When it comes to technology, it’s hard to do it all yourself. However, it can be expensive to outsource everything, and sometimes vendors just don’t know enough about your company to do what you need. What are the best tech tasks to hand off?
Help desk services are easy to outsource, although not all help desk providers are willing to support software applications outside of Microsoft Office. They will do a fine job with Windows issues like printing, virus removal, Internet browser issues, Word and Excel questions, and other general errors. If most of your software applications are web-based, this may be more than enough to meet your routine support needs.
If you run critical software applications in-house, or specialized software like AutoCAD, you may need a company that can provide more customized support. You’ll have to interview providers carefully to determine which ones are willing to invest time in learning and documenting the software you run, so that they can answer whatever questions arise. Alternatively, you may have separate support contracts with each software vendor. In that case, your staff calls the help desk vendor for general questions, and they call the software vendor for issues specific to the software. Occasionally it will be unclear where the issue lies, so your team may need assistance managing the vendors to ensure their problems are resolved.
You’ll also need onsite support to address computer hardware issues. This can often be done in-house by someone with a moderate level of technology expertise. However it is also quite easy to outsource this to someone who is expert. It’s just a matter of determining which is the better fit and value for your needs.
Network and Server Support
While PC support is often fairly straightforward, network and server management require greater skill and more experience. These activities should be outsourced. What many companies do is hire a tech company that can manage the infrastructure that they already have in place, both remotely and onsite. They also typically handle network security, which includes PC level applications like anti-virus and anti-malware.
Be sure to consider outsourced alternatives like colocation and cloud hosting. Colocation means that your servers are housed in a data center instead of your office, and your office is networked directly to them. Typically you own the hardware in a colocation scenario. Cloud hosting costs more than colocation, but you don’t need to buy any hardware at all. You simply “rent” server processing power. Again, your office is networked directly to the cloud servers that you set up. Keep in mind that with both these options, you’ll still need some assistance in your office with network setup.
Email is incredibly easy to outsource. Microsoft used to offer Exchange, their email platform, as part of Small Business Server. They no longer do that and are encouraging companies to move to their Office365 service instead. It is a very reliable and cost effective choice. If you prefer not to use Microsoft, there are other hosted Exchange email providers.
Nearly every web hosting company offers hosted “POP” email. That is a low-cost email option but it doesn’t work as smoothly as hosted Exchange email.
Business Application Software
You will almost always turn to a third party when it comes to business software. There is rarely a case where it is cost effective to write software yourself. Take care to choose a good vendor, because it can be extremely difficult to change software providers once you’ve gotten set up. Make sure the company is financially stable, has a strong support team, releases regular updates, and – of course – has software that closely fits your business needs.
Once you’ve started using a software package, you need someone who knows exactly how it is set up for your company: the options that have been selected, reports that are available, business processes it supports, etc. That person will typically handle new user setups, security, process changes, report updates, and training. The role can be filled by a consultant, but this person must know your business well. For that reason, you may prefer to keep this role internal to your company. Just make sure you have someone tech-savvy in charge, and send them to plenty of training so that they have the knowledge and skills they need to handle this role effectively.
There are thousands of do-it-yourself websites available, but doing it yourself isn’t always the best choice. Many business owners “don’t know what they don’t know” and end up with unprofessional and ineffective websites in an effort to save money. A good quality website created by a professional design firm will ensure that your company is well represented online.
Once your website is built, there is ongoing work to keep it fresh and up-to-date. Ask your web design company to provide “content management” features so that you can make these basic updates yourself.
If social media is part of your online marketing strategy, take a close look at whether it should be outsourced or kept internal. Either can work. The key here is that social media requires constant attention and frequent updates to be effective.
Security and Regulatory Compliance
Any business subject to regulatory compliance requirements (HIPAA, SOX, PCI, FISMA, etc.) should engage outside consultants to test their security on a regular basis. Specialized security firms can run security audits and penetration tests. They will be up-to-date on the latest requirements and can help protect your company from liability.
Making Final Decisions
In a nutshell, you want to hand off the activities where advanced technical knowledge is required, and/or where services are so standard that there’s not much business-specific knowledge needed. Use employees when in-depth knowledge of your business really makes a big difference. Plan to train your vendors on your business-specific needs; plan to train your team on the technology tools they will use. Whichever way you go, focus on clearly communicating your needs so that you get the best possible IT experience.