The Catch 22 of IT management

Are you big enough for an “in-house” IT professional? With the rising cost of service by outside firms, many smaller businesses are trying to hire someone to take care of their technology needs.

Of course, many small businesses are still trying to ignore their technology needs. I am surprised at how many times I get a belated answer from someone that starts “Sorry, but our email has been down for a week.” Those companies are simply playing roulette with their business. I’m talking about the ones who are really trying to maintain secure, up to date systems.

Like any skill you bring into your business, you’re going to start with one person. You can’t make the leap from nobody to a whole department. So how do you approach hiring a single technology professional?

As with any other position, you could aim high or go cheap. Let’s say for a moment that any compensation within reason is acceptable. Do you pay, say, $75,000 for someone with certifications and extensive experience, or more like $40,000 for someone who is self taught?

Part of your thinking, or course, revolves around how much you are paying for outside support now. That support won’t go away entirely, however. No single technician knows everything about everything, no matter what he claims, but service-by-the-hour gets more and more expensive (See my “Subscription IT column” of 6/27). 

If you under-hire, there is the very real danger of your in-house tech getting into something over his head, or making a mistake. Then getting the outside firm to come in and do  break-fix is going to be really expensive.

Do you remember the old joke about auto repair rates? I’ve seen this sign or one like it on the wall of a hundred shops (but then, I sold to auto shops for 10 years.) The times (and prices) have changed, but the sentiment remains the same. If you call a professional to undo the work of an amateur, you are going to pay a premium for that service.

So then the logical alternative would be to hire a top gun, right? That is where we run into the Catch 22 of today’s title. Computer technology is a rapidly evolving field. Staying current is a critical core competency for any professional. In a service company, the technicians are regularly installing the latest equipment. They see how many different configurations interface. They get a heads up on new problems almost daily.

But individual private companies don’t change their equipment frequently. The technician can expect to work on the same hardware for years. That is a problem that causes may of the most skilled to avoid one-man shops. The ones that accept such a position really start falling behind in their technical skills the day after they start.

Now you have an expensive employee with deteriorating skills. It should come as no surprise that his paycheck doesn’t decline with his market value. We see many companies who keep upgrading outmoded technology because “It’s what our IT guy knows.”

If you want  to have the quick service and attention of an on-site IT employee, by all means hire someone to handle the help desk and general hardware/software support. Unless you plan on building a department, however, don’t try to run your business with an all-in-one-man (or woman) solution.


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One Response to The Catch 22 of IT management

  1. Great post! I’ve been toying with the idea of hiring an in-house IT person for quite some time now. Useful insight on having a one man shop vs. building a department. I agree that building an IT department is the way to go so your business doesn’t end up falling behind the IT curve.

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