I’ve been involved in IT for pretty much my entire career; from help desk support to system design. So I know firsthand the secrets that exist deep within IT departments. The things they have access to, and the ways they operate. It’s scary when you think about just what an IT person can do with their power. Even more so for small businesses that typically only have one IT person. Companies put a lot of faith in whomever they hire to play the role of the IT person. Maybe it’s worth a look behind the scenes of IT to see what you are really signing up for.

Whether you hire a system administrator, system engineer or desktop support person, one thing is for sure, your choice can have some serious implications. Before you jump head first into hiring, keep these things in mind.

They will have access to pretty much everything

And by that, I mean everything! In most small businesses this means accounting information, personal files on everyone’s machines, email messages, usernames, passwords, your website history, etc. Once you give someone admin access to the infrastructure, they will control access to all the systems and the data within. Consider this when you are writing the job description and determining compensation. If you opt for internal IT, make sure your interviewing process can sniff out the rogues.

They can shut you down

Sad, but true. Any good system administrator has the knowledge and skills to pretty much shut down business operations with a few keystrokes. It’s the nature of the position. If they are responsible to keep things up and running, then by default they know where the most important systems are, and where all the weak spots are. This also makes it very difficult to make a change later. You basically have no idea if they will give you the keys back upon termination, nor if they made any duplicates (like backdoor access) while they had control. If you decide to keep IT in-house, and you only have one person, make sure you implicitly trust them.

80% of traditional IT has no ROI for the business

This is a tough fact for a lot of small businesses to swallow. 70%-90% of the activities performed by traditional, internal IT staff, is related to maintenance and management of internal systems. Unfortunately, none of this translates into an ROI for the business. Access to applications is no longer a competitive advantage and traditional IT is build around “keeping the lights on”, or keeping applications up and running. Technology ROI comes from creating operational efficiencies and product innovations. The challenge when hiring an IT person is that most likely grew up the old way. Their focus will be on managing and maintaining current systems, and their identity will be associated with tasks that don’t really add any value to the organization. You’ll need to help them transition into the new way, which means their focus should be on how the business uses technology, and what can be done to create efficiency.

Engineers like to do things their way

It’s no surprise; engineers like to play with technology. This is good and bad. On one hand they’ll be eager to test new ideas and come up with out-of-the-box solutions to challenges. On the other hand, they are sometimes more interested the new technology and solving a problem, then they are picking the right solution for the business. This is partly because they don’t have insight into the long term strategies of the business, and partly because they are engineers and like to tinker. Either way, it can be bad for the business. With the explosion of cloud based hardware, and Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings, there is almost no need to do everything in house. Between upfront hardware costs and resources necessary for long term management and maintenance, you most likely cannot compete with third party solutions. Be wary if your IT person says they can do everything in-house, it might just be what they want to do.

Most issues are caused by human error

Yep, if it weren’t for us humans everything would work great! I’m only joking, sort of… Most data breaches, data loss, system errors, and system downtime are caused by human error. From a user deleting important files, to a system admin forgetting to check backups; it is unavoidable. IT people are no different, they will cause errors and problems. It pretty much a fact of life. The more issues they have experiences, the more they learn, and the less likely they will do the same in the future. You’re only defense is building strong process within the IT departments, and getting multiple, experienced individuals within your IT team.

They are most likely underappreciated

The fact is, most executives have no idea what an IT person should or should not know. Technology is very complex, and no single person can do it all. In larger companies the IT teams are made up of specialists in many areas, desktop support, network support, server support, security, communications, storage, backup, business continuity, etc. Yet in small businesses the IT person is almost always expected to know it all. This is virtually impossible to achieve and creates an environment where everyone loses. For the IT person, it’s a double edged sword. They either continue to take on more and more to seem competent, until they have built a system that is unstable and impossible to manage. Or they admit what they don’t know and are viewed as inexperienced or incompetent. For the executive, they may think everything is running smoothly, then they are hit with downtime, system failure or data loss. Or they can’t seem to ever get what they need, when they need it. In the end, no one is happy. IT should be treated like any other position within the business. Specifically define the requirements, and hire the right person for the job. If the requirements change, discuss with your IT team and add additional resources if necessary. Assuming one IT person can handle everything related to technology is a disaster waiting to happen.