So you’ve decided building an in-house IT department is the way to go. Whether you feel this will give you a competitive advantage in your industry, or you feel it is necessary to accomplish some other critical business goal, the case for taking on this challenge has been made, and you are now looking to create the department. So now what? How do you go from either outsourced IT, or a part-time IT person, to building a critical, internally managed department in the business? Well, before you start looking for an IT person it’s worth it to review everything necessary to help make your initiative successful. We’ve compiled a list of the most important items below to help you get started.

Create roles and responsibilities

Your first step is to determine what functions you’ll need on your team to support your business goals. To start this, you’ll need to identify the roles that IT will provide to properly support your business. Although you may be inclined to think all you need is an “IT person”, that rarely ever helps businesses advance. In fact, in most cases it pretty much guarantees a business will stay in Stage One or Stage Two of the IT maturity scale. Below are the roles that are critical to help put your business in a position to not only support your current needs, but also put you in a better position to advance.

  • Customer Experience / Desktop support – this role will provide direct support to your user base. They need to work as a liaison between your end-user and the additional support staff that may be involved in identifying and correcting their issues. This role is a front-line individual that must have good interpersonal skills, can demonstrate empathy and has basic computer and desktop knowledge.
  • Network / server engineer – This role will manage the bulk of the IT and application delivery. They build the infrastructure necessary to run applications, and coordinate the intricacies necessary to integrate your solutions with any cloud based tools you require. All requests outside of the desktop support role’s capabilities will land here.
  • Project manager – This role will help to coordinate timelines and budgets for the new initiatives or projects your company launches each year. A project manager needs to properly gather requirements, create project scopes, coordinate and communicate with teams, plan and schedule migrations, roll-outs and training. An individual that has strong interpersonal skills is especially important to help get company buy-in with the new initiatives.
  • Process management – This role is arguably the most important role in the IT department. Identifying, building, and managing the processes in which support is delivered throughout the company is the key to creating a stable, dependable environment. Without this structure there will inevitably be chronic issues, and instability. Spend the time necessary to create your process framework, and provide the support necessary to enforce the proper adherence to your processes and procedures.

Although there are a number of other roles that you may determine are necessary (business analyst, development, strategic planning, etc.), this is the core necessary to get started. If you do not have the resources to build this team, then you need to evaluate what the cost will be to your business if IT is unsuccessful, and factor that back in to your decision to move forward with an internal IT department. If IT is important enough to bring in-house given the risk, then it is important enough to do it in a way that will help the business, not hurt it.

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Find the right talent

This is, and will always be, one of your biggest challenges. Not only for the obvious reasons, finding and retaining talent is a challenge in itself, but also for some additional ones. For one, you most likely do not have technical resources available to do the interviewing, which can make it very challenging to verify the candidates level of knowledge up front. Further complicating the issue, most IT people have their own way of doing things, so there may be 50 “correct” answers to each technical question. So finding a roadmap to help you navigate the technical questions yourself is also difficult. Additionally, IT is a very high trust position. The person you hire will have the keys to the castle, which will naturally lengthen the interviewing process, which is at odds with the fact that IT resources are in high demand. This makes it much more difficult to hire resources on your schedule, which usually forces businesses into making quick decisions regarding a candidate. Ultimately this can increase churn, which is very expensive in IT, and exposes the business to a much higher level of risk.
Your best bet is to dig in deeply to the roles listed above to specifically outline what each individual will be responsible for. Define, in non-technical terms, what they need to do, and put a system in place to help hold them accountable (more in tip 3). From there all you need to focus on is effectively communicating the role, verifying the candidate understands and wants the role, and ensuring they fit within your company’s culture and share your company’s values. The accountability system along with you corporate culture and values, will quickly oust the people that are not competent to perform the role, or are not the right fit. In either case hire slow, and fire fast. It will keep the cost of churn, and risk to the business lower.
Overall expect to spend a lot of your time managing this process. Especially with a function as important as IT. Anyone you hire will have control over all of your data and systems. In the wrong hands they can wreak havoc. You’ll need to make sure you know exactly what is going on in the department, and you’ll need to make the necessary changes when appropriate. Keeping someone you know is an issue that could be disastrous given the importance of the department and positions.

Make your team accountable

A successful IT department is one that is able to accomplish the tasks that moves the business forward. A successful IT department is not judged by their knowledge or expertise in areas that are not linked to the company’s strategy. This means if you think you are successful because your “IT person” is more of a geek than your competitors, you will fail. IT is a business role, and the items they are accountable for are directly related to your business objectives. If there is a disconnect, it can not only be costly, but potentially disastrous for the business. Keep this in mind when you are determining the responsibilities of each of the different IT roles, and especially when you are determining the KPI’s that you will make the team accountable for. Also keep in mind that the KPI’s you use to gauge the success of your IT department will change as the department matures. That means there are very different KPI’s for each stage of your IT maturity. Check out these other posts to help you identify the level you are starting in, and the appropriate KPI’s for each stage: Overview of Stage One, Two, Three, Four.

Support continuous improvement.

Getting the right people is only the first step in creating a successful team. You need to make sure to create an environment that supports continuous learning. Technology is rapidly changing, and the impact these advancements are having on business is substantial. Make sure your team understands your business goals, and is always on the lookout for new solutions that can help your company achieve them. You’ll also need to allow the necessary time for your team to research and test new ideas. But make sure to keep them linked to your businesses goals and objectives. A new server that is cool, is a waste of time and energy. A new software package that will save all employees 20 minutes a day; now we’re talking!

Maintaining the balance between learning, challenging, and advancing.

This is especially important in small companies building an IT team. As your team continues to learn new things, and apply that knowledge to new business challenges, they will expect advancement. Either financially, or through promotions. If the balance is out of alignment you run the risk of either losing good people, or creating instability. In wither case it is costly. Focus attention on all three pillars: Gaining additional knowledge and expertise, continually challenging the team with new business challenges, and allow for growth and advancement. Ignoring any of them can cause long term issues.

Follow these 5 steps and you are well on your way to building a strong IT department. Keep in mind though, this is just the foundation. There is still a lot of work you’ll need to do before technology can be a profit generating machine used to transform your business. View it similarly to a utility like electricity. With this foundation you are in essence creating a power plant and generating your own power. Having the lights turn on isn’t giving you any competitive advantage, it’s what you do with it that is the key to success.