For years, many small businesses (those with 100 to 500 users) have relied on in-house IT support to stay up and running. When a user had an issue with a device or an application, they asked their favorite IT staffer to drop what they were doing and solve the problem. While inefficient, this approach gave users a dependable (and human) go-to option for their needs. IT staff, meanwhile, enjoyed the role of problem-solving hero.

The traditional “shoulder tapping” model of IT support has been shattered by the COVID-19 pandemic. When businesses shut down and shifted to remote work, the in-house IT expert was no longer down the hall – and no longer able to physically access the user’s device. In addition, user questions, problems and incidents skyrocketed, as many employees were unaccustomed to home-based work. Newly remote in-house teams, meanwhile, couldn’t keep up with the increased demand, as they lacked monitoring tools and process discipline and relied solely on ad hoc problem solving.

The hamster-wheel scramble to just keep workers up and running also disrupted routine hardware refreshes, application lifecycle servicing and anti-virus updates. Predictably, incidents and problems continued to snowball. And despite the omnipresence of Zoom meetings, collaboration tools failed to reach their full potential, as user training programs were pushed to the back burner. Worst of all, neglect of cybersecurity protocols significantly heightened risk profiles. Seizing the opportunity, cybercriminals have stepped up their attacks during the pandemic, placing employees handling sensitive data from home offices at particular risk.

A Sourcing Model for a Remote New Normal

Today, many businesses are realizing that in-house IT support will be inadequate for a New Normal where remote work will play a prominent role. While third-party outsourcing is an option, finding a model that fits presents a challenge. Traditional enterprise outsourcing arrangements built on economies of scale and carefully negotiated T&Cs and service level agreements are too expensive for small customers, as well as unprofitable for providers. Small-scale “nerd for hire” operations, meanwhile, often lack the resources, scalability and flexibility needed to address the increasingly sophisticated technology needs of many small businesses.

A “just right” sourcing approach for smaller businesses combines cost-effectiveness with enterprise-level capabilities around scalability, standardization and transformation strategies. This requires maximizing resource utilization on the one hand, while ensuring responsiveness to user requirements on the other. A labor pooling model can strike this delicate balance by assigning a team to support a defined group of client organizations. The trick is to build in enough bandwidth to accommodate the ebbs and flows in demand within the pool, while minimizing overhead costs of keeping resources on the bench.

Attracting talent is also essential. Small businesses seeking to deploy emerging digital technologies need workers with the latest skill sets. Identifying, recruiting and retaining those workers, meanwhile, poses an increasingly daunting task. For young career-focused IT professionals, service providers offer a more compelling path than insular in-house teams. To even stay in the hunt, businesses need to offer lucrative compensation packages. As an alternative, nearshore outsourcing can provide access to top-notch workers at affordable rates and offers the additional benefits of flexibility and scalability.

Critical Capabilities

While bells and whistles aren’t essential, effective IT outsourcing for smaller businesses must deliver on the fundamentals of service execution and governance. First of all, that means the ability to procure, configure, install and service mobile devices, notebooks and laptops. For example, deployment capabilities have to accommodate clusters of remote employees in urban centers, as well as users in rural locations. This may require a hybrid of warehouse staging and traditional device imaging and configuration, along with “over the air” imaging configuration.

To minimize downtime, users may require an onsite technician or a new PC delivered overnight. A hub and spoke model field model supported by an Advanced Exchange Depot Center can address logistical challenges and efficiently direct smart hands resources to high- and low-volume demand areas.

Once users are set up – either in home offices or traditional business settings – Service Desks must integrate advanced technology, process optimization and appropriate skills to efficiently deliver Level 1 to Level 4 Help Desk support. Remote Monitoring and Management capabilities are essential to access and fix issues.

Automation tools and chat bots can streamline basic, labor-intensive tasks like password resets and onboarding. Incident resolution processes should include root cause analysis to identify the sources of problems and enable continuous improvement. This, in turn, can allow IT staff to shift to complex problem solving and increasingly higher-value work. To align with these evolving roles, IT staff need training to acquire essential skill sets, further underscoring the importance of access to talent.

The right contractual model is a final essential building block. The challenge here is ensuring standard T&Cs address potentially complex client requirements. A “prix fixe menu” approach can find the sweet spot – provided the menu includes the key elements outlined above.

Todd Seiple, Global ITO Solution Delivery Leader at Claro Enterprise Solutions, has 20 years of leadership experience in end-user computing with multiple organizations within the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Workplace Services. His areas of expertise include service delivery, solution consulting and design, transition and customer success.

IT outsourcing stock photo by Photon photo/Shutterstock