, you’ll save time on onboarding and training, too.

But keep in mind: Fielding help-desk requests will pull your employee away from the role she’s actually been hired for, which could cause unexpected delays in that department or even across the company. And if that existing employee handles IT as an afterthought, that could leave you more vulnerable to security breaches, out-of-date software, or poorly documented processes.

Hire a Part-Time IT Manager

You think: Shelling out $80,000 annually seems prohibitive, but the company could probably absorb a $45,000 payroll bump to get someone in the door three days a week.

But keep in mind: IT issues don’t keep a schedule—and you’re just as likely to encounter a pressing computer problem on a Tuesday, when your part-time person isn’t scheduled, as you are on a Wednesday. In fact, many IT managers command such high salaries because they understand that cyber security is an around-the-clock commitment, so they’re often open to fielding pressing issues beyond normal work hours.

IT Streaming

Post an IT Internship

You think: A computer science student or recent grad might be eager to trade lower pay for hands-on experience.

But keep in mind: Internships are typically structured as closely supervised positions, and all of that monitoring and mentoring can be an unexpected time suck. If you skimp on that supervision, you’re leaving a critical component of your company operations in untested hands. Most internships are also temporary—generally a summer or semester in length—which means you’ll need to task someone with periodically recruiting and training new interns. That turnover can create ideal conditions for slip-ups and oversights.

Embrace Streaming IT

You think: A cloud-based IT service means you can avoid the headache and hassle of dealing with on-site IT entirely. You’ll be able to access your files or software on any internet-connected device, and computer pros will be available 24/7 to answers questions or deal with issues. All that upside comes with a flat-rate fee, rather than ponying up for an annual salary.

But keep in mind: Leveraging an outside firm and keeping your own team lean means you might still have an odd number of employees at the annual company picnic, so somebody might have to sit out the three-legged race. That’s really the only downside we see.

Just because your business can’t afford an IT department doesn’t mean you have to live in fear of a server issue at the wrong time. Don’t wait until you’re in the scenario we described to prioritize your IT needs. Think about your options now, and create a plan to ensure you don’t lose that important client.

flickr photo by Marlo Antonio Pena Zapateria shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
flickr photo by Phillip Pessar shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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  • Jason Meyers

    Jason Meyers has more than 20 years of experience as a journalist and content strategist, spanning leadership roles at Entrepreneur, Light Reading, Telephony, Wireless Review, Penton Media, SmithBucklin and more. He is based in Chicago.

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