Your designer may be a computer guru, but does that mean he or she should also be running your company's networks and data security infrastructure? Or answering the call when someone's monitor freezes? Or troubleshooting when the high-speed Internet connection goes on the blink?
These questions are on the minds of many remodeling companies these days as technology continues to infiltrate the work-place. And although there's no question that technology helps companies work faster and smarter, it has also created the need for reliable IT support that can come from one of two places: in-house or an outsourced IT provider.
“About 70% to 85% of a company's technology budget goes toward maintaining the hardware and software that's already in place,” says Patty Laushman, president and CEO of The Uptime Group, a Lakewood, Colo.–based IT consulting company. “Even short periods of system downtime can result in unhappy customers, lost business, and decreased productivity.”
Whether a company keeps the IT support function close to the vest or outsources it to a third party is a highly individualized choice, says David Alpert, president of Great Falls, Va.–based Continuum Marketing Group, a marketing communications firm that works with remodeling companies.
“Assess whether you have someone in-house or if you'll need to hire someone with the proper skills to handle [your IT needs],” Alpert advises. “And realize that if everyone on your team has remodeling experience, they probably don't have technology backgrounds.”
When evaluating the capacity of existing staff, look at the time an employee will spend away from his “real job,” Alpert says. Having a tech-savvy sales rep spend two hours per week loading software and troubleshooting PCs may be feasible, he adds, but having a key employee constantly distracted by computer issues can become detrimental.
If hiring an in-house IT professional isn't in the cards because, say, there isn't enough tech work to go around, then outsourcing is the next logical step, says Joshua Feinberg, co-founder of West Palm Beach, Fla.–based computer training company Computer Consulting 101.
“You need at least 25 computers to justify the expense of a full-time IT employee,” Feinberg says. “The company that has five or 10 systems can probably get away with having someone come in once or twice a month for a few hours, and be available to answer questions and troubleshoot via phone between visits.”
Finding a Provider To find an outsourced IT provider, Alpert suggests looking for a computer service company that specializes in managing computer systems. The choices range from sole proprietors who have tech experience to midsize firms with three to five technicians to larger firms employing 50 to 100 technology gurus who work with many companies.
Before hiring a company, be sure to ask for references and technician qualifications and certifications. “A bad technician can really mess you up,” warns Alpert, who advises that remodeling companies should seek out technicians who have achieved Microsoft-level certification and who keep accurate logs of all work performed during their visits. That way, a “new” technician who comes out to work on your system can review notes on all past work and determine a plan of action for tackling the new problem.
With network setup, backup systems, software installation, desktop support, wireless installation and setup, and computer security as the best starting points for a remodeling company looking to outsource its IT, Laushman says outsourcing is economical for such companies, which would likely shell out $60,000 a year (or $40 per hour), plus payroll taxes and benefits, for a full-time IT employee.
“If your IT vendor charges $120 per hour,” Laushman says, “you break even on cash out/cash in when the vendor installs new servers on a daily basis, and in one-third of the time it takes your in-house employee to do it.”
Alpert says remodeling companies should also look at the time lost when a key employee spends half the day fiddling, say, with the company's anti-virus system.
“I've seen remodelers get over-involved with technology,” Alpert says. “And although IT-savvy designers or sales reps can come in handy when it comes to fixing a jammed printer, those repairs can also take them away from what they should really be doing.”
Bridget McCrea is a freelance writer based in Dunedin, Fla.