There are entire books and even collections of books, such as ITIL, on how to manage IT processes in large companies. However, in some ways it is easier to manage processes in a large company than in a small one, because at least you can spread the work across the business areas and you have enough people to do it. But what about when a not-so-large company (30-300 people) has only a couple of IT staff?

Servers, computers

It’s not so easy to deal with IT matters when IT people live in their own IT cosmos.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most important aspects of what it takes to make even a small IT department work well. As this is only the size of a single article, the tips will be very general and in some cases without detailed analysis, but if you apply them, you will still benefit greatly.

There will be other articles on the more detailed management and development of IT services later.

Can IT outsourcing be an option?

First, before making any changes to IT processes, I suggest reviewing the criteria for outsourcing IT services – not so much to outsource IT services, but to make sure that it may not be worth outsourcing them to somebody else. After all, if you already have a few IT people, you probably have quite large, specific and business-impacting IT needs.

If, however, your IT needs are not large and you only need standard IT services, then it is worth considering outsourcing your IT support to an IT company.

If you have weighed up those outsourcing criteria and decided that you need your own IT department, then you have already made a strategic decision to develop and manage your IT activities.

Realities and requirements for in-house IT services

So, let’s now set out the essential requirements and facts:

  • IT staff is very expensive, with even the cheapest, low-skilled and low-experienced staff costing around €2,000 per month gross
  • IT staff are also demanding, and even at a high price they are not always easy to find and, once found, not always easy to keep
  • IT staff work is usually characterized by high and very deep multitasking, which reduces productivity to an extreme
  • A company needs IT staff not just for the sake of it, but because IT services are a major contributor to the company’s overall profits
  • IT staff are not always able to understand the company’s IT needs and to propose innovations themselves
  • IT staff are often (or even usually) unable to communicate with other employees or department managers
  • Timely and good IT solutions can significantly increase the opportunities and profitability of virtually any business
  • IT services are very non-trivial in technical terms, requiring both quite broad and deep knowledge and, sometimes, experience with the IT resources of a particular organization.
  • In companies that use IT extensively and have specialized IT solutions, the collapse of IT processes can have catastrophic consequences for the whole company

As we can see, even in a very generalized way, IT is always both a tool that can make a big difference and is very much needed, but it is also a tool that is expensive and problematic. Usually the complexity of the problems is so deep that company managers sometimes go so far as to take radical decisions just to have a chance to fix something. But even radical solutions are rarely effective.

What needs to change to stabilize IT processes

There are actually four or three areas that need to be assessed and decisions made on all of them. As all these areas are deep and broad, we will just give you ready-made recipes.

There are four problem areas, and consequently there are four solution areas. We will look at them very briefly, but if you improve each of the areas even minimally, the problems will decrease and the IT benefits will increase.

IT financial and capacity management

The IT department usually tries to save technical resources and therefore tries to squeeze the most out of legacy systems. As a result, all the systems used by the company are slow and lagging, and the IT staff is bogged down with maintenance and troubleshooting.
IT staff are usually not even able to explain in a cohesive way how much, what and why they need to buy extra.

This can be fixed if someone from outside (e.g. the CFO) insist on investing in IT technical resources to keep them from running short. IT staff cannot fix it themselves, and it needs a lateral pusher to propose continuous extensions and upgrades of systems, as well as to carry out procurement.

Imagine that your IT department is a factory that receives raw materials (equipment) and gives you your IT services. If the factory receives little raw material and tries to produce something from the scrap, you will not get good IT services. That is why it needs to be managed.

Bear in mind that IT staff may be so used to saving everything that when you will suggest it to them they will tell you that they have everything they need and nothing is required. This is a fairly typical situation. It needs to be overcome.

IT staff turnover, difficulties in finding staff

When the price of workers is high but even at high prices it is impossible to find them, the problem sometimes becomes so chronic that it becomes almost impossible to solve, even with wage increases to abnormal levels. IT workers sometimes defect to companies with salaries that are a couple of times lower, just because it is more interesting for them. What is more, many easily choose to emigrate and then receive even higher salaries.

There are three general rules:

  • Raise salaries wherever possible, and it’s better to do it yourself than to wait for an employee to leave. Many employees don’t dare to ask for a raise, and then you get an unexpected defection. IT salaries are currently so high and continuing to rise that no matter how and how much you increase, you won’t be able to increase too much.
  • Pamper your staff – free food, coffee machine, table football, large rooms, IT toys and so on. The level of pampering that is now commonplace in the IT sector is so high that it is beyond the comprehension of employees in other sectors. Some of the more prominent examples of pampering in Lithuania include free daily meals from restaurants, meditation rooms, electric scooters for everyone, etc.
  • Recruit not on the basis of diplomas, but on the basis of knowledge and willingness to learn. In the IT sector, diplomas have long meant nothing. Fourteen-year-olds with several years of UNIX/SQL administration experience or programming in 5 different languages and a higher salary than both their parents combined is a reality we have seen time and again. Many exceptional IT professionals do not graduate not only from higher education but even from high school. And those are the kind of people you can find for your company, and those are the kind of people who can do wonders for you.

It requires a lot of attention from HR staff, because things work differently in IT than in other sectors.

Managing technical and service IT processes

Indeed, it is the management of the IT work itself, which is often poorly organized, full of people doing multiple tasks and mindless work. It can be very difficult to manage these processes, especially when the IT team is small that it is not possible to redistribute work.

We don’t promise that the recipes will be easy to follow, they may take a lot of time, but if you keep moving in that direction, the results will come after a while. We will give you the simplest of recipes, and when you do it, you will probably get some resistance, explanations that it is not necessary or that it is already there, but if you persevere, the way the IT department operates after six months or a year will have changed significantly.

Recipes to get you started are:

  • Require the IT department to have some kind of enquiry/error/work logging system, whatever it is. Even an Excel. It is important that work is written and not forgotten.
  • Hire a separate, communicative staff member who is not an IT specialist, but who has some knowledge of IT. His/her job will be to interact with users and to act as a liaison between the admins and the regular staff. An important criterion for selection is that the employee must be able to install games on his/her home computer.
  • Referrals to IT must go through the employee who has been hired and who must also register these referrals (jobs, glitches, etc.).
  • Ask IT for details of how many servers, routers there are, network topology, who is responsible for which systems, etc.
  • At least once a month, get someone from IT to attend meetings of other departments. No matter who goes, and no matter what the department is doing, someone from IT has to sit down and stay in the other department.
  • Require the IT department to show you a plan of what they are going to do next week. It doesn’t matter how accurate, correct it is, just that every week they have to show you the plan for the following week. The plans should be different, you should not be shown the same plan every time.

What we can guarantee is that all or most of these items will be initially disagreed with by IT staff, opposed, they will try to come up with excuses, workarounds, explanations why they are not needed, question their necessity, and even try to deceive you by, for example, slipping you some fictional lists. But if you accept all this resistance as a normal stage of change and persevere, you will succeed. Six months to a year from now, IT will look very different.

Strategic development of internal IT services

This is the area that is perhaps the most difficult to manage and define. The point is that your company’s profitability, efficiency, everything, can depend enormously on IT. Those who are able to discover new IT opportunities are the ones who are able to outperform their competitors. And you can’t do that with standard IT services – you need IT development and in-house IT services.

The overall direction of the decisions would boil down to two main points:

  • Write down all IT services at the service level instead of at the technical level. Request solutions from IT staff to improve those services and talk about the quality of those services. The criteria to be discussed are the reliability of the service (how much it works, how often it breaks), the speed (e.g. how long it takes to load a CRM page), etc. It is important to distinguish which services are critical (“the company can’t do its job”) and which are less important.

  • Growing IT workers into people who understand company-wide processes. It will take time, but IT staff need to learn and find out what and how all departments are doing by visiting other departments, and other staff need to provide training to IT staff on their own activities. If IT staff start understanding what the company does and what everyone in the company does, they will start understanding what solutions are needed.

Strategic growth may be the slowest, most difficult process to define, but if you succeed, in the long run the IT department can become the one that comes up with new areas of activity and new products for the company. And, in turn, grows profits.

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