Today I am going to use some industry terminology to give you an answer to this question, as there is some good material to help us understand this in the ITIL frame work.
So what is ITIL?
IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) provides a framework of best practice guidance for IT service management. Since its creation in the mid-1980s in England, ITIL has become the most widely accepted approach to IT Service Management in the world. Today IT professionals seek to be certified in the latest version, Version 3, of the framework which was published in 2007 as five core books.
The reason IT departments and services firms use this framework is that it represents benefits to the businesses that use it. Some of these are:
- increased user and customer satisfaction with IT service
- improved service availability, directly leading to increased business profits and revenue
- financial savings from reduced rework, lost time, improved resource management and usage
- reduced time to market for new products and services
- improved decision making and optimized risk reduction.
The ITIL framework has the following explanation of IT roles in an organisation:
- Strategic – Long-term goals of the particular service and high level activities needed to accomplish them.
- Tactical – Specific processes that guide the tasks and activities needed to perform and provision the service.
- Operational – Actual execution of the processes to provide the service to the customer and end users. Successful completion of the operational tasks means that strategic goals are accomplished within the expected time frames.
It also talks about service management, service support and service delivery as three separate levels. All of this is without even contemplating the breadth of technical skill sets required to manage the different technologies in place in a business.
So, now to answer the question on why it is so hard to find the right IT staff. Here I am talking about building the internal team of one to several people to deliver IT for an SME organisation of up to a few hundred people.
If you have fewer than 50 staff, you probably have budget for at most one person, and that person simply does not exist as they would need to be a tall-short, thin-fat, round-square, black-white, operational-strategic person who understands every technology under the sun.
My advice to you is simple: Find a business leader who knows when they are getting good advice, make them responsible for managing an outsourced IT solution, work with a range of companies with diverse capabilities to ensure you get the mix of skills and capabilities your business will need. Avoid one-man computer solution companies as they just do not have the breadth you require.
So for the mature SME business with more complex IT needs contemplating hiring multiple staff it is important that you get the team right to ensure it is productive. Over my 20 years in the industry I have seen it done well a few times and very badly a number of times. I have had my team running well with the right people and I have had my team running badly with the wrong mix of people. It is not that the people are bad; it is the mix that is important. Technical people working with technical people have a tendency to just get on with the work, so getting them to do stuff may not be the problem. Getting them to do the right stuff can be just about impossible.
I have found that if you find a strategic IT person first, one who thinks about the future impact of the technology solutions being put in place today, the impact on the business and the potential for improvement in business function brought about by the technology, then you can build a team under them to deliver on the business objectives. Let this person select tactical and operational staff to work with them and use some good HR skills from elsewhere in the business or external advisers to ensure the people hired are capable of the level and technology they are hired for. Do not expect graduates or kids with PC knowledge to be capable of running business systems. It takes more than enthusiasm to get multiple computers to work well together.
All too often, we see operational people hired to be the IT strategist at the point where the business wants better control of IT at a lower price point than the external adviser is supplying. At first this seems great because the IT department becomes super responsive and this is perceived as better service. However, without the strategic and tactical input required, the work being done becomes patching and firefighting. Before long the IT environment is a series of band aids needing a major overhaul and the strategic input is not there. Danger signs that you have hired an operational person for a strategic role is when they start doing the work themselves on minor tasks because they can save money and then start patching systems that are too old rather than letting management know what the budget needs to be for the systems you will require next year. An IT person with a cost-cutting mentality who cannot write a business case will build you an IT time bomb.
So the solution to growing the right internal IT resources is to understand the difference between operational, tactical and strategic IT work and to ensure each of these levels is being covered for the various technologies your business depends on. Often the solution is to work with your external providers to build a mixed team of internal and external resources and encourage them to work well together, defining the roles, levels and skills and make sure the IP of your systems is shared and known by the right mix of people to ensure your business has the right systems today and the best advice and strategic planning for tomorrow as you grow your business.
David Markus is the founder of Combo – the IT services company that is known for solving business problems with IT. How can we help?