Why are there so many specialists in IT and do we really need them?
In small business we a see a lot of specialists working as generalists. By this, I mean a couple of things...
- One scenario occurs when the founder of a business is a specialist but becomes the business generalist, working on all aspects of the business because they lack the funds to hire specialists.
- The other scenario occurs when technical specialists are forced to work as generalists because of a lack of specialists in other areas.
I also see business owners who are not IT savvy, and fail to see that IT is a massive industry with a rapidly expanding knowledge base. No single person can possibly have it all covered. Ultimately, for me, specialisation ties in with quality.
Let me explain...
Specialisation has many forms, and the simplest example in our business is our total focus on a single brand of PC hardware. We could offer many brands as we have access to most of them through our distributors, but we have been well served by specialising in just one.
Why? With just one brand of computer across thousands of PCs, and almost 200 hundred servers, we have very deep experience and expertise; not just with the technology, but with the company behind the technology. When it does fail (after all, all brands have failures) we know who to call, how to report the fault, and how to get the fastest possible repair carried out for the lowest impact to our clients.
We also know how to patch, manage and maintain the computers. Through our job-tracking system, we can see that statistically it takes us longer to manage the same issues with other brands of computers where clients either had existing machines when we started managing IT for them, or didn't take our advice on purchasing decisions.
Another example of specialisation over generalisation is our helpdesk, where we have multiple staff all answering general questions on computer malfunctions. We have a policy that we don't train more than two of them to any depth on any one technical topic. The reason for this policy is that we need depth in each topic, but we also need breadth. If we have a whole bunch of email specialists, who will know about the details of wide area networks or security or other equally-important topics? We then encourage our techs to depend on each other to share problems, and use the best specialist to resolve problems quickly so the client is not left hanging.
We need specialists more than many realise; as does any complex industry. In IT the answers are always available online, but a specialist will typically find the answers faster than a generalist. A specialist is also more likely to recognise the solution when they find it, and so spend less time experimenting with possible alternatives.
Something I have observed over 22 years of working with computers is that the less experiments are run on a computer (or trial fixes) the more stable the computers tend to be. So less time fixing them leads directly to better performance.
So, when you think about IT and the quality of a solution, or the speed of resolution of a problem, you need to think about finding the right specialist – not just a person who can eventually figure it out. IT is no longer that thing on the side of your business that you can work on once your staff have gone home. If it breaks, you need a well-trained, experienced specialist to get it fixed right and fixed fast.
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David Markus is the founder of Combo - the IT services company that ensures IT is never an impediment to growth.