Andy Hinxman discusses how to make sure you are taking on either the right IT staff or the right IT support company.
Finding the best IT staff, sourcing the best outsourced support company and getting the right mix of both is crucial to run a business today. When things go wrong, when you need help and advice at short notice, when you absolutely have to get that proposal in by the deadline, you need IT. So how do you make sure you are either hiring the right IT staff or the right IT support company?
You can teach people a certain level of IT skills but you can’t teach personality. Whether you have an in-house or outsourced IT company remember that ultimately your technical people are dealing with human beings. Often clients can feel under pressure when they have an IT problem and it is the job of the technical staff to make them feel better not worse. That doesn’t mean over-promising but it does mean being polite, calm and helpful. Also you have to have team members, so although there are generalisations about IT people being a certain type, ie unsociable, that doesn’t mean you should excuse people if they can’t mix with other staff. In the main it is IT developers who tend to fit the stereotypes and they generally don’t have access to clients.
When we recruit we look for good apprentices as that way we can mould them into our way of working. Outside of that we look at CVs and post our own adverts on websites. We do work with many recruitment agencies supplying their IT needs so that helps us when we are looking for people. However I still have to go through all the CVs and that can run into thousands. Interestingly we have had people fill in their CVs online and found they have sent it to us four times. Obviously we are not going to interview someone who can’t manage their own IT!
This is another way of ensuring you are getting the right staff whether it is IT or in other areas. If people come in as temps then you can get a feel for how they work and how they will fit in with the company. It also gives them the same opportunity. All businesses need IT so temporary or fixed contracts give you the chance to see how they fit in with your team.
Taking the test
We give potential recruits a simple technical test when they come for their interview. It is five to ten questions. They range from the technical through to problem solving. For example how do you troubleshoot xyz to what would you say to a client who called and said their internet had gone down? We are looking for people who can offer solutions and can give examples of what they have done in the past or how they think things should be done. As mentioned we need to be sure they have the personality to deal with clients too.
Outsourcing vs in-house IT
Generally when a business has grown to 150 plus staff that is a good time to have in-house IT. However that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have a whole team as there are many options which involve a mix of in-house and outsourcing. I would not advise companies to have just the one in-house person to look after their IT needs. That person will obviously have to take holiday, may have sick days and even with the best will in the world, they can’t be in two places at the same time. Someone working on their own also may become set in their ways. They don’t have the opportunity to learn new ways of working from a colleague.
For smaller companies outsourcing makes sense, particularly as we would recommend using the cloud. That way companies always have a back up of all their essential data should any of their systems go wrong. They have a helpline and support when they need it without the expense of an in-house team, which most small businesses simply can’t afford. At my company Keybridge we help companies set up their IT and if they move office we even go in and move their computers (usually over a weekend) so when they come in on a Monday they are ready to go. This way no working days are lost.
A mix of in and out
You don’t have to have one or the other though. Whether you are a small or bigger business you can choose to have a mix of both in-house and outsourced support. For example, we have clients who have someone on staff who looks after their IT but we look after the system when they are on holiday or they need additional help. We also supply a technician to companies who don’t want to hire a member of staff but want someone on hand. Again they have the IT professional on site but they also get the back up of our team too if that person is on leave or sick. The only problem we have had in the past is that sometimes the client ends up wanting to recruit our staff member. We make sure there is a clause in the contract that says they can’t do that!
Location, location, location
Ideally if you do choose to outsource your IT support then make sure the company is as near to your office as possible. You may think this doesn’t matter with IT, however if there is a problem which requires someone on site then you have to factor in travel time and travel cost for a technician to come to your office and fix the problem.
Finally check the references and qualifications of any outsource company you plan to employ just as you would with an in-house staff member. Are they, like us, Microsoft partners, do they offer hosted desktops, and if so what is their security like? Find out if they are G-Cloud certified, which means their system has been approved by the government.