Why a Single Employee IT Support Department Rarely Works Out

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.

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