How to Outsource Your Small Company IT
Does it make better sense for a small business to own or to outsource its IT? As a small organization of 12 people (and growing), our company has tried it both ways. Our conclusion is that, if properly implemented, outsourcing IT to an MSP (Managed Service Provider) is the optimal route.
Consider our own alternatives: Prior to April 2007, our small working team was part of a slightly larger, full-service organization. We employed a full-time IT professional to manage our workgroup of 19 individuals. The advantages: Cutting-edge security for our clients' data, which was automatically backed up to the file server every 15 minutes, and full-time access to our own dedicated IT resource. There was no need for a helpdesk; assistance was as close as a shout across the facility and never further than a quick phone call away. When a building break-in resulted in the loss of nine laptop computers on a Friday morning (any company's nightmare), all nine computers were replaced, secured and all employees up and running by the following Monday morning.
The disadvantages we experienced could be summed up in a single word: cost. The price for an IT professional's wages, office, benefits and ongoing training, together with the dedicated server, backup server and routers, was easily amounting to more than $200,000 per year.
Enter the advent of our new company, Snapp Conner PR. When our larger group divided to form two new companies, our group of five decided that, until we reached "critical mass," we'd handle our own IT. So we bought renter's insurance, backed up our individual laptops with Mozy, and our file server was a CD-ROM disk that we passed hand-to-hand (far from ideal). For our first few months, at least, our IT didn't cost us a cent - other than the monthly price of our outsourced Exchange e-mail services from a hosted provider. But it was clearly a plan that couldn't sustain us long-term. Except for a memorable three days of e-mail downtime for our hosted provider (which could have easily killed us), the concept worked remarkably well.
Fittingly, one of our New Year's resolutions involved a full IT strategy, which we outsourced to a national provider, DirectPointe. (In the spirit of full disclosure, although it is an entirely separate relationship, we should note that our agency also manages DirectPointe's PR).
We now have a dedicated file server at our worksite that provides our team with wireless network access and a VPN. Our e-mail services are hosted by DirectPointe. All backups are orchestrated by DirectPointe as well. Our helpdesk is managed through a Web chat interface called eSupport, which we have come to thoroughly appreciate. In short, we enjoy all the advantages of a full-time and round-the-clock IT staff at the touch of our fingers - for the total sum of approximately $1,800 per month. We now enjoy the best of all worlds for a cost of $22,000 per year (excluding the purchase of new workstation software and laptops). This is at an estimated savings of approximately $180,000 per year. What's not to love?
For others considering similar alternatives, we would offer the following three words of advice:
1. Check references and choose a reputable provider.
Now is not the time to be bargain shopping for the newest upstart in town. If you are going under contract for multiple years with an IT provider, make sure they have a solid reputation and are there for the long haul. A good resource to consider is www.mspmentor.com, which is a site with a complete listing and ranking of MSPs (Managed Service Providers) worldwide. DirectPointe achieved the No. 1 ranking on the MSPMentor100 listing for 2008.
2. The devil is in the details.
Particularly for a PR organization, our detail is e-mail. E-mail migration was the biggest piece of our implementation and the most worrisome. Interestingly, it also proved to be our only hiccup. While all archived materials showed up reliably, random e-mails began to bounce and continued to bounce for several weeks beyond our migration. When we and DirectPointe examined the bounced messages, it turned out that the culprit was a faulty routing instruction from our former hosting provider. The problem wasn't DirectPointe's fault, but we needed to rely upon DirectPointe to take the lead role in isolating the situation and working it through.
3. eSupport rules.
Find a provider with a strong enough staffing and customer support resource to ensure that, when you have a question, you can get an instantaneous response. From our own perspective, and also from the myriad of other SMBs we talk to that are using outsourced IT, the satisfaction that comes from a well-executed eSupport program reigns supreme. It's far better than an e-mail, phone messages or the dreaded "please hold" regime.
With attention to detail, IT support can become one more item on the growing list of resources that are more economical to outsource. (We outsource our HR and benefits resources as well). Speaking purely for myself, the ability to reduce a complex set of services to a manageable line item on a budget is a tremendous advantage for a non-technical manager or CEO.
Cheryl Snapp Conner, founder and managing partner of Snapp Conner PR, has more than 22 years of experience in public relations. Snapp Conner has led four successful tech PR agencies since 1989, and has been recognized as one of Utah's 30 Women to Watch. She is a trustee of the Utah Technology Council (UTC) and had directed the UTC Communications Committee since 2004.
She has directed strategic PR programs for companies ranging from Novell to Lexmark to Altiris (now a division of Symantec). Snapp Conner PR was named one of Utah's Top 25 Under 5 companies in 2007. She has also been named to the vSpring v100 list (executives most likely to launch a successful start-up within the next 5-7 years, as elected by their peers) for 2008. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.