Technology is a key enabler for businesses; reducing overheads, improving services and managing critical information. Though smaller businesses rely on technology as much as larger ones, they cannot budget in the same way to cover all aspects of the technologies they need, resulting in a skills gap. Often much of the internal know how is held by one or two individuals that are then a risk to the business should they ever leave.
IT Managers must find skills and services to fill the gap, often looking at alternatives to the internal team. How do you decide on the best way to deliver the technology your business needs?
1. Business Strategy – the strategy is key, the more planning you can do the more prepared you will be. Push the business to look forward and think how the business will change, or improvements that will be needed, so that you have time to understand the technologies to enable the change and any expertise that will be needed.
2. Skills Gap – the analysis of current and future technology needs identifies any gap in skills currently within the internal team. Once the gap is identified you can investigate the best way to have access to the skills.
3. Internal Teams - it is unreasonable to expect a small team to be experts in all the technologies that a business uses. Some of the shortfall can be taken up by vendor support or maintenance for critical software, services and hardware. Team training can be used to fill gaps. This shows an investment in your employees and can be motivating. Classroom training is not always a substitute for hands-on experience. You may decide to bolster the team with individuals who already have the skills and experience.
4. External Teams – there are many consultancies, support providers and self-employed specialists you could engage to address the skills gap. A one-off installation or configuration will suit a consultant who will ensure it is completed successfully. Often there are ongoing support requirements for aspects of an infrastructure, such as networking or security, where the skills are more expensive to employ and an external support agreement would be more cost effective. Your internal team may be responsible for supporting users, whereas infrastructure related support is achieved through a support provider. In these scenarios it is critical that any external provider is integrated with the external team so that the service to the business is seamless.
5. Manage Costs – addressing any skills gap internally or externally are both legitimate and effective. The deciding factor may be the relative costs. Training internal staff is probably the cheapest way to gain the skills however you are relying on the individual to be able to grasp what they are being taught and also relate the knowledge to a real-life situation when they get back to base. Employing someone with the ability and experience will cost more than the training but will ensure that you have the skills at your disposal, assuming the employment process is effective in finding the right candidate. Looking to an external consultant is more expensive from a time/cost perspective but does not commit you to the individual long term. A support contract takes a middle path where you have a range of skills available to you and the cost is probably less than employing someone. A good provider will also foster a relationship that is an extension to the internal team rather than a separate entity.
The most cost-effective way very much depends on the specific requirement. Investing in internal teams improves job satisfaction and motivates, providing an ongoing benefit to the business. However, integrating external contractors and service providers is often a more cost-effective way to cover skills gaps and provide flexibility to the business because of the range of skills and depth of experience that you then have at your disposal.