Way back in the 1960s and 1970s, when Information Technology (IT) was still referred to as Data Processing, many organisations began to debate whether or not it was really a good idea to maintain large internal DP (IT) departments.
There were and are, many challenges associated with doing so including:
• Highly-proficient technical staff are typically hard to find;
• As demand for the top IT staff exceeds supply, salaries and associated benefits are amongst some of the highest outside of executive business remuneration segments;
• As the IT environment changes so quickly, there is a very high and expensive overhead for employers in constant top-up retraining of their IT staff;
• Unsurprisingly, when competition for skilled technicians is so high, staff retention is a major challenge;
• An establishment needs to have a certain degree of expensive ‘surplus resource’ in order to be able to cope with holidays and sickness absences.
None of these issues have really changed in 50 years, in terms of debates relating to IT support staff.
It’s perhaps true to say that in the early decades of the industry’s development, many organisations chose to opt for building and maintaining an in-house establishment. That was partly due to a reflection of corporate unease at being dependent upon external parties but also the fact that external IT support staff organisations weren’t exactly thick on the ground in Australia or elsewhere.
During more recent times though, the risk-return dynamics have changed considerably.
There are now expert providers of IT support staff who are willing to enter into technical support contracts with customers in virtually every industry sector. They will provide what is sometimes referred to as a service level agreement (SLA) that will guarantee that they will be able to provide expert technicians to respond to any problems you might encounter in areas such as server or network maintenance etc.
That response will be within specified time frames.
Suddenly, all of the above inhibitors and worries for an employing organisation are removed at a stroke. All the responsibility for finding, employing and training the right people now rest with a third party organisation.
Of course, moving to what is sometimes called the ‘outsourcing’ of components of your IT support infrastructure does bring with it a few challenges itself. Good corporate governance would demand that the organisation shouldn’t simply sign away its potential business continuity to a third party organisation without extreme safeguards having been put into place.
Many of these safeguards will have their own individual descriptions but they all essentially relate to making sure that you have thoroughly vetted and evaluated your potential supplier of IT support staff services before deciding to a enter into a contract with them.
Remember that their ability to perform in line with the demands of the support contract and the SLA may be something that one day makes the difference between your business being able to function or suddenly becoming defunct!
In some industry sectors, notably banking, the regulators may demand that the SLA is subject to external validation in order to ensure that the organisation will be able to meet its statutory compliance requirements.
Even so, outsourcing business IT support services is now much simpler and much more risk-acceptable than it may ever have been in the past.
In the medium to longer term, this might seriously question whether in-house IT support staff becomes something of a rarity. After all, as some cynics point out, few companies employ full-time professional plumbers just in case one day there is a serious leak on their premises!