4 IT Support Options: Insource vs Outsource vs Mixed

4 IT Support Options: Insource vs Outsource vs Mixed

What changes and challenges are happening in your business?

A number of factors inspire companies to analyse their IT support: office moves, sales growth, adding headcount, quality of service issues, data breaches, compliance concerns, lack of proactive guidance, or strategy.

Are you getting a lot of user complaints? Working from home and using cloud applications doesn’t always work as planned.

Maybe you’re a well-funded startup or just doing some due diligence to make sure your current arrangement is delivering the competitive advantage you deserve.

Is your provider or small IT department slow to respond? (No offense if you’re this person.)

At Multi IT & Telephony Solutions, we help businesses just like yours solve IT problems every day. And one of the most common questions we hear from prospective clients is, ‘should I insource or outsource my IT?’

While Multi IT’s only two offerings are managed IT and co-managed IT, we’re realists and understand our model is not always the best option for every business.

The goal of this article is to show you a variety of business solutions and help you find the right fit.

Which IT Support Plan is Best For Your Small to Midsize Business or Nonprofit?

  1. Do-It-Yourself IT
  2. Dedicated IT Staff
  3. Hourly Break/Fix Services
  4. Managed IT Services

Do-It-Yourself IT Support

You, or a colleague, take ownership of managing all of your technology in addition to your primary job duties.

Do-It-Yourself IT falls squarely in the spare time category.

What Are The Pros?

Doing it yourself saves money if you can’t afford to pay someone else to do this. Business owners with fewer than five employees find this hard cost reduction irresistible.

Some people like IT and enjoy tinkering. I know a closing attorney who has a server stack in his office. He also reads software manuals on long flights.

You get a sense of control, calling all the shots on the technology used to grow your business.

For organizations with relatively simple technology needs, you enjoy independence and immediacy.

Applications like O365, Vonage, Gmail, and DropBox give smaller organizations many easy to manage subscription-based, cloud solutions.

What Are The Cons?

Doing it yourself increases soft costs. As business demands increase, self-managed IT will require more of a time commitment.

Security breaches and data loss due to failed backups are most prevalent with this model.

As you expand, you may start to lose control but not know it. Applications are easy to buy online. However, many have confusing control panels that look like the cockpit of a Boeing 747.

O365 has a host of features that your average person will not know how to set up. For example, user email accounts in O365 require configuration for automatic backup. Missing this detail can equate to years of lost data.

Cloud applications from different companies may be relatively simple to operate independently. Complexity arises when multiple applications need to be integrated, making you more dependent on disparate parties. Unless they cooperate promptly, the immediacy factor evaporates.

Executives who self-resolve IT problems – conservatively speaking – spend an average of two hours a week or 100 hours a year on this activity. This is not enough time to keep systems healthy and secure.

Self-resolvers focus almost exclusively on breakdowns instead of leveraging automated monitoring and maintenance tools which keep systems working optimally.

When handling your own IT needs, you waste valuable time working in the business rather than on the business.

This model typically leaves everyone in the business to fend for themselves. This can often lead to users signing up for their own services, known as “shadow IT.” According to KnowBe4, Shadow IT is responsible for 33% of all cyber-attacks.

Finally, if you’re not a cloud specialist, system engineer, network engineer, or security professional undergoing regular training and earning updated certifications, it’s impossible to keep up.

Dedicated IT Support Staff

Your team includes one or several full-time IT specialists who manage infrastructure: servers, cloud applications, user help desk, network, firewall, backup and disaster recovery, telecom, and vendor management. Wikipedia Definition of Typical Services

Application specialists are a different breed from the infrastructure team. They have the skill sets to provide a line of business application support, software development, project, and program management.

The size and technology needs of your organisation will dictate the combination you require.

What Are The Pros?

The larger your headcount, the more likely you’ll have users with varying levels of competency and patience. Have you met many Type A personalities who politely suffer a printer error or forgotten password when a deadline is looming?

If your business has over 100 people, an in-house IT team consisting of infrastructure and application specialists can be convenient for grab-by-the-collar, just-in-time help requests.

Technology adoption and enthusiasm are also affected by the age of your team. Younger employees, who have grown up around technology, are going to jump right in.

Older employees may be less engaged. I have a good friend whose father retired ten years early because he didn’t like using email.

A robust in-house presence also makes sense if IT is your core business and service delivery depends on a unique IT application that requires full-time support.

You may even get team members who want to work in your particular industry because it’s part of their life’s mission. They wish to stop human trafficking, promote better healthcare outcomes, or help people attain financial freedom.

What could be better than passionate employees who become a valuable part of your culture?

What Are The Cons?

Full-time IT employees are easily accessible to everyone, including demanding users who may not follow standard support request protocols. When stronger personalities push and shove, attention can get diverted from higher priority issues and projects. This political dynamic creates strife, hinders your operating efficiency, and could increase your legal exposure.

Would you rather have someone help a forceful executive format a PowerPoint or finish patching a mission-critical web infrastructure? An unpatched web server triggered the Equifax data breach.

In-house IT professionals are also likely to be on call 24/7 or be in a rotation to share this duty with others. Their workdays can be unpredictable. Vacations and sick leave can also create gaps.

And it’s not uncommon for executives to expect assistance with home computing needs after-hours or on weekends. These factors lead to burnout and staff turnover.

Cloud specialists, system engineers, network engineers, project managers, CISOs, CIOs, and CTOs, are expensive resources. An IT Help Desk/Technical Support Professional can command R630,000 a year while an IT Manager can fetch R1,000,000. 

Not only is the median pay for IT professionals more than double the salary of all other Southern African occupations, but compensation also rises every year and boasts an unemployment rate of 2.8% versus the national average of 10.2% in the industry.

Strong IT professionals are always in high demand. Recruiters call them regularly with lucrative financial incentives to jump ship. So the ambitious ones tend to leave for new challenges while the less enterprising ones stick around.

When key personnel leave, they depart with institutional knowledge. Quality documentation is not always maintained and shared. Other IT professionals see knowledge as job security and don’t want to give away the keys to the kingdom.

Are you comfortable with either scenario? If you have concerns around single points of failure and risk, I can’t imagine your answer would be yes.

How do you feel about having to manage and mentor IT people? Many businesses don’t have this expertise. Many companies also have no idea if their IT people are doing a good job or how to evaluate their performance.

Finally, your expenses climb when you add the cost of employee benefits, training, real estate space, and the hardware/software required to build out in-house IT management infrastructure.

Hourly or Break/Fix IT Support

Break/Fix IT is prevalent in the small business market. The model is very similar to that of a plumber, electrician, or HVAC vendor. Clients pay for services “by the drink” on an as-needed basis. An IT consultant is essentially “on-call” to solve technical problems as they arise.

The mentality is very similar to Do-It-Yourself IT, except you recognize the need to get help from a more qualified third-party. Hourly IT support is a cottage industry with hundreds of sole proprietors in any major city, including national brands.

What Are The Pros?

Break/fix IT support doesn’t require any upfront financial commitments, making it cost-effective for companies with fewer than ten people, basic systems, and minimal reliance on technology.

In some cases, monthly retainers, fees for block-time agreements, or budgeted hours apply.

Some business owners are so practical they can’t fathom paying for something unless it’s broken.

The client maintains a tighter control on spending and is empowered to authorize all activities and associated costs, including selecting different vendors for different IT initiatives: Internet, phone system, AV, etc.

Break/fix might be all you can afford when getting started.

Or it could be a convenient band aid while an IT resource is unavailable or being hired/replaced.

What Are The Cons?

There is a direct correlation between reactive hourly services and less favorable business outcomes. What can go wrong? The hourly resource is seldom available the exact moment you need them.

Break/Fix resources don’t have the luxury of using pre-installed professional services automation or 24/7 remote monitoring and management software, which puts them at a severe disadvantage.

Since they lack visibility, data insights, and control of all the moving parts of your IT systems, they have to begin every encounter from the ground up. In many cases, they’re learning on the job.

Their technical expertise is limited to tactical fixes rather than understanding how individual technologies fit and should perform within a broader system. This means they lack the visibility to identify the root causes of problems.

Your business can be disrupted when problems emerge outside standard business hours. And since system alerts will not be activated automatically, you must identify the issue and report it to the provider.

Break/fix service does not come with Service Level Agreements or guaranteed response times which leads to extended wait times and escalated emergency fees.

This is a less mature business model consisting of smaller providers and independent contractors. Both usually have limited resources and domain expertise across interdependent technology disciplines: network, cloud, security. In today’s connected world, you can’t afford to have gaps.

The hourly resource can also go on vacation, have other clients to visit, go on maternity leave, or exit the business without warning. Is this single point of failure worth the risk?

Multi IT & Telephony Solutions once received a call on a Saturday from a frantic CPA who suffered a catastrophic data loss. Her 10-year old small business server had crashed, and the various break/fix vendors she had used over the years were nowhere to be found—ditto on any backups or network diagrams. Smart CPA. Bad IT decision-maker.

Managed IT Services & Support

Managed IT Services is a fully outsourced solution for small and midsize businesses to enjoy a portfolio of people, processes, and technology on a fixed-fee basis. It’s a subscription model where you essentially rent fractional ownership of a corporate IT department instead of building it and managing it yourself.

The managed services model initially gained popularity in the early ’90s in the large enterprise market, which produced innovations that are now available to much smaller entities.

What Are The Pros?

Best in class IT providers put a great deal of emphasis on understanding your strategy before making recommendations. This consultative approach sets the stage to optimise the performance of your environment. They can also lower your exposure to downtime, data loss, theft, or intrusion.

Managed IT gives you flexibility for 10 or 1000 employees. It can be scaled up or down. Do you need fully managed IT this quarter and Co-Managed IT next quarter? Either service can be expanded or contracted in short order

Outsourcing replaces capital expense with operating expenses. Instead of paying an in-house IT Director over R1,000,000 a year to serve a 50-person firm, an MSP with as few as ten employees can offer a more comprehensive array of services for R600,000 per year. 24/7 remote monitoring and proactive maintenance also included, have the net effect of issue prevention.

Many full-service MSPs subscribe to client management tools with annual costs in the range of R5,000,000 to R7,500,000. These expenses are easy to justify in an outsourced model because 50-100 different clients pay fixed fees that more than offset the MSP’s operating expenditures.

IT providers have cross-trained specialists on staff with deep expertise in constantly changing technology services and compliance frameworks. They stay ahead of the minutia, so you don’t have to.

Like every industry these days, managed IT services is a competitive field. It’s not uncommon for providers to structure agreements with 60-day out clauses. By making the contract terms less threatening, businesses can move forward without the pressure to make a 12, 24, or 36-month commitment. What if you hate your IT provider?

Hiring an MSP simplifies operations. Instead of devoting employees to co-ordinating vendors, evaluating, deploying, and supporting technology, you outsource these functions to a single reliable company to manage your computing infrastructure. This frees your team to focus on core business needs and strategic initiatives.

What Are The Cons?

The managed IT space has very low barriers to entry with hundreds of options in any given market. Many operators use the buzzword “MSP” very loosely. And some are more professional than others. You’ve got national companies who advertise on billboards as well as “MSPs” being run out of basements by four guys in their NASCAR pajamas.

Your cybersecurity may be at risk. You can’t count on every vendor to follow standards and best practices or provide leadership and inspiration for you to do the same. You’re only as strong as your weakest link. Take for example the ransomware attack that hit a Durban MSP and affected 100 of its clients.

Some companies don’t like giving up any control to an MSP. Multi IT & Telephony Solutions once signed a 12-month agreement with a client who wanted to transition from in-house IT to outsourced IT. They were paying us R70,000 a month and never allowed us to install remote monitoring and management software on their servers.

New MSP services would be a lot easier to roll out in the small and midsized business sector if there were also a budgetary line item for Change ManagementLarger companies can afford change management, while smaller organisations cannot.

When Coca-Cola’s IT department initiates a laptop refresh with new Microsoft Azure services, they hire management consulting companies to handle the pivot.

Doing the same project on a much smaller scale with a privately held, 40-person insurance brokerage could easily turn into a hot mess.

Smaller businesses may change IT providers and not change the deep-seated organisational behaviours that caused their previous IT vendor relationship to sour.

If you hire any sort of professional services organization – MSP, Law Firm, CPA, Financial Advisor – and refuse to follow their recommendations, the relationship will not last.

A successful partnership requires the provider to have an advisory relationship with the client’s primary influencers and/or IT Steering Committee. These key stakeholders need to be committed to meeting on a regular basis to share strategy, business goals, best practices, and approve projects that will impact the business.

Some clients enthusiastically embrace replacing old or unsupported hardware and implementing cyber security best practices. Other clients won’t upgrade consumer-grade Wireless Access Points – even if they frequently lose connectivity, are unsecured, and required to process credit card transactions.

If you assign one person to exclusively manage the relationship – including running interference on every support ticket – you create an information vacuum, a quality of service bottleneck, and a single point of failure. Each has a negative effect on your business continuity.

MSPs can’t predict or prevent every one of your unplanned technology costs.

Some MSPs may be incapable of learning your business or be a bad fit for your culture.

With some IT companies, you’re just a number.

Where To Go From Here?

Figuring out what works best for you requires due diligence. And you may experience a few setbacks along the way.

Multi IT & Telephony Solutions has kissed a few proverbial frogs in our quest to find the right digital marketing partner. We’ve had to change hardware and software vendors when their business practices and pricing models no longer made sense.

We used to own servers and lease space in a data centre. Now we use managed services specifically designed for managed services providers. And we didn’t outsource all of our HR until 2020!

We know what you’re going through because we’re learning and doing new things every day.

Get in touch with us online or on the details below:

Johannesburg – +27(0)11 435 0450[email protected]
Cape Town – +27(0)21 879 1950[email protected]
Durban – +27(0)31 331 0735[email protected]

Namibia – +264(0)81 353 9702[email protected]

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