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The IT lifecycle: IT consultants

Few companies are founded with a CIO. For many, the first IT “hire” is the company’s founder, whose job description may include activities like IT purchasing, networking and IT support, alongside planning, marketing and business development. Eventually, that changes. But when? And how?

In my role as a Chief Operations Officer, I’ve helped countless companies build out their IT operations as they grow from small startups to SMBs and beyond. In this three-part series, I’ll take readers through the IT lifecycle of a hypothetical startup called Joe’s Widget Shop, a software development company.

As we follow the rise of Joe’s Widget Shop, I’ll examine each stage in the company’s growing process and provide recommendations for how to best structure its IT operations in order to service existing needs and drive growth. We’ll follow Joe’s Widget Shop as the company (i) hires its first IT consultant, (ii) appoints its first CIO, and (iii) implements formal IT policies and procedures. This series is a playbook for companies that are unsure about how to manage IT for a growing business.

Joe Smith, the CEO of Joe’s Widget Shop, has just hired his fifteenth employee and has just signed a lease for a real office space. Joe is considering bringing in IT support to help get the office up and running, including setting up the network and infrastructure. In part one of this series below, I’ll review when companies should hire IT consultants, and what to consider when doing so.

When to hire an IT consultant

When a startup is born, hiring an IT consultant isn’t top of mind, and for good reason. Your first employees are typically working off of their own personal equipment, on a basic Wi-Fi network, out of a small space, or in some cases, someone’s garage. And the plethora of available Software-as-a-Service solutions mean you can get your business operations up and running with ease.

As a company continues to expand its team, however, IT becomes a crucial part of the business. Moving to an office space requires new IT investments, including setting up office networks, moving away from cell phones to a phone system, and adopting Active Directory to control all of the machines shortly after.

When Joe’s company reached over 10 employees, the team took a good hard look at upgrading its network and implementing a hosted phone system. At 25-50 employees, Joe plans to implement Active Directory – which may even be later for other tech companies, seeing as many of their users will not need centralised management and support.

The advantage of having multiple employees with basic builds on the same domain is consistency. This enables businesses to control policies and manage system updates. For example, when a company standardises on equipment and services, the business can determine when updates get applied to the systems, helping to ensure that employees have the best and latest versions of the tools needed to succeed in their jobs.

Evaluating an IT consultant

An IT consultant should possess a skillset that is fine-tuned to address a company’s specific needs, based on its size and projected growth. When a business is evaluating bringing on an IT consultant, the team should first consider the tasks that the consultant will be responsible for completing. As an early stage startup, Joe’s Widget Shop wants its first IT consultant to specialise in setting up and managing local networks, administering Active Directory and handling laptop and desktop builds and issues. This is because Joe plans for all other tools to be consumed as a cloud service.

Effectively articulating these technology needs in terms that resonate with business leaders is another trait Joe is looking to identify in candidates. An IT consultant should be able to clearly communicate, to both technical and non-technical users, the progress and status of their IT systems.

Identifying when internal IT makes sense

The need for an IT consultant can vary depending on the type of business. For example, a less technical company without IT management skills may see more value in making the hire earlier on because its own employees aren’t as tech-savvy. As such, an IT consultant should be able to effectively communicate, to both technical and non-technical users.

Joe’s rule of thumb is that there should generally be one IT consultant for every 50-70 employees. But an accounting firm of only 15 people may still need to hire an internal IT consultant because they are hoping to have a technical person around at all times.

Once a company reaches between 50-70 employees, there should be enough of a workload for a business to consider hiring a full-time IT consultant, as opposed to contracting one. When making this decision, Joe is looking into whether or not the consultant is consistently working eight hours a day. If so, then he plans to bring someone on board full time.

Driving successful IT initiatives

The IT hiring process should be taken very seriously, as it will determine whether the company’s IT initiatives will be carried out successfully. As part of this step, businesses should also begin thinking about appointing a CIO sooner, rather than later. Companies should look to hire veracious IT consultants that understand the complexity of the technology and have the knowledge and skillset to make all of these systems work together.

In the next article, I will discuss the importance of the CIO and what important qualities to look for in the hiring process.

Jonathan McCormick, COO of Intermedia

Image source: Shutterstock/Sergey Nivens