Should You Outsource or Keep IT In-House?

Maintaining the network. Ensuring remote users have access to resources. Updating virus definitions. Troubleshooting email problems. Any number of IT issues can arise on a daily basis.

So does it make sense for small businesses to hire a full-time IT staffer or outsource their IT needs? That depends. Weighing the pros and cons in both scenarios can help determine which option is likely to best serve small businesses.

In-House IT Support: Pros

Easy access: A tech support person on staff can address issues immediately. Other clients won’t be competing for your IT staffer’s time, though there may be other departments doing so.

Cost control: As a full-time employee, your IT support staffer’s salary remains the same, regardless of the tasks undertaken — for example, troubleshooting a printer problem, setting up a new server, or staying late on a Thursday night to complete an operating system upgrade. This means that your costs remain steady even as your technology needs change. This can be a double-edged sword, however.

In-House IT Support: Cons

Upfront and hidden costs: Hiring a full-time IT professional is an expensive endeavor. Providing that pro with a computer, desk, telephone extension, payroll account and benefits drives the cost up even higher. For many small businesses, having a full-time IT specialist with a full-time salary working on staff is too cost-prohibitive to even be considered a viable option. Not to mention the costs associated with ongoing training for IT personnel.

Limited technological expertise: Your IT specialist may be good with Excel and handy when it comes to figuring out why the printer isn’t working, but may not be as savvy when it comes to diagnosing network security issues or upgrading the Exchange server. It’s unlikely that one IT professional will be able to provide expertise for all of your technological needs. If having one full-time person is costly, you might not want to calculate the cost for a small team of specialists!

Outsourcing IT Support: Pros

Less expensive: All things considered, outsourcing tends to be less expensive than hiring a full-time IT employee in-house. Many costs — such as overhead — are spread over several clients via the agency model. Additionally, your small business doesn’t have to worry about costs associated with training or certifying IT staff.

Round-the-clock service: Most professional IT help desk or tech support firms offer their customers 24/7 access to tech support specialists, either by phone or through remote computer access. This means that you’ll have someone to walk you through resetting your email password — even at 2 a.m. What’s more, if your main contact is sick, there will be a substitute that you can count on.

Outsourcing IT Support: Cons

Language or cultural differences: Struggling to understand your tech support specialist can make a frustrating situation even worse. Unfortunately, many small businesses choose offshore outsourcing as their least-expensive option, while not considering the time and aggravation spent on communication issues. This can be mitigated either by carefully interviewing various offshore firms and giving them a “test drive,” or by hiring a local firm. The latter may also allow you to have the specialist on-site, which is highly recommended for handling most IT support needs.

Not part of the team: Because outsourced IT specialists are there only when scheduled or when you need them to fix a problem, you’ll spend time bringing them up to speed when issues do arise or when you want them to provide advice on future technology initiatives. Again, there is a solution: Get an outsourced firm involved in your IT needs on an ongoing basis via “managed services.” This way, the firm can help with routine help desk and tech support issues, and will be more fully plugged in to your needs and requirements when it comes time to upgrade the network.

And the Winner Is: Outsource Locally

Certainly, small businesses have a variety of options for solving their tech support issues. For most small businesses, however, outsourcing is the best option. Outsourcing tech support needs allows businesses to stay focused on their own core offerings without getting sidetracked on IT projects. It also allows businesses access to cutting-edge resources and expertise, without the costs typically associated with staying ahead of the technology curve.

For many small businesses, outsourcing to a local firm provides the right combination of cost savings, flexibility and round-the-clock support without the language or cultural issues that sometimes arise with offshore firms. Outsourcing locally also provides small business owners peace of mind that when they need on-site tech support, they can get it, thus allowing them to manage their business, not their network.

Scott Gordon is chief operating officer withDataprise, an information technology services provider and systems integrator focusing on small and medium-size enterprises.

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