Every workplace needs Information Technology (IT), but what IT looks like will vary based on the unique needs of the organization’s industry, size, culture and product.
After surveying IT professionals, we put together this list of the top concerns they identified. This is meant to be a temperature check for others working in or alongside IT, to see if they agree, check for commonalities and learn solutions to these common concerns.
How IT is structured will differ from one organization to another. All IT ecosystems consist of multiple elements, from servers to backups to staff members to leadership. Each of these elements interact to support or detract from one another within the ecosystem. Ideally, an IT ecosystem is balanced and well-nourished, both financially and with a good team behind it.
In any IT ecosystem, it is inevitable that something will go wrong. You want to have support available to your team and your systems if and when that happens. This means having partners with a depth of knowledge in the products they have recommended and installed. Everyone has their specialty. No one knows everything about everything, but knowing who to call for help is half the battle.
With so much to keep up with, burnout is common in IT departments. If workload and strategy are not managed well, everything falls apart. How do you keep things together?
The current climate for IT staffing is competitive. With recent unemployment rates for tech industry jobs as low as 1%, there’s more demand for IT professionals than quality talent available. This is a real concern that employers of IT workers face, whether they are a Managed Service Provider (MSP) like Loffler, or an organization looking to fill a role on their internal IT team.
The IT person you want to hire probably already has a job. That is true in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and for the whole United States. This hiring reality is great for IT professionals, but tough for an employer.
A good IT person is likely the type who has interest in technology, even outside the workplace. When Loffler hires IT professionals, we look for people who also call IT a hobby; it is not just a job to them. When new versions of software are announced, they salivate. They build computers at home on their own time.
Lack of Experience
From infrastructure design, to help desk calls, to Unified Communications, to cloud computing, it is rare to find an IT professional with expertise across the board – and if you can find them, good luck hiring them. Their education in some areas may be good, but others may be weak, and finding people who can think about the business side along with the IT side of their job is important. Especially for a small- to medium-sized business (SMB), IT people need to be versatile and able to talk about and understand business.
Retaining Your Team
If you are a two- to three-person IT team, being down a person can be a real pain. Those left behind are forced to fill the gaps and may not have the expertise to take over their former co-worker’s tasks. This is an area that it often smart to use a managed IT services provider (MSP) instead of trying to keep an organization’s IT team fully staffed. Managed Service Providers (MSPs) have a large group of subject matter experts (SMEs) and can absorb being down a person.
Someone is always going to be willing to pay your IT person more than you. The challenge lies in retaining existing employees and finding new ones when needed. IT people often jump from job to another. It's fair to assume an IT person gets a recruitment email at least once per week if they have a decent LinkedIn profile. So how do you keep your IT team?
With managed IT services, you pay an organization a monthly fee for IT help. They might be doing all of your IT, or they might be doing only a piece of it.
An MSP should understand your business’ unique needs and how it operates in order to effectively fill all of the gaps your company needs. A company can be, but doesn't have to be, all-in to participate. If you do have an IT staff, but need certain tasks managed for you, like routine patching, help desk calls or data storage, the MSP can fill-in where needed. If you have no IT staff whatsoever, the MSP can step in and provide IT for your entire organization.
If you have an IT staff, you may have two mid-level IT professionals that handle most of your IT needs, but if they do not have experience with storage and a new storage area network (SAN) is needed, they ask the MSP to advise and take care of that task for them. Or maybe they do know the technology, but they do not have time for the project, so the MSP takes it on. An MSP can project manage, design, configure, install, test and train your team on how to use your new system.
Perhaps you have two higher-level IT professionals who need to be thinking of the big picture and working more on the business and less on supporting end users. If a business is hoping to elevate those existing staff members and get them more involved in the business, managed IT from an MSP can take those day-to-day operations support items and allow the IT staff to be available for bigger projects and initiatives.
If you have an IT team, an MSP can do things that are common and repetitive, while you handle the tasks that are specific to your business. Outsource the standards, basics and repetitive tasks and keep your business-specific tasks in-house. Examples of those standard items include:
A person who is trying to make an accounting application work or enable better collaboration shouldn’t need to worry about backup and recovery of data when it can be outsourced and done well somewhere else. Standard tasks like this can take a lot of time to set up for 100 workstations. An MSP can do the same work for 8,000 workstations spread over multiple companies, so the time and cost to each organization is reduced due to the economies of scale.
A smaller organization may have concerns that working with an MSP for managed IT or IT projects can be too advanced for them. Here are a few common questions and answers to those concerns:
Is It True That Some Businesses Cannot Fit the Cost Model?
An MSP should deliver services that reflect the value that organizations need. As mentioned earlier, the ultimate goal of IT is to allow people to do their jobs. Some organizations look at IT as a frustration. Typically, they do not take a strategic approach to IT and they do not budget for IT needs. Those clients may not be a good fit for managed IT services, which focuses on ongoing, proactive care of an IT environment. A small, three-person organization typically would need to spend more per person to use an MSP, but in some cases the price tradeoff is worth the help. For professional services such as building, improving and maintaining infrastructure, smaller organizations can be easily accommodated.
Will My Company Be Lost in the Shuffle of an MSP?
Some companies fear that they will not get the attention they need when working with an MSP. This is where customer intimacy is essential. As an MSP grows, they have to adjust to better serve the needs of their large and small clients. Customers should expect to know their managed services team on a first-name basis. With that model, any fear that the MSP is too big to support your company is diminished, because you know who you are working with. At Loffler, our managed IT employees are segmented into teams, so when a client calls or sends an email request, they are responded to by someone they have worked with in the past, or someone with whom they can expect to work again in the future. Our IT service teams are anywhere between five to 10 people. At 10, we split them into teams of five.
What If My Current Infrastructure Cannot Be Supported?
Customers need to qualify for managed IT services, so the MSP can support them efficiently. The MSP can help a client whose systems are not ready for the MSP to take over. Some systems are not able to be successfully supported because they have the wrong gear; it is old, or it has not been maintained. Your MSP should have a lot of experience helping clients get to a supportable level. An MSP might start with a consultative engagement, discuss plans, talk about where the organization is going and whether their infrastructure supports what they do. After that, some projects may be needed for clean-up and organization before the business is ready for managed IT services.
Staying up-to-date on current trends can be tricky, especially for an organization that does not employ a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) or someone whose job it is to stay on top of security. How much time are you able to spend on something like that if it is not your job?
Security needs to be a part of any IT strategy you put in place. This may seem like common sense, but we do see oversights in this area because customers may not know, do not have time or looked at security five years ago (but feel like it was two months ago). If you are like many organizations without a dedicated person to monitor security needs, you do what you can to keep up, reading the latest threads and news reports.
A broad view of cybersecurity is helpful, so keep an eye on different sources. The more viewpoints you read, the better you understand the issues at hand. Keeping an eye on the news for major breaches and new and on-going threats is helpful. Publications related to your industry often reflect on security issues and their advice and concerns are valid.
IT Security Is a Journey
A recommended first step in the security discussion for every company is to take the FISASCORE assessment. The answers to this series of questions gives a baseline rating of where an organization’s security practices are currently, along with a roadmap of what is needed to improve over the next 12 to 24 months. From there, an MSP can help you take the steps necessary to implement those new security practices.
A Word on Passwords
While security should be baked into everything you do, it is not necessarily black and white. No one size fits all; risk management is always on a sliding scale. A password policy is a great example: Requiring 24 characters, complexity and restricting reuse may produce secure passwords, but convenience is severely limited. In addition, a policy like this may just result in people writing their passwords down and stashing them under their keyboards. A customer might say they are willing to take on more risk for the convenience of their end users and agree that twelve characters will work for them. A better option may be to use even shorter passwords, but supplement them with multi-factor authentication.
We are in an interesting stage in the IT solutions and managed services industry where customers have a lot of choices, including cloud-based, on-premise, Hyperconverged, software as a service (SaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS) solutions. You do not want to be rushed into a solution and then have promises – like cost savings – that are not realized simply because the right questions were not asked in the planning stages.
Your infrastructure can be designed around any of the above-mentioned solutions. Any option will have its trade-offs. To decide which is best for your organization, be objective when comparing options. Between strategies for implementation, configurations, layers of security and risk, you don’t know what you don’t know.
What is right for your organization depends on where you are in the IT equipment lifecycle. In making the decision between traditional infrastructure and Hyperconverged, for example, factor in whether servers and storage are all the same age. If they are all due for replacement, that makes Hyperconverged a good option. If your SAN and storage are new, but new servers are needed, a better option might be a traditional on-premise type of solution. If an operational expense makes more sense than a capital expense that might point to a cloud solution. Cloud computing also brings with it higher availability, and doesn’t require more investments in power, cooling or data center space. If faced with massive growth, the cloud scales better.
If you do not have the expertise in-house, having a trusted IT solutions partner is essential. The value of working with an MSP when building, improving and maintaining your IT infrastructure is having engineers and practice managers who have deep knowledge of all these different areas bring the right subject matter experts (SMEs) together to design the right solution.
Work with a partner that you trust, who has the right people and offers a solution that makes sense for your organization. If you can explain what your pain points and expectations are, your IT solutions provider should be able to present a well-rounded view of your options and consult with you to decide what is the best, most highly-available, most cost-effective solution, and then implement it.
You need an IT budget. You may have noticed that money concerns manifest in several areas of concern we have already discussed. You would be surprised by how many IT departments do not operate with a budget. The trick up front to affording what you need is understanding what you are spending now. To understand that, you need to dig through the accounting books. Look at your spend now and ask questions like: What did we spend on IT last year and the year prior? Is there anything on that list that is not needed? Are there any contracts that could be renegotiated?
Look at what your people are doing and ask why the processes are what they are. All the time you hear, “because we have always done it that way.” That means it's probably time to take another look. This process may require sitting down with your IT team and other departments and reviewing the areas IT covers, such as internet connections, phone connections, multiple sites, telecom, software, SaaS, wide area network (WAN), people and vendors. Getting into the nitty gritty of budgeting and goals can be daunting for many organizations. These decisions would traditionally be made by a Chief Information Officer (CIO).
Creating a budget and using it wisely comes down to a question of need versus want. IT people love what they do, the technology they work with and the feature sets, so it's important to determine what their true requirements are before bringing in advanced features, trying to hit certain budgets’ good, better and best-case scenarios. “Good” will meet those need requirements. “Better” and especially “best” will meet and exceed requirements and give some additional management features. That is when you get into the “want” elements, which are a grey area because the additional management features might make the client more efficient. That might make it easier when they no longer have to touch a system every day, and can pick up where they left off after three months of not having managed it. Having a feature-rich interface that is intuitive pays benefits in situations like that.
To figure out what your needs are, you need to get in front of key personnel within your organization and their employees to discuss what is working and what isn’t. You may have a sales management team that wants leading-edge technology, use of the cloud, and other features that can definitely help businesses if they are thought out properly. But you can lose sight of whether that fits the whole scope of what you are doing as a business. Poll your organization to find out what is truly needed. Will that fit three-to-five years from now? Does marketing and service have a similar need, and does the technology we are excited about actually fill those needs? That is where the need discussion should start, versus the shiny, cool new thing.
You may be looking at different solution proposals and you are likely comparing apples and oranges. At Loffler, we try hard to make clear what is included in our services and, most importantly, what is not. We may come up with option A (good), B (better) and C (best), and then be upfront about what the trade-offs are in those situations. What value do you, the client, get for the additional dollars proposed? You may need a storage and server solution. We might present two options for you, one more high-end with more management features and capabilities to expand. The other is a step down and you may lose some of those benefits, but for the cost benefit it might be the right solution. It is essential to understand what is being presented to you.
You want to be vendor-neutral when considering IT options. A trusted IT partner should take the time to understand a client’s true requirements, educate them on their options and work with them to narrow options that would work for them. This consultative model involves listening, understanding, budgeting and designing a solution that fits. At the end of the day, the solution you choose needs to work for your organization.
How Do You Make a Business Case for IT Needs?
Once your budget is determined and you have decided what technological needs and/or wants your business should pursue, you need to get them approved. We meet with different levels of people at our client organizations from IT team members, to IT management, to executive management. Sometimes that means helping to navigate office politics. It is important to keep in mind that you can buy the greatest applications in the world, but with a bad network, they will fail. It is important that your organization’s decision makers understand, at least at a basic level, how the infrastructure supporting servers, databases, applications and end users does its job. They need to understand this to spend money correctly.
Tailor-Make Your Case
We recently had a long-time client that was facing several hardware end-of-life dates. The price tag for upgrades was around $200,000. One of our senior engineers, along with a CIO consultant and an IT service manager, reviewed their infrastructure, documented what needed replacing and wrote up a business case that explained in easy-to-understand language why they needed to upgrade and what it would mean if they did not.
In situations like these, it is important to paint that picture so that executive leadership is given a strong understanding of needs in a way that makes sense. Compare that to emailing a PDF with a quote for $200,000 and a list of hardware. Without an explanation and reasoning, something that is not broken will not be a financial priority. Presenting a business case requires being purposeful and taking the time to do it right and professionally as a business need.
Reflect the Business Goals
The IT business need should always align with business goals and be presented in a way which makes sense to a business owner or other executive. An IT person who wants to be strategic has to understand each part of the business, from management to individual departments, and the marriage of the two, so they can understand business goals. If the executive team is not supplying vision for the organization, departments can get off course fast. Understanding and aligning the business goals with the IT department goals is essential to IT success.
Use Objective Assessments to Your Advantage
Executive teams often are looking for consultation on what solutions would be best for their business. Presenting technology assessments like the FISASCORE to measure security in a holistic way helps connect the needs of IT with the needs of business and leadership without getting too technical. This helps upper management understand the requests and strategies from IT.
Document the Rise of Non-Strategic Work
Document the growth and change of your IT team’s responsibilities over time. This will show what additions to your workload are preventing higher-level work. Patching your workstations does not provide value to the business other than preventing compromises. If you want your internal IT people to focus on key differentiators to your business, managed IT services can take on patching, help desk calls (remote support) and do that first-level filtering so the IT team can focus on implementing new applications to drive the organization forward.
Netflix revolutionized the television industry. Uber upturned the taxi cab industry. Amazon continues to challenge brick-and-mortar stores. Each of these is an example of a business introducing or undergoing a digital transformation within their industry and changing the way business is done. What will be next?
If you are not undergoing a digital transformation right now, your competitor is, and successfully implementing a digital transformation comes from visionary leaders able to implement IT in an innovative way. Businesses should be looking for applications that will help an organization execute its processes in the most up-to-date, efficient secure way possible. This will help them to become leaner, more agile and able to scale and provide better service for customers and employees. To accomplish this, systems need to be working (tactical IT), and innovation and optimization need to happen (strategic IT).
If you do not have the expertise in-house to provide a strategic approach to IT, find someone who can help you. We estimate only 10% of organizations understand the importance of strategy to IT. The next 30% are getting there, and then a middle mass of 40% have not gotten there yet. Then you have your trailing 20% that will never get it and will soon become obsolete. Where will your business land?
You need a strategy to get there and you need to understand what you can do with it to become more competitive or beat your competitors. The end goal is a competitive advantage. Your IT should help you grow, work faster and work better.