According to our 2012 survey of IT professionals and IT management, small IT staffs are one of the biggest barriers to success. In the survey, we asked two questions:
1. What are the biggest problems or challenges that your company deals with?
2. What keeps you from addressing those challenges?
Can you guess some of the most common answers to question #2? Most of them sounded something like this:
– We don’t have enough staff
– No time
– IT staff is too small
While IT department size is a perpetual problem for many companies, it seems to be getting worse. More and more companies point to limited staff as the reason they can’t accomplish what they want to accomplish.
So, if your company is dealing with this problem, what’s the answer? How can you get the most out of your small IT department? To help you out, we posed this question to some people who deal with small IT staffs on a regular basis. I’ve included their advice below, as well as some of my own. I hope you find it useful.
1. Use web apps
Supporting desktop applications often consumes hours of precious time for IT staffs of all sizes. “Desktop support (installation, troubleshooting, roles, permissions, etc…) can eat a lot of time for staff and it usually is not for something that is much of a value-add to the company,” says Michael Freeman, Sr. Mananger at ShoreTel Sky. “The more that staff rely on web-browsers to get their work done rather than standalone apps, the more time you’ll have freed up for IT to focus on more important projects.”
Replacing desktop apps with web apps can dramatically reduce the time required for application support and troubleshooting. With desktop apps, the IT staff must support and maintain applications installed in multiple locations. With web apps, the IT staff supports applications installed in one place, which is both easier and less-time consuming.
2. Give them the right tools
The goal of any IT staff is “internal productivity.” That is, the ability to support the business without relying on outside consultants or outsourcing. For small IT staffs, internal productivity is especially challenging, and often impossible without business-class development software.
Why is this so important? First, it helps small IT staffs quickly deliver new applications and capabilities when the business needs them (not months later). Second, development software bridges the skills gap in a small IT staff–helping them accomplish tasks that they couldn’t otherwise accomplish. For instance, here’s a great example of how the right tools brought “internal productivity” to a small, 2-person IT staff.
3. Choose your vendors wisely
Ask any IT department that’s ever dealt with poor vendor support, and they’ll all tell you the same thing: The right vendor makes all the difference. Choose a vendor with poor customer support, and your IT staff will waste countless hours trying to resolve problems.
Steve Pao, VP of Product Management at Barracuda Networks stresses the importance of vendor support: “Companies with small IT staffs can’t waste time in phone trees when they need Technical Support,” he says. Pao believes that small IT staffs should find vendors that provide “a real person on the other line that is able to help resolve the issue at hand.”
I couldn’t agree more. A good, experienced vendor support staff will save your IT department hours (and even days) of of time spent resolving issues.
4. Empower end users
Creating self-sufficient end users should be the goal of any IT department, especially if you have a small IT department. Giving end users the tools necessary to build their own applications and address their own needs lets your IT staff focus on more essential projects.
Of course, any time you talk about creating self-sufficient end users, you must consider security. “Your IT staff must control the data and the user access,” says Tyler Wassell, Manager of Software Development here at mrc. “With the right development tools, the burden of development can be shifted away from the IT group and on to end users. While this will greatly improve productivity among IT staff, end user self-service development will also result in higher rates of application adoption.”
For example, rather than rely on the IT department for reporting, give end users the tools they need to create their own reports. For instance, this could either be an end user reporting tool or a set of pre-built canned reports. This approach makes everyone happy–end users get their reports instantly and IT can focus on tasks besides end user reporting.
5. Move what you can to the cloud
Now, I realize that many companies still aren’t comfortable with the idea of moving their business applications to a cloud host or service. However, anything you can move to the cloud reduces your IT staff’s workload and lets them focus on other, more important tasks.
As Freeman explains, the cloud helps small IT departments in many ways: “Cloud apps are maintained and updated by the provider so you don’t need your IT staff maintaining as many servers, doing weekend updates, backups etc… The same is true for the phone. Most IT guys are not phone guys and doing phone support is not something that adds value to the company. Better to use a hosted PBX system where the provider gives the end user support.”
Simply moving your email or web hosting to the cloud can dramatically improve internal productivity. Your small IT staff won’t need to worry about supporting hardware or maintaining servers, and can instead focus on more important tasks.
6. Know your IT team
The importance of understanding the individuals on your IT team cannot be overstated. “As one who has been there and is there, my advice is balance – meaning that there needs to be a dynamic between the group,” says Wayne Steiger, CEO and founder of FlowPay. “It has taken some time for me to realize this and what I mean by dynamic balance is to eliminate the “let me out do the others to get the recognition”.”
J Wolfgang Goerlich, who manages a small IT team for a financial services firm, expands on this point even further: “The trick to leading small teams in a highly productive way is simple,” he says. “First, know your business and what drives business value. Second, know your team and what motivates them. Third, build internal competence through an ongoing training program.”
They make some great points. If your IT team isn’t working together towards the same business goal, you won’t accomplish very much.
IT professionals frequently cite their limited department size as the reason they can’t address all of the problems facing their company. Unfortunately, this problem appears to be getting worse. If your company is dealing with this issue, how can you get the most out of your existing staff? As outlined above, focus on eliminating the non-essential tasks, so your IT team can focus on areas that drive business growth.
Of course, if you have any other tips for getting the most out of your small IT staff, I’d love to hear them in the comments.