The IT needs of a business vary from firm to firm. The amount of support and dedicated staff a business requires depends on a range of factors – size, the market they operate in and budget, to name just a few.

There is no single IT solution that fits every business, even those of a similar size in the same industry. Large multinationals, for example, will always go with in-house IT because their structure is so massive that there is no way around it.

IT solutions for the SME

Small and medium-sized enterprises, however, have much more flexibility in this area. They might not be so large as to need a dedicated IT solution and use a contracted service to save money in key areas. We explore the pros and cons of in-house and contracted IT solutions.

Hiring Staff: The Pros and the Cons

Pro: Control of Workflow

One of the strongest, and clear-cut, arguments for hiring IT staff on a full-time basis is that all of their efforts go towards helping the business’s IT infrastructure become stronger and more productive.

This is an obvious point, but one well worth making.

An in-house IT support worker has no other priority other than the work and needs that the business outlines. A contractor, on the other hand, may have half-a-dozen other clients vying for their attention, with the business’s needs perhaps not at the top of their list of priorities.

When an IT support employee works solely for the business, then it is easy to direct their talent towards important work that benefits the business in an immediate, targeted way.

  • In-house IT support works for the business, not for themselves.
  • The business can direct the workflow of permanent employees, a contractor works to their own schedule.

Pro: Multiple Roles

For many smaller and medium-sized businesses, those initial years of operation are often lean, with money very tight.

By hiring dedicated IT support, the business will often receive an employee that lends their expertise to a range of roles across the business. With the internet now a firmly entrenched part of nearly every business’s operations, IT means more than just installing a few versions of word on some desktop PCs.

In the 21st century, IT support means help with mobile devices, configuring VoIP (Voice over Internet Telephony) systems; it means maintaining websites and important data on the cloud.

IT support, especially to a smaller concern, means a very small team – perhaps a single IT technician, who covers multiple roles and oversees some of the most important functions of the business.

  • A single IT technician covers a wide range of roles, especially for the smaller business.
  • This means support for most aspects of the business – connectivity, data storage, telephony, from a dedicated employee.

Con: Permanent Employees Cost More Money

As much as a permanent IT employee has a responsibility to deliver their best, this relationship works both ways.

For a small business, struggling to survive those tough early years, it is hard enough to generate a living for one or two people, let alone taking on responsibility for supporting another employee.

An in-house employee, aside from their designated wage, has rights to overtime, holidays, sick leave, amongst their other rights. For the business, an ill or holidaying IT technician means no support. If something goes wrong, this means hiring a contractor to fix the problem, which negates the point of permanent staff.

Aside from this, the physical presence of another body in a small office means more space, more electricity and more equipment – in short, it means bigger overheads.

  • In the tough early phase of a business, in-house IT support means another person to pay.
  • An employee’s rights – sick leave, holidays, mean the business will have to find alternative IT support at some point anyway.
  • Another person means more overheads – electricity, space and equipment.

Contractors: The Pros and Cons

Pro: Savings

For most prudent businesses, savings is one word that is always welcome.

Utilising a contractor over salaried staff can provide an attractive alternative because of the various ways in which they save money for the business.

At the base level, the contractor only takes their agreed upon fee. There are no other monetary or legal obligations to them. The business does not have to worry about overtime for a job. The contractor simply delivers the project as promised and that is that.

Overheads, in the form of electricity, workspace or equipment, are also a non-issue. This money remains with the organisation; going into other areas and helping the business grow.

  • Contractors deliver a project for a set fee – no overtime, no other outlay for the business.
  • No long-term overheads or costs for a contractor.

Pro: Delays are not the Business’s Problem

When running a business, one of the hardest things to juggle is manpower. In smaller businesses, this problem becomes even more acute.

If, for example, there is a big IT project ongoing and the business’s one IT technician calls in ill, then the business has no recourse.

However, if contracted out, the same scenario is not the business’s problem. It is up to the contractor to find a solution and deliver on time. The relives the business of the stresses and strains of managing IT projects, instead delegating the responsibility.

  • With in-house IT staff, projects grind to a halt when illness strikes and employees cannot make it in.
  • When contracted out, the same project is the responsibility of the contractor. The business only needs to pay the agreed fee.

Con: Quality Variances

One of the biggest risks of outsourcing work is that the business has no control over the quality of ongoing work.

In an office environment, management can rejig a project if all is not going well and hopefully put things back on track. With a contractor, there is often little chance to see the work until the finished product comes back. By this point, the contractor is expecting payment. If the work is bad, then this could mean a protracted back-and-forth with the contractor.

Another potential problem is work that initially seems great – a website, for example, which derails after a short while. If a website goes down, not only does it cost money from lost sales or conversions, but also reflects badly on the business.

  • When outsourcing, the business cannot direct or control the quality of work.
  • A contractor will still expect payment. Disagreements can become ugly and protracted.
  • Bad work – a website that goes down after a week, for example, leaves the business out of pocket, losing money and gives a bad impression.
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