IT Support Blog for Small Business Owners

Why a Single Employee IT Support Department Rarely Works Out

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Sun, Jul 20, 2014

Single IT PersonWhen people talk about their single employee IT support department, they always discuss the things they’re not getting, the applications they can’t run, and the long time it takes to get anything supported or completed. If a business had as many gripes with an external vendor, that vendor would’ve been dropped long ago. But single person IT departments have endured as a necessary evil because they are set up as a forced internal vendor.  The problem is rarely the person sitting in the IT seat; it’s the structure in which the IT department has been set up.

From the start a single person IT support department has a monopoly on the “computer problem” – such monopolies have a tendency to produce the customer service you’d expect from a Government agency. The IT department (the single employee) has all the power, they’re not going anywhere (at least not in the short term), and their customers (other company employees) are seen as mindless idiots. There’s never a feedback loop in place for improvement.

I’m a business owner and I can see over to the other side of the fence. IT departments are usually treated as a cost center, a necessary evil, just above the shipping department and office maintenance in the corporate pecking order. The IT department never wins any bonuses or accolades when the IT infrastructure just works, but they face the wrath of everyone when email is down!

So why are millions of small business IT departments set up to fail? And why do they often underwhelm their fellow employees? One reason is they are set up using the same logic as any other department, “If I hire an employee to do a duty, everything will be fine: put a check mark next to that need, we have it covered.” The tragedy is that the single IT department comes from the mind of a non-IT manager. Often hiring one employee to cover a single business role has reinforced the small business owners behavior.

I have shared in another blog; there are essentially two types of work that must be completed for successful IT outcomes. Both of these work types compete for the attention of the single IT employee, and unfortunately, even tragically in my opinion, one type of work wins out and the department is never able to achieve and deliver  IT success.  There are Proactive and Reactive work types that must be completed. Reactive IT support, such as “my PC has a virus,” or “I need a new password I am locked out,” or “I cant print,” always take precedence over the Proactive IT support work that ensures your network runs quietly. Proactive tasks are running anti-virus updates, quarantining viruses, updating Microsoft patching, checking Active Directory and security settings.  Proactive work should be scheduled and completed in a methodical fashion.

The challenge is that as the Proactive work is deferred because the Reactive IT support is screaming to be done by the Users and the longer the Proactive tasks are deferred the more likely Reactive issues will crop up.  It is a vicious cycle; the single IT employee is doomed to fail, because he is unable to control when a Reactive service issue will occur.  By there very nature, the Reactive service issue demands the IT employees time NOW. So the proactive work goes un-done day-after-day and finally the department is smothered by viruses and a lack of patching and everyone in the company seems to have an IT issue.

I can't tell you how many times I have met with a frustrated business owner who tells me how his IT employee is not getting the job done and everyone wants the owner to fire the poor guy.  Unfortunately few owners are trained in IT practices, and had no idea, when they hired a single IT employee the outcome was almost assuredly established.  If an Owner really wants a successful in-house IT department they need to hire for both functions.  There needs to be a full-time Reactive IT employee AND an additional full time Proactive IT employee.  It’s a classic division of labor. To be fair, I should note, there are IT techs that can balance between Reactive and Proactive work and in those cases a single IT employee is going to do a great job for a small business.  Once established reactive issues no longer trump getting the best-practice proactive work completed and over-time the business will enjoy a high performance and reliable IT environment!

Unfortunately how many small businesses can honestly afford to hire two IT employees and then manage their unique job roles? It’s unlikely in my opinion (I rarely see it) and that is why there is a change in the air: it is IT Outsourcing.  The change that is coming allows a small business with 10 or more PCs to outsource their IT department.  An Owner can hire a focused IT delivery company that employs the Reactive, Proactive and managerial oversight with developed and mature processes that are remotely deliverable.  Dealing with Technology has gone from something only for the techy geeks to something much more mainstream.

You no longer need a tech person at the office to man “the server room.” Responsibility for keeping the servers running has shifted away from the small business IT department. Now you can get all the services that previously required s full-time IT employee from a local IT Service Company such as ANP.

The transition hasn’t happened over night, but it’s long since begun.  At ANP we began offering remote IT outsourced services back in 1998. The companies who feel they can do without an in-house IT department are growing in number and size. It’s entirely possible to outsource the IT department for a 10 person to 2000 employee business. I see it everyday, and once the owner and the employees see that IT outsourcing is faster, better and perhaps most importantly cheaper: they never go back to their ineffective single employee IT department.

If you would like to learn more you may download a whitepaper on small business IT Outsourcing HERE or if you would like to meet and talk about IT outsourcing you can request an appointment HERE.  Or watch a webinar regarding single person IT departments by signing up below.

FREE IT Webinar The Secrets to Running Your Small Business IT Click Here to Get Started

Topics: IT Support, Reactive IT Support, Proactive IT Support, single employee IT support department

Reactive IT Support or Proactive IT Support: What comes first?

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Tue, Jul 08, 2014

chicken or the egg resized 600What comes first the chicken or the egg? Much like that question, IT Support is full of conundrums-questions that don’t have clear answers. Two very different and equally important types of work govern IT support. It’s so important for a small business owner to understand the differences so you can manage your company’s approach to IT and expect the appropriate IT result based upon your approach that you choose. In 30 years of IT support I have never met a business owner that understands this basic concept (because they are not IT professionals) and as a result their IT solutions suffer.

The two competing support services in IT support are Reactive IT Support versus Proactive IT Support. Reactive IT Support includes things that have an immediate work stoppage and typically require human intervention.  They are unplanned events and therefor you must react to them. For example here are a few common reactive support issues: a printer has stopped printing, a workstation has a virus, or someone cannot log onto the network. All of these require an employee or a Time and Materials tech to work on to get the employee’s machine business process back up and running again. These unplanned events can easily consume the time of an IT department. Unfortunately working on and solving reactive issues never helps you get to root-cause of the issue and so the IT support issue is often likely to reoccur over and over again. Because Reactive IT Support can be so consuming, the IT employee never has a moment to break away from the drone of reactive service support to start to look at the root-cause of their issues.

The other type of IT Support is referred to as Proactive IT Support which as the name implies is work an IT employee does before something fails to insure that all of the under-the-covers technical things are set up correctly and operating as they are meant to be. Proactive IT Support is all about instituting and insuring that Microsoft best-practices are in place on your workstations, Servers, Active Directory and other technical settings. Proactive IT Support are technical things that you do to insure that reactive tickets don’t occur, for example: Windows patching, Anti-Virus definition updates, scanning, and guaranteeing. Applying Microsoft security best-practices to Exchange, Active Directory, and your Group Policies are great Proactive IT Support topics. Proactive IT Support also focuses on your backups, are they running successfully, have you tested a back up to insure your backups can recover a file, an application or a complete server? Proactive IT Support is always planned and scheduled.  It is always proactive never reactive. Proactive IT Support is always focused on setting up a list of technical things that must be completed and checked on.

I started this blog by saying that Reactive IT Support and Proactive IT Support compete with one another.  What I mean by that is Reactive IT Support always trumps Proactive activities. Reactive business issues will always trump planned proactive IT events.  For instance if Mondays are the day that you have planned to do all Proactive IT Support for patching, and there are Reactive service issues that occur all day long, you are going to handle and remediate the Reactive service issues before you would do the planned Proactive activities. In the mind of the IT employee, they are thinking I have to get these reactive issues solved so that the employees can get back to work and they are also thinking I can delay the proactive patching one day that will not impact anything. So can you see that Reactive IT Support always trumps Proactive IT Support?

When Reactive IT support is done at the expense of not doing your Proactive IT Support, you can imagine what happens? As the Proactive work is deferred and then ignored, the number of reactive issues dramatically increases. If and only if you can get all of your Proactive IT Support tasks competed reliably and on time, only then does the Reactive IT Support begin to drop off and you have a nice and quiet network. Conversely when Reactive issues increase Proactive planned work is not completed and the network slowly drifts away as best-practices decay. As best practices drift, system performance suffers and downtime increases. It is a vicious circle.  That’s why I ask is it the chicken or the egg that comes first? So too for Reactive and Proactive IT Support, which comes first that’s a real IT conundrum.

This complex interwoven relationship between Reactive and Proactive processes is the reason why almost every single IT employee department ultimately fails. You cannot place one person in an IT role and expect them to balance Proactive IT Support (that they fundamentally understand they should be doing) and have them doing 100% Reactive IT Support every day. Over time the network will become so unreliable that the owner will throw their hands up in complete disgust because they are spending money on IT payroll and yet getting unreliable systems and unacceptable downtime.

A business owner needs to understand that there really are two competing types of work that must be done in tandem within an IT department that two people are required at a minimum to get a reliable and good IT result.  No one person can perform both roles, but two people can each be assigned a single role: one focuses on user and system Reactive service incidents while the second focuses on Proactive IT Support tasks. And ideally, an IT manager is in place to inspect that the Reactive IT Support is being accomplished on time and the manager is also inspecting that the Patching, Anti-Virus and Malware and backups are also running and up to date. So there are three people and that covers someone getting sick, taking vacations or going to training. How many small businesses can afford to invest in three fulltime IT people?  I don’t see that payroll investment until you have 100 to 200 employees, and even then the IT manager doesn’t fully understand the need for Proactive IT Support delegation.

I believe this is why IT Outsourcing is becoming very popular with small businesses.  It is simply more cost effective to outsource your day-to-day Reactive and Proactive IT Support rather than self-staffing and doing it yourself. Here at ANP we have specific engineers that handle Reactive IT Support and different engineers responsible for the planned best-practice Proactive IT Support by dividing the labor types and then having strict measurement systems monitoring quality of the work. ANP (and other Managed Service Providers) can promise to you contractually that you will have a high level of network predictability and uptime all for a monthly fixed fee because both the Reactive and Proactive IT Support practices are all being reliably delivered.

In the end, who cares if it was the chicken or the egg that came first?  What matters is you have a reliable and cost effective IT solution. By understanding the underlying forces that compete for your IT employee’s attention, you can manage your way to a reliable and predictable IT network environment! Want to learn more about how to run your small business IT department? Sign Up for our Webinar below by clicking on the box.

FREE IT Webinar The Secrets to Running Your Small Business IT Click Here to Get Started

Topics: IT Support, IT Outsourcing, Reactive IT Support, Proactive IT Support, IT Solutions

Subscribe By Entering Your Email

Follow ANP

Latest ANP Blogs

Browse by Category