Co-Managed IT Staffing Strategies
Corporate IT directors learn pretty quickly that senior leadership typically has a “don’t ask/don’t tell” relationship with what goes on their departments. They’re accustomed to seeing the eyes of C-level types glaze over when they start talking about issues related to PCI compliance or CPU virtualization. CEOs and their peers are amazingly smart businesspeople, but few really grasp (or care to grasp) what it takes to provide and protect the technical tools that make it possible to pursue the company’s mission. Most are content to let IT staffing handle whatever black magic takes place in that suite full of blinking LEDs.
While there are benefits to that — such as a lower propensity for micromanagement — there are also drawbacks. One of the most significant has to be the perception on the part of corporate leaders that the IT department knows everything there is to know about technology and should be able to handle any issue on its own. They should also be thoroughly well-informed about whatever new miracle device or app the CEO read about on social media this week.
IT directors and departments are held to a standard that doesn’t exist elsewhere within the company. When the Controller encounters a strange new wrinkle in state taxes, she doesn’t think twice before calling the company’s CPA firm for guidance. If the company faces an unusual legal challenge, the General Counsel instinctively reaches out to a law practice for expertise. When the CEO complains about a drop in sales, the Marketing Director automatically calls upon the company’s ad agency to come up with a solution. And the CEO doesn’t think any less of the managers who make those calls. After all, who can be expected to know everything about everything?
That strange dichotomy puts IT directors at a disadvantage whenever they try to sell a new concept to the company’s leadership team. For example, many IT directors are reaping the benefits of what’s known as Co-Managed IT. It’s a management strategy that involves pairing the internal IT team with an external provider to divide the company’s IT workload in the most efficient way. The internal IT leader remains in charge of overall operations, turning to the co-managed provider to handle issues for which the internal team lacks expertise, and for the mundane tasks that often swallow up the internal team’s limited time.
But when the IT director approaches senior leadership with the concept, the pushback is instantaneous. Why can’t your people handle all that? Do we not have the right IT staffing? Are they not properly trained?
To overcome the perception, IT directors need to address it head-on. One way is to draw a comparison to other departments and the outside resources they regularly tap into, like the CPA and law firm examples I mentioned. Nobody thinks the leaders of those departments are less than competent because they use outside assistance; in fact, that willingness to find expertise is seen as a strength.
In addition, because most companies’ senior leaders are obsessed with return on investment, the IT director should approach the topic by focusing on ROI. “By working with our co-managed IT partner, we’ll be able to free up enough time so the internal team can complete that initiative to link the sales and production systems by year’s end.” That’s the kind of message that’s understood.
When promoting concepts like co-managed IT to company leaders, don’t make the common mistake of getting in the weeds by talking about specific technologies. Focus instead on the strategic advantages and the specifics the department will be able to achieve, and you’ll be more likely to get the buy-in you want and your company needs.