Outsourcing IT for small business

Recently I read some articles about the outsourcing model and the implications it could have in a small business scenario.
Many people who have written about this topic say that the main reason for a small company to use an outsourced IT model would be to cut the licensing, purchasing or maintenance costs of their infrastructures: I don’t believe this to be true.
I have been working for several years in the Italian market for both international enterprises and mid-sized Italian companies (please consider that an Italian midrange company is often smaller than an American small business), and from my experience I know that outsourcing for SMB is not a cost cutting option, but the sole means to have their IT systems work in such an environment.

In the face of what many people have said, we all know that IT is not a panacea, but with highly skilled technician and good managers it can become the core engine of any business, regardless of its size.
Why is this statement so unfamiliar to businessmen of small companies? It is not a mystery: a lot of top-managers today are still ignoring or underestimating the competitive advantage that Information Technology can bring to all business processes. Obviously, the ones who are mainly responsible for these misunderstandings are IT professionals themselves or, more specifically, the persons who are selling themselves as experts when in fact, even in the best case, they are only people with some experience in assembling hardware and installing an operating system, maybe with some basics of project management flowcharting.
You may ask why I am so rigorous about this, since you believe that “Who is not able to survive dies!”. Yes, of course! But, in this case the mistake caused by the incompetence of the fraudulent IT expert brings about the customer’s bankruptcy!

To bring an effective advantage to any business, any IT infrastructure (small, medium or large) must be designed, implemented and administered by professionals and, today much more than ever, they must be skilled and experienced in delivering reliable and adaptive services to an everyday more demanding and challenging business environment. This is particularly true for small businesses, where modest financial resources adds complexity to IT Management, since there is fundamental need for a very dependable and adaptive infrastructure because of the dynamism of their business processes.

That’s why full IT outsourcing is the only way for a small business to obtain what it needs, because it won’t ever have any chance to take advantage of a group of qualified professionals, which are becoming a sort of “rare beasts”, especially in the field of the SMB market.
In closing, I would be very pleased to have the opinion of those working as an employee or the owner in a small law or accounting firm, or in any of the various small professional businesses which comprise the main pillar of our national economical and productive structure.

The project’s birth

Some time ago, after having successfully completed a number of large-scale IT projects, I had a chance to view the world of small companies. A unique aspect of the Italian economy is the large number of small-size businesses working in the market, and I realized that it is a very interesting and exciting aspect of our society.

The Italian market in effect is very different from any other county because there is a particular motivation towards capitalism for those born here, and it seems there is a little bit of this in everyone of us which make us the more ingenious in a lot of situations and areas.

What is clear to anyone who looks at the business model of any SMB company is the fact that it must deal with most of the same issues that any bigger corporation has to deal with. Thus it means that people working in a small firm have almost the same IT needs of the enterprise information workers that my past projects had addressed.

In such an environment, the primary weakness of a small firm seems to be the limited resource availability, and therefore small-sized players find it more difficult to work in the global economy because of their inability to tolerate any work disruption. But in the same time the root of their vulnerability is also a weapon which permits a lot of many little “Davids” to be able to fight on the field of their market share and to win the competition against a few bigger “Goliath”, who don’t see those market areas as profitable for their business.

After all, the biggest real obstacle I see in a small company expanding its business is not a matter of money, but the lack of professional services tailored to them. That is: like any other employee in the world, people working at a small firm needs to communicate, to store, to search and to exchange information between his or her colleagues, partners, suppliers and customers. But an investment in the right IT infrastructure to accomplish these needs can be too expensive to have a return in a timely fashion.

Until now, the offering of IT services to SMBs in Italy have been influenced by a inadequate “small vision”, of selling software and hardware to “keep it inexpensive”, instead of delivering professional services that meets the real needs of customers.

Such a vision needs to be changed both in the customer’s mind and in the supplier’s business plan!