by Lewis Robinson
Establishing an IT department can be a turning point for a small business. This new department can push the company to the next level, making the most of technology to boost productivity and profitability. It can, though, also become a burden that robs the company of much needed resources and personnel.
How does one determine which the department becomes? By ensuring that there is an actual need for the department and following one of the two most successful paths to establishing the department.
Determining if an IT Department is Necessary.
The first criterion to look at is how often the services of an IT department would be required. If there is enough troubleshooting required that service calls from an outside vendor rival the cost of hiring a full time IT person, establishing the IT department is a good idea.
The second criterion to explore is just how crucial technology is to the company. For some business models, computers are used as a convenience and nothing more. For others, technology is a integral part of every step of doing business. The best way to assess the level of impact technology has on an individual company is internal communication. Simply asking employees how they would continue working in the face of a total computer breakdown will provide insight. The more closely answers approach the idea that employees simply couldn’t continue working, the more need there is for an IT department.
The last major criterion to consider is how specific the company’s needs are where IT service is concerned. A company whose computers have similar software and are put to a similar use as your average home computer could send all tech problems to any tech support service with relative assurance that the solving the problem is within their capability. A company planning to use a cutting edge server/workstation model with computers running their operating systems on a virtual platform are unlikely to get quick answers from the local tech service. For such a company, having someone on staff with virtualization training would be essential to keep the entire operation from screeching to a halt at every minor problem.
Establishing the IT Department.
The first method of establishing an IT department is allowing it to grow organically. Using this method, as the need arises, the company allocates equipment and personnel to meet that need. IT departments that begin this way generally start with a single person assigned to perform some IT tasks along with his or her normal job. Doing things this way is particularly popular with very small companies because the costs are lower and the actual need for an IT department could also be low, depending on the company.
There are risks involved in allowing an IT department to form organically. In many cases, makeshift IT departments don’t do things correctly, they improvise as they go. When this occurs for a long enough period of time, a point is reached where the technological reach of the business can no longer expand on the existing improvised procedures, but also cannot be converted to a system that can be expanded without gutting the existing system. In other words, the company can reach a point where technological advancement requires both a large investment and a shutdown of the existing system as everything is converted to industry standards.
The second method of establishing an IT department for a small business is planning its inclusion from the beginning and hiring a trained professional to implement the plan. The advantage of this path is having technology that is compatible with the rest of the world. Aside from the larger upfront investment, the other possible disadvantage is psychological. The IT department is one of those ironic entities where the better employees do the job, the less they have to do. Because of this, many business owners damage the efficiency and morale of the department by either cutting staff or forcing staff to perform unrelated duties when the department is caught up. A better option would be focusing on training and maintenance when things are going smoothly.
When a business either can’t find outside help, or that help would cost as much as having dedicated in house staff, it is time to consider establishing an IT department. Whether allowing it to develop organically or planning it from the beginning makes more sense depends on the business. A company that simply needs someone to keep the network functional in the home location that the business never intends to outgrow would be perfectly fine with the organic approach. A company that will be employing specialized technology or foresees growing to the point that whether the company technological network is established to industry standards could become a factor would be wiser to bring in a professional and found an official IT department from the get-go.
Lewis Robinson is a business consultant specializing in social media marketing, CRM, and sales. He’s begun multiple corporations and currently freelances as a writer and business consultant.