MSP Does Not Mean Off Site

You hear this often: “I don’t want to work with an MSP, because I want my IT people sitting right here where we can talk to them.”  The idea here is a good one, having your IT people, or at least certain IT roles that need to interact with end users and “other humans” often makes total sense.   You can communicate better, get more involved socially, build better relationships – being “part of the team” has major value.

What is incorrect, though, is the idea that because you work with an MSP that you do not have that option.  Maybe some MSPs will not offer it, but many (including NTG) absolutely offer their own staff to sit full or part time in your facility allowing them to act and react just like an internal employee would but with the added benefits of the MSP infrastructure and ecosystem.

There is nothing in the MSP model that dictates that staff need to be offsite, or shared between customers.  In fact, an entire MSP could be dedicated to a single customer, although this would generally be impractical for everyone involved.

More typically, what we see, are hybrid models where some MSP staff are full time, dedicated, and on site with a single customer and tend to handle functions that deal directly with people often such as helpdesk, deskside support, training, and security.  Then other resources are shared, and off site handling tasks with little to no human interaction like automation, server management, or similar.  This can allow for the big cost savings and skill benefits of an MSP, while keeping the “face to face, immediate response” nature of having the IT team sitting in the office with everyone else.

Considering using an MSP should not make you feel like you are choosing one mode of operating over another, nor that you are giving up options: with the right MSP partner, you should have more options, more flexibility, and more capability than ever before.

Make an IT Service Provider Your Next Employee

IT hiring is hard, even at the best of times. And for normal (non-tech) companies, attracting and retaining good IT talent can be exceptionally challenging whether because they are hard to find, the business lacks evaluation and selection skills, or the challenges of the business don’t interest the best potential candidates.  Even in the enterprise, hiring a good resource can easily take six months, and is a very expensive process.  And, of course, the harder it is to fill a position in the first place, the less likely it is for that person to stay long term: they are in demand and likely working their way up in their career.

Service providers present a significant opportunity to alleviate these challenges.  Service providers offer potential employees a broader range of challenges, mentoring from experts in their field, career paths without having to switch employers, and peers within their own profession – these aspects of a position are very important to an employee.  They also hire IT staff regularly and have a deep understanding as to what constitutes a valuable person for a role – something that most companies find very difficult to ascertain.

Contrary to the popular impression of service providers, staff that they provide need not be remote or even shared with other customers.  Service provider staff can be on site, can be fully dedicated to you, or any combination of pooling, dedication, location, etc.  There is great flexibility to find an operational mode that is both affordable and provides the functionality needed from the position.  Talk to your service provider, they are likely able to find a solution that will work for both of you.

Dedicated resources from a service provider can be surprisingly affordable, but come with many benefits such as being part of a larger billing system for other resources, having support resources from a dedicated IT organization, having included coverage options for holidays or sick days, ability to fluidly scale up or down through the use of other service provider staff, and so forth.

Service providers can change how you look at how your IT staff can work, and can do much to keep the costs of your staff low.  Internal staffing brings many high costs that are not always realized at the time of hiring, or are just assumed as unavoidable costs. But service providers bring scale, experience, and flexibility that single, traditional organizations cannot have themselves.  Reach out and see how your service provider can change how you look at your next IT hiring process.


Why Every Business Needs Backup

When we talk with technology professionals, almost universally they point to backups being possibly the most important thing that any business will prioritize when considering their computers and business systems.  But in the real world, backups and data protection often receives almost not attention. Why is this?

Backups are boring, they are invisible, they are easily forgotten.  You don’t see them, you don’t deal with them, and you hope that you never need them.  If you ignore your backups you might go years, possibly many years, without ever seeing a reason to have needed it.  Like airbags in your car, you can drive possibly for decades without seeing any value to them; in fact you might forget that they are there.  But when you need them, you have no time to decide to add them: you need them right that moment; and they can save your life.

Backups are the core protection for your business.  How much would it cost you if you lost a record of your customers, lost track of billing, couldn’t produce financial records, and possibly stopped being able to make your own products! Every business is unique in how data loss will impact them, and often it is far more dramatic than we imagine.  In a majority of cases, data loss without working backups isn’t just financially damaging – it actually causes businesses to close their doors for good.

The rule we live by is this: “If something is important enough to store, then it is important enough to back up.”  This means if you don’t see the value in protecting a piece of data, you shouldn’t be paying for someone to create, collect, or store it in the first place.

If you have never tried it, do some role playing in your office.  Sit down and run through what data loss would look like.  Try to imagine how bad it will be.  Then add in the feeling of panic; the pending sense of disaster not just for yourself but for staff.  Some people feeling like maybe they are to blame, some worried that there won’t be money to pay them, many worried about the future of the company.

Backups protect against far more than just traditional disasters like hardware failure, fires, and floods.  Backups protect against accidents, which everyone makes sometimes; select the wrong file, or the wrong button, and critical data might simply vanish.  Backups protect against upset employees looking to lash out.  Backups protect against malicious competitors who may hope to shut you down, or at least slow you down.  And, more relevant than every today, backups are the last line of defense against the new and massive threat of ransomware.

While backups have always been possibly the most important thing any business can be concerned about when it comes to technology, the modern landscape where nearly all businesses end up facing regular ransom attacks on their data has taken the already incredibly high need for backups to a level never previously imagined. Without solid, tested backups today, a business has effectively guaranteed itself a disaster from which it will struggle to recover.


Outsourcing and Offshoring

Outsourcing and offshoring are two terms we hear a lot, and both are important to businesses of all types, but the terms are often misused and misunderstood.

Outsourcing refers to the practice of using external companies to provide functions to our own company. This is so common that it is often ignored as a special practice and we see this commonly in the use of bookkeeping, accounting, financial, human resources, information technology, legal, electricians, plumbers, and many other roles & departments.  Bringing in outside companies that specialize in these functions, rather than staffing up and training departments of our own, is often the only sensible way to get the expertise that is needed at a price that can be afforded.  Outsourcing is generally done to leverage either scale or expertise, or often both.

For example, a typical business would not get good financial returns from hiring a full accounting department with a full range of skills and training, they would be idle most of the time, wasting money.  But an outsourced accounting firm can work just as needed, while providing a range of skills from many different internal people.  Through outsourcing, your company may get more and better skills, all while saving money.

Offshoring is different and refers to having staff work from locations outside of the country (presumably across the ocean, hence the term, but simply outside of the country is all that is really meant.)  The term arose from the common practice of using south Asian resources across the Pacific from the US as low cost workers, but it is important to understand that many European countries use American staff in exactly the same way – low cost, overseas labor compared to what they can hire at home.  Offshore workers may be normal employees, or may be provided through an external vendor.  The concept of offshoring does not imply outsourcing as well.

Essentially all companies outsource, whether a little or a lot.  Outsourcing is most often another business right down the street, or at least in the same country. Rarely is outsourcing also going to be offshored.  But no reason that it cannot be.

Offshoring is very rare, for an average company.  It is complicated and poses many legal and logistical hurtles, and it requires much understanding of the offshore location and culture.  Most people who express concerns over outsourcing actually mean offshoring – extremely low cost, extra-national workers with little training, and probably no oversight.  Offshoring tends to engender apprehension either because people associate it with low quality work because end users typically only interact with it through low cost call centers that give it a bad reputation, or staff react to the idea with fear that their jobs will be sent out of the country.  But offshoring can be effective if done well, and can be important to keeping your business competitive.

Combining these two is common and can be beneficial; it is not surprising to find that many outsourcing firms also offshore.  But the two components are distinct and serve different purposes.  When seeking an outsourcing partner,  consider that offshoring may be an optional benefit that they can offer.

What Is Your IT Department

Every business talks about their IT department, or person, but how often do we really take a moment to consider what that department’s (or person’s) job really is.

“It’s to fix the computers!”, I hear you saying in your head.  But that’s a pretty minor function of IT and not really where the value is.  That’s like saying that the attorney’s job is to “organize paperwork”, which of course they do, but that isn’t what you pay them for.

IT does a lot of things, and should be extremely core to your business.  IT has to understand business needs and processes and design information systems that support, and protect, those needs.  IT has to do complicated cost and risk analysis to know when you should be spending, and when to be saving.  IT has to understand your business, and its finances, to know what systems will benefit you best.  IT handles the most important aspects of security for your business.  IT oversees much of the most important business purchasing.  IT has to protect the business from sales people, and marketing.  IT has to apply math and logic to business processes; take that which is conceptual and make it real.  IT must also combine sweeping technical and business knowledge and apply it to current, real world market products and techniques.

Sure, in doing all these things IT tends to touch the computers and fix things when they break, but these tasks are not the ones that gives IT its value.  We must remember to keep perspective that these are not the tasks that create the need for IT.  IT forms a core of our business, it builds our infrastructures, it keeps us safe, it is involved in every aspect of the business.

How we view and treat our IT people or department have a big impact on the ability for IT to make us efficient, empowered, and competitive.  It’s time to move from viewing IT as “the computer guy” to “the key business oversight department that oversees infrastructure, security, and business enablement.”