Being a one- or two-person IT team in 2021 is a difficult job. With constant cybersecurity threats from nation-state actors, increasing regulatory burdens from government and industry, and ongoing business changes driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be difficult to manage both day-to-day operational needs and long-term strategy. But both sides of IT are important when it comes to building and maintaining systems that your company can depend on for growth.
That’s why many organizations are turning to co-managed IT services to multiply the capabilities of their small in-house IT team. By partnering with an experienced managed services provider (MSP), they can get a handle on both the day-to-day needs of their business without neglecting the strategic needs of cybersecurity, compliance, and growth.
Here at E-N Computers, we’ve helped many small IT teams to “punch above their weight”. With our co-managed IT plans, we can provide second-tier support, strategic consulting, monitoring, automation, and other services that are critical to running a modern IT department, while your internal resources focus on user support, information management, or other areas that are vital to your operations.
What is co-managed IT? Why is it more important than ever to have a fully staffed, specialized IT team, and how can co-managed IT help you to do that? What kinds of things can co-managed IT free up your internal team to focus on? And how much does co-managed IT cost? We’ll answer these questions in this article.
What is Co-Managed IT?
To understand how co-managed IT can help your business, first you need to know what we mean by “co-managed IT”. This section will explain what we mean, and some examples of what it can look like.
What is Managed IT?
Managed IT service is an outsourcing model where a third-party vendor takes responsibility for managing your entire IT infrastructure. This is the type of service that a managed service provider (MSP) like E-N Computers provides. We provide help desk support to users, remote monitoring, onsite service, backups, server management and monitoring, and most of the other services that a typical IT team in a large company would provide. We also provide strategic IT consulting, purchasing, hardware and software lifecycle management, and other services that help your business get the most out of your IT infrastructure while managing expenses.
“Co-Managed IT” simply means that an IT specialist in your organization takes responsibility for some of these services that we would typically provide in a fully managed IT plan. Below are some examples of co-managed IT models that our clients have used.
Co-Managed IT with In-House User Support
One option that some of our clients have opted for is to dedicate their internal resources to user/client support while using managed services for monitoring, maintenance, and IT strategy. If your organization is larger or your users are particularly sensitive to support request response times, this can be a good option to consider.
Any issues that the in-house user support specialist can’t handle can be escalated to the managed services provider for in-depth troubleshooting. Additionally, the MSP would monitor servers, networking equipment, and other services and proactively fix any issues that arise. The result is a good balance between responsive in-person support and proactive maintenance and monitoring.
Co-Managed IT with In-House Information Management
Having a specialist on your team who knows your business, knows your data, and knows how to leverage that data in your business is a great use of resources. The outsourced MSP can then focus on making sure that the systems and infrastructure that run your ERP or business software are operating correctly and that issues are managed proactively.
Why is a Fully Staffed, Specialized IT Team So Important?
Many small- and mid-size businesses start out by looking for a “jack of all trades” IT specialist to hire. This idea is somewhat of a holdover from when computer systems were less complex and less integrated into the entire business.
Does this mean it’s no longer a good idea to find a generalist who can help with many different IT issues? No – having someone on staff who knows your business and who can respond quickly can be a valuable asset. But in order to properly manage the complexities of today’s IT landscape, he is going to need some help.
Consider a few of the reasons that specialized IT staffing is so important:
Cybersecurity Threats and Risks Are at an All-Time High – and Growing
Cybersecurity has posed a risk to businesses ever since computer networks have been able to be exploited for fun or for profit. But in recent years, these risks have been compounded by a combination of increasing dependence on IT, increasing complexity of systems, and advanced threats backed by organized cybercriminals and hostile foreign powers.
These so-called “Advanced Persistent Threats” or APTs are organized, well-funded, and disciplined hacking groups that are constantly looking for new ways to exploit government organizations and private businesses for profit, espionage, or both. To combat these threats, good system design, organized documentation and change management, and solid incident response plans are needed. A multi-discipline team will be better equipped to face an APT than a solo engineer.
Think your company is too small to be targeted by an advanced threat actor? Many recent breaches and security incidents have focused on the supply chain – the smaller vendors that have access to valuable information or sensitive systems that threat actors want, but often lack the resources to implement good cybersecurity measures. These types of incidents can be even more devastating than a frontal assault on a big player – and can put your small business at risk of litigation, reputational harm, or worse.
IT Systems are More Complex Than Ever
When many of us started in IT, it was common for an entire company’s IT systems to be run from a single server. Microsoft’s Small Business Server software was enormously popular, including authentication, email, database and even web hosting in one package.
But times have changed, and the risks inherent to this single-server model are obvious. What happens if that server fails? How much would a day or two of downtime affect your company’s bottom line? Not to mention the issues with keeping such a server protected from external threats and security vulnerabilities.
This means that modern IT systems have more moving parts than ever – and that it takes specialized skills to both operate and secure these systems. Having a team of experts to call on who are familiar with these systems is more critical than ever.
Your Business Depends on IT More Than Ever
Even just a few years ago, IT could be viewed as a “nice to have” for many businesses. Your company may have been getting along fine doing things the old way – whether that was on paper, by hand, or with less-than-optimal computer and information resources. But the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated what was already a growing trend toward making all businesses dependent on their IT systems for continued success.
Whether it’s enabling a remote workforce, a touchless buying experience, or embracing the use of data and analytics, these business trends are here to stay. If your IT can’t keep up, your business risks getting left behind. Having a team that can handle both day-to-day issues and big-picture strategy is crucial to maintaining competitiveness in today’s marketplace.
What Should My Internal Team Do?
One common question that we get asked is “If we buy co-managed IT service, what will my internal IT team do?” Some IT managers and solo IT specialists are reluctant to even investigate managed services because they think they’ll be put out of a job. But strategic use of both internal and external IT resources is the key to making a success of co-managed IT.
Specialization – The Key to IT Job Satisfaction
As we mentioned earlier, it’s harder and harder to find a true “jack of all trades” IT person anymore. This is because most skilled IT professionals realize that they need to specialize in order to continue growing in their careers. It’s simply not possible to become an expert in every single technology, platform, or vendor that’s out there today. So, most IT specialists will seek out roles where they can develop their skills in one area or discipline.
When your small in-house IT team partners with a managed service provider, you’re giving them the opportunity to specialize in an area that will most benefit your organization. For example, if you’ve hired someone to maintain your databases and line-of-business apps, but they’re constantly interrupted by user support requests that are outside their job scope, they’re probably not going to be able to accomplish either one of those things very effectively – and will be headed for burnout. But If the user support requests are offloaded onto an MSP, your database admin will be able to focus on their chosen specialty, leading to better job satisfaction and performance.
The same can be true of an IT person who loves helping users with their problems. They may prefer the fast-pace challenge of getting users up and running quickly, but aren’t as interested in maintaining infrastructure, databases, and servers. By engaging an MSP to handle that work, it will help the user support person to focus on their specialty without neglecting the operational work that’s needed to keep your systems running.
How Much Does Co-Managed IT Cost?
Co-managed IT costs depend on the level of service and support that your organization needs, as well as the size of your organization – the number of managed endpoints or employees who use computers.
If you would like to know more about IT staffing vs. IT outsourcing, read the related article Should I Build or Buy an IT Department? In it, we compare the costs of building a fully staffed IT team internally with engaging a managed service provider (MSP). There are many hidden costs to building an IT team that need to be taken into account when comparing the two routes – so be sure to read this article if you’re weighing this decision for your organization. You may also want to check out the webinar Running a Top-Notch IT Department to learn about some of the ups and downs of building a high-quality IT team. Click here to watch now.
One organization that has seen great results from co-managed IT is Roanoke, VA-based New Horizons Healthcare. In this case study (PDF link), find out how they were able to leverage managed services to provide support for more than 200 users with a single in-house IT person.