Help desks are fundamentally designed to solve IT problems—but often a help desk can create additional problems of their own.
Consider the myriad pressures of operating a fully-equipped help desk solution in-house. Your small business needs to hire dedicated on-site professionals to work the help desk. Hire too many technicians, and you may end up paying employees to sit around doing nothing; hire too few, and concurrent IT issues could stretch the team too thin, resulting in costly downtime. Not to mention that all members of the help desk staff will require ongoing training to keep up with the latest technology trends. Throw in temporary absences, like vacations or unanticipated sick days, and the inevitable turnover and the headache of maintaining a help desk get even stronger.
That might explain why a growing number of small business leaders are exploring help desk outsourcing. Here’s what you need to know.
Help Desk Outsourcing options
Assessing the pros and cons of help desk outsourcing begins with understanding the available options. Traditional models include:
- Offshore outsourcing or handing off IT-related work to an overseas partner. Advantages include reduced labor costs and tax savings. Research firm Gartner cites India, China, the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia as the world’s five leading offshore outsourcing destinations.
- Nearshore outsourcing, or sending IT-related work to a partner located in a nation sharing a border with the U.S. In addition to the cost and tax savings associated with offshore outsourcing partnerships, nearshore alliances offer reduced travel times and expenses in the event you wish to visit your outsourcing partner’s headquarters (or vice versa). Nearshore outsourcing firms are also more likely to share cultural affinities and may even speak a common language.
- Onshore/domestic outsourcing, or contracting with a third-party firm located within U.S. borders to handle IT-related work, either off-site or in-house. Once again, proximity is a bonus: In this case, partners may be located just miles away, and even if they’re on the other side of the country, there are only a few time zones in between. Differences in culture and language are basically non-existent, and neither political strife nor financial instability pose potential problems.
However, ongoing innovations in software and Internet service models are expanding the definitions of outsourcing to include two increasingly popular, future-forward approaches:
- Cloud computing services, or contracting with a third-party provider supporting IT-related functions over the Internet or a proprietary network. Software is shared across different systems and stored on remote servers, a more flexible approach enabling businesses with growing or fluctuating bandwidth demands to scale capacity up or down depending on their current needs. Additional benefits: automatic software updates, robust disaster recovery safeguards and enhanced security.
- Managed services, or contracting with a third-party to provide common network management functions, including IP telephony, messaging and call centers, virtual private networks (VPNs), firewalls and network monitoring and reporting. Managed service providers, or MSPs, generally complement internal IT efforts instead of replacing them outright, freeing up in-house IT staffers to focus on more strategic projects. Businesses still enjoy the comfort and security of dedicated, proactive MSP support in the event of technical questions or glitches, without the recurring expenses associated with additional full-time IT crew.
What’s right for your small business?
Outsourcing does pose challenges, especially when partnering with international IT firms—namely, loss of control over staff training, potential customer service issues and the inherent challenges of remote collaboration, especially when significant language and cultural differences may be at play. While onshore options negate those issues, they tend to carry higher prices, especially if the third-party firm is headquartered in locations where the cost of living is more expensive.
That’s why outsourcing help desk services to the cloud or a trusted MSP often makes the most practical and financial sense for small businesses.
In the case of the cloud, organizations enjoy the benefits of hosted business solutions—i.e., a single, scalable platform that evolves organically over time, in harmony with the business environment that it supports—alongside strategic advantages like anywhere/anytime access to company data. Small businesses that embrace remote cloud servers can allocate office space once reserved for network systems to other purposes and projects, and CFOs can also appreciate the predictability of single, all-inclusive prices and annual subscription-based billing.
An overwhelming majority of small businesses at home and abroad are waking up to the possibilities of the cloud. According to research firm Techaisle’s SMB cloud computing adoption survey, published in mid-2015, 90 percent of U.S.-based SMBs and 77 percent of SMBs worldwide are either using or planning to engage with external professionals for cloud assessment and/or cloud implementation. Many small businesses are embracing outsourced IT services as a replacement for internal tech support staff, while mid-market companies are leveraging outsourcing to bolster in-house capabilities and/or address staff shortages.
Aligning with MSPs also enables small businesses to control IT costs, reduce labor expenses, and increase efficiency while gaining access to the kind of experience and insight that only certified IT professionals can supply. Organizations with MSP partnerships tend to be more agile as well: While it can take months to hire and train internal staffers for new projects, outsourced IT crews can hit the ground running.
According to the results of a recent survey conducted by IT industry trade association CompTIA, 56 percent of companies with 100 or more employees and 47 percent of companies with fewer than 100 staffers cited the efficiency and reliability of IT operations as the primary factors driving their decision to partner with MSPs. Enhanced security and compliance, as well as cost savings, also topped the list.
No matter which strategy you select for your business, outsourcing can help level the playing field. It offers resource-strapped small businesses access to the kinds of innovative, reliable IT services, solutions and expertise otherwise available exclusively to larger competitors. If you’re not outsourcing, then you’re on the outside looking in.