Special Reports

Strained IT Departments Welcome MSP Help

If internal IT morale stands between you and an MSP, here are some tips for easing the transition.

Talk to any SMB owner and they'll tell you that along with the thrill of watching a business grow comes the agony of managing that growth. As their business gets more complex, certain areas of the organization start to require more than just entrepreneurial drive and a small yet dedicated group of employees to hold them together. Nowhere will this be more evident than in the IT department.

For the average SMB IT department -- usually consisting of one or two people -- outside skills and manpower in the form of a managed service provider can be a big help handling day-to-day IT operations such as e-mail and e-mail security, server maintenance, and data storage and backup. This frees up internal IT staff to work on projects that drive new growth.

Morale-minded business owners will rightly wonder how their existing IT staff will react to handing over some of their duties to an outside company. In these tough economic times, it's understandable that internal IT staff might feel threatened. Bret Jaffe, president of IT4, a Massachusetts-based MSP, explains the situation: "A full-time person is almost always initially a barrier. Usually, they're on the defense and they want to protect their job rather than bring in someone who has more experience, or does things differently. But once you get past that barrier, you can build some great relationships with onsite staff."

The first step is to help your client's management clearly define for the internal IT staff what duties the MSP will, and will not, be taking on. "If we're just taking on the plumbing, that's what we'll focus on with the staff," says Jaffe. "Do they really want to spend their time on patch management, maintenance, and monitoring? Do they really want to be on call 24/7?"

The next step is to encourage management to start the internal staff on customer-facing, strategic technology projects that have been sitting on the back burner. "When the staff gets started on these 'higher tier' projects, we can supplement their knowledge if they're trying to implement a solution that's new territory for them," says Jaffe. "But, to get to that point, you really have to gain their trust. Once you get past that initial barrier, and they understand that you aren't trying to steal their job, they'll trust you as a resource."

Even companies that specialize in high tech can benefit from outside help. Eric Shorr is owner of PC Troubleshooters, a company that itself provides IT support services to small- and medium-sized companies in the New England area. Shorr is a big believer in knowing one's core competencies and sticking to them. He didn't want his engineers stuck in the office handling day-to-day IT maintenance; he wanted them on the road working with customers to help them better run their businesses. Shorr's solution was to bring in Zenith Infotech to share the IT workload.

It's two years later, and PC Troubleshooters engineers have embraced Zenith. "They've seen them in action," says Shorr. "This partnership has allowed us to extend our reach without adding staff. Over the last couple of years, we've held steady at about a dozen employees." During this time, with very little IT turnover, and in tough economic times, PC Troubleshooters has been able to grow. "In 2008, we were up almost 30 percent. We don't have the numbers back for 2009 yet, but we're also up," declares Shorr.

"We didn't let go of any engineers after entering into our partnership with Zenith because that wasn't my goal," Shorr says. "I wanted to give my engineers a better quality of life, and let them focus on customer-facing projects. I don't want them rebooting servers at 1 a.m. This is where Zenith comes in."

Not every IT department will initially react well to working with an MSP but, with a little insight and planning, you can help turn the situation around.

About the Author

Christa Ayer is a freelance technology writer based in Seattle, Wash.

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