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IT manager: Technical support and firefighter or CIO and strategist?
Making the role of IT manager more strategic in your business
Who would be an IT manager in a small business?
In many of today’s small to medium enterprises of 10 - 100 people, technology plays a pivotal role. This means that for firms which retain an on-premise approach to provisioning technology tools for the business, there is often an awful lot of pressure on just one single person - the IT manager.
There are probably as many potential IT problems as there are different technologies. There is a need to support desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. If we consider IT infrastructure, there are servers, storage, backup and network devices to consider. Then, there’s items such as security software and appliances, database applications and email systems.
The issue of application support can be somewhat sticky. Where does end-user support finish and training begin? Users requesting support for what may often be training issues are likely to be unwelcome additions to the workload, even though many IT managers demonstrate flexibility in both skills and attitude, and possess a can-do mentality.
Support requests need to be prioritised. As well as those that are deadline related and need to be treated with urgency, the daily bump and grind tends to throw up a steady stream of low-level-non-urgent-but-not-to-be-forgotten-or-ignored support requests. Sometimes it’s not just about the severity of the issue; there’s the need to appropriately prioritise requests from the leaders of the business and senior executives.
Anyone that has supported IT in an SME is likely to have put in some irregular hours. Many will be familiar with dropping everything (including shelving those weekend plans) when one of the IT equivalents of the ‘big-end’ goes bang on a Friday afternoon. The IT manager in today’s small to medium enterprise cannot afford to come up short on commitment.
Amongst many other things, they need to be firefighters, educators, and philosophers, combining the patience of a saint with the nerve and sleight of hand of a Cirque du Soleil chainsaw juggler. And for dealing with people? Well, sometimes, there may also be the need to be part psychologist, part counsellor and part agony aunt!
Somewhere in the midst of the support function, the requirement to plan for new technology may be lost or obscured. This, however, is a requirement. It’s not to just make sure people have the tools they need today, but to make sure the workforce is properly equipped to exploit competitive advantage to take the business forward tomorrow, and in the coming years. The shared experience of many IT managers is that fire-fighting gets in the way of this strategic mission.
Amidst the increasing complexity of business technology that increasingly demands technical expertise and competence, and the realities of staffing in businesses of 10 -100 people, here we discuss how solo or small IT teams can be more effective in delivering the right skills to meet the needs of their employers.
The reality of IT staffing in SMEs of 50-100 people
For companies where IT is not part of the core business, IT staffing is something of a numbers game. Typically, IT staffing ratios may be anything from 1:25 to 1:50. With IT in a position where it has never been more deeply embedded and of fundamental importance in determining the success of the business, there is an increasing need for IT personnel to be flexible, highly knowledgeable and proficient across the many different aspects of technology.
A good, experienced, all singing, all dancing IT manager may be salaried in the region of £50k+ per annum. In fast-growth, high margin businesses it may not be unreasonable to employ 1 or 2 people of this calibre. However, for the majority, the reality of staffing is that to maintain acceptable and realistic fixed costs means only one salary is likely to be supported at this level.
To support the IT manager post holder, and to provide redundancy to cover holidays and sickness, a junior/2nd jobber or external consultant at up to an additional 70% of the annual cost may be seen as a necessity.
The need for on-side strategic guidance
Where technology has assumed a position of such importance as it has today, it is a pre-requisite that the business is correctly advised by a technology professional that has the firm’s best interests at heart.
Specialist firms may be bound by regulatory compliance and guidelines. Often these are continually evolving. The upshot is that only someone with intimate knowledge of your firm and the sector, acquired over time, may be able to see the big picture through the firm’s eyes.
For the peace of mind of the firm, it’s likely that impartial is not good enough. Although it is not always the case, 3rd party advisors often have a vested interest in advising on particular technology solutions. No matter how impartial an external advisor may be, only someone on the firm’s payroll can be trusted to provide guidance from the perspective of the firm.
Career ambitions of IT managers
Information technology has been reshaping business processes and operations since the mid-late 1950s. The generation of technology leaders that have retired in recent years or are now retiring are likely to be ‘old school’. Previous generations are likely to have qualified as electronic engineers and moved into IT as the field became better defined. More recent graduates entering the profession are likely to have qualified in computer science, with many specialisations, such as software engineering, data science and systems analysis.
Unless they are a square peg in a round hole, which means they should get out of it and do something different, it’s a good bet IT managers have their career sights set on moving up in the world. For an IT professional this might ultimately mean the role of CIO (Chief Information Officer) or CTO (Chief Technology Officer).
But how to get there? For a lot of IT managers, the day to day agenda is a mixture of scheduled projects and trouble shooting. It’s likely that projects get interrupted or delayed by the requirement to attend to urgent support issues. In such an environment, system development frequently has to move aside along with other essentials such as Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and strategic planning.
Migrating the IT manager’s role from firefighter to strategist
There is little doubt that IT managers in businesses that retain mostly an on-premise approach to provisioning technology are often thwarted by their inability to progress the strategic mission, a situation which frustrates many.
One of the best ways of migrating the core activity from one of firefighting and towards a more ‘C’ level role is for the firm to embrace and exploit the potential of cloud computing. Cloud technologies delivered by a specialist partner deliver efficiency and squash the support and maintenance overhead associated with conventional computing architectures which utilise PCs and on-premise servers and storage.
Cloud computing frees IT managers, enabling them to escape from being chained to the support desk and to make their job a more ambitious technology management role. Cloud computing lets IT managers be:
- More strategic - Concentrate on research, planning and development matters to formulate the mid to long-term technology plan for the firm
- More customer facing - Deliver more value to the business by adopting a customer facing role where appropriate
- More high level - Operate at a higher level and have time to acquire expert knowledge and skills essential to the success of the business
For many firms there is a clear question here:
Is the salary better spent on a firefighter running to keep up with technical issues or a strategic thinker that adds real value to your business?
Cloud computing solutions let IT Managers throw off their support chains. A good cloud solution includes support as part of the service bundle. This provides the space for the IT manager’s role to become more strategic, customer facing and high level.
- Helps satisfy the career ambitions of many IT managers and improves retention
- Increases business efficiency by exploiting the advantages of the cloud
- Reduces costs and delivers better value from technology to the business
Throw off the support chains with Serviced Cloud
HTL Support is a specialist provider of cloud technology solutions to the professional services sector. HTL Support has the expertise and experience to help service sector companies and those supplying services to regulated businesses to meet their regulatory obligations and follow guidelines on the use of technology.
It is our confirmed belief the cloud offers outstanding opportunities for services sector firms to leverage technology so it returns more value to their businesses. For businesses of 50 -100 people where IT is not a core part of the business, cloud computing lets IT managers throw off the chains that hold them - and the value of technology to the business - back.
About HTL Support
HTL Support is a close knit and highly professional team of technology professionals that are evangelists for cloud solutions. This is because we believe the benefits are unrivalled by equivalent on-premise approaches to provisioning business technology.
The business benefits of the cloud are regularly highlighted in the press and deliberated in boardrooms. Cloud technology is a topic about which the vast majority of business leaders are likely to have more than a passing interest.
Based in the heart of London in Canary Wharf, HTL Support was incorporated in 2009 with a clear and simple vision. We are dedicated to helping business leaders in financial service organisations find the best way of successfully adopting cloud technology in their businesses.
We offer best of breed Hosted Cloud Services in our ISO27001 London data centres, and help clients to create their own Private Cloud systems in their own offices or data centres.
Our friendly and professional engineers and consultants have extensive experience, proven track records and ‘can-do’ attitudes. We offer independent advice but partner with the leading cloud technology companies to ensure seamless support. We are serviced focused; our client’s satisfaction is paramount.
References and further reading
Cloud Services FAQ guide
The FD's dream IT budget