A shortage of specialist IT skills and resources is one of the biggest challenges in small business IT teams. It’s actually one of the biggest challenges in large businesses too, if that makes you feel any better. As the IT leader in your organisation, you’re in the spotlight: helping your business counterparts understand the impact of cloud and new technologies, advising on security and compliance, and perhaps most importantly, keeping the lights on in core infrastructure. It’s a lot for a small team to cover.
So what can you do?
The first impulse is to go out to hire specialists in the areas that matter to you. But budget and headcount limitations may quickly kill that idea, even if there was a pool of suitably skilled candidates out there in your local area anyway. Which there probably isn’t.
Don’t despair. There are other options:
1. IT skills training should be on your terms
Alright, you can stop laughing now. We’re not suggesting taking a week out of the office to go to a course so you can come back as a cyber security ninja. Instead, look for training and resources that you can access on your terms: video libraries and online how-tos, for example. Training isn’t always the answer, but you can pack a surprising amount of info into a lunch hour.
2. Pick up the phone for engineering support
If you have a support contract with the right vendor, you can call on their engineers to support you during all kinds of daily conundrums – not just bugs and hardware failures. They’ll be happy to give you the technical advice you need about planned upgrades, integrations and the impact of new technologies on your specific environment, as well as configuration best practices.
3. IT outsourcing frees up time
Outsourcing, managed services, out-tasking – whatever you call it, a lot of smaller businesses are wary of signing agreements with third parties to run bits of their IT for them. But sometimes it just makes sense.
For instance, you probably don’t have the headcount or specialist skills to run a 24x7 security operations centre by yourself. But you can contract with a vendor to get the same kind of service. And those time-consuming routine activities like first-line user helpdesk? Get them off your team’s plate (maybe even using an AI chatbot…) so they can work on more strategic problems.
4. Get project management support
When a big project hits — say a network refresh or deploying an IoT solution — your headcount won’t necessarily expand to let you cover the day job and the new project without wearing yourself to the bone. Bring in a partner to help with everything from cabling to configuration. Sure, it’s an extra cost — but you’ll get the job done faster, with fewer errors, meaning it’s an investment that often pays for itself.
5. Automation tools can help fill the time gap
If your problem is with time rather than specialist expertise, your first priority has to be to free up hours from your day and your team’s. Look for solutions that are easy to deploy, configure and manage (it’s one of the things people love about Meraki).
Today’s automation tools can do at the click of a button tasks that would have taken hours through old-fashioned CLIs, whether that’s enforcing device security policies or reconfiguring switches. There are analytics and monitoring services that let you see all the information you need to know about your infrastructure with your morning coffee, instead of assembling reports from different PDF exports and spreadsheets.
Today, the average IT person has around 200 devices to support. Just a few years from now, that number will be in the thousands or even millions. In other words, if you think your team is stretched today, you just wait. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Recruitment is part of the answer, but it’s certainly not the only one. You need to plan to develop your team’s skills too, but more than that you should be looking at your strategy for getting work done. Some IT management tasks are best outsourced; others automated; and others can be supported by third party providers on a case-by-case basis. So keep your head up — you’ve got options.
The IT skills gap is real, especially for SMBs. How can you beat a skills shortage when recruitment fails? From IT training to outsourcing, here are five ways for you to get the specialist technical expertise you need in your business.
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