Managed IT Services vs The IT Guru: A Retrospective

Years ago, at the start of my career as a network administrator, I had the privilege of working with a technology Guru. I was hired in a junior position to make sure the company had redundancy in case this Guru was “hit by a bus.”  Those were the CEO’s exact words during my interview; he said that IT had “strength in numbers” and that I was a “cost-effective investment.”  I thought I understood what that meant.  I had later come to understand there was little strength in this approach, and lesser still managed effectively.  Thinking back, a concept like ‘Managed IT Services‘ was mostly unknown to me, let alone something that might be of value to a business.

Over the next few months, I would learn how real technicians supported networks; let me tell you, this was nothing like I was taught in school.  I remember wondering, “Am I ready for this job?” I found that I did not know as much as I should have.  As I learned more, I began to develop confidence in my technical abilities. I was constantly learning, and with guidance from my Guru, I came to feel I could fix any problem.


The “One IT Guy” Situation: An Inside Perspective

Then, one day, it happened. I came to work, and the Guru wasn’t there.  I was approached by the HR manager who asked me to change the Guru’s password and to start disabling certain accounts; I was told not to contact the Guru.  I was thinking, “Wait, I need an explanation here!”  The HR Manager must have read my mind, as she said that there was nothing more she could say.  This was the longest day I had ever experienced; bombarded by a thousand questions about access permissions  and infrastructure configurations, I found myself answering  mostly “Well, the Guru knew that.”  Finally, the day was over, and I could go home.

The next day at work was even more daunting;  I couldn’t keep up with the questions. I was trying to reverse engineer what I didn’t fully understand. I hadn’t worked on these systems, they always just worked, and when they didn’t, well, the Guru got them back up with his wizardry.  I quickly learned that good as I was at what I did, I didn’t know everything. I didn’t understand what he created, I didn’t know how to support it, and there was no documentation to figure it out.  People would ask, “I thought you went to school for this?” “Don’t you know anything about this network?” and finally “What did you do while he was with us?”

I went home one night that week, and a buddy asked me to come out for a drink. I needed it.  He asked me how things were going and I explained what had happened.  The first words out of his mouth were “So that’s why you look like you got hit by a bus!”  It was like a lightbulb went off inside of my head.  “You’re right” I exclaimed, “Strength in numbers doesn’t apply to IT at all.”

Pause the story. Reality check.  I was a cost-effective “Band-Aid.”

The CEO hired more people to reduce risk around having a single IT resource. Strength in numbers, right?  But this simply doesn’t work well in skilled professions or trades.  Why?  Certainly, experienced IT specialists in a team can provide redundancy to each other; resulting in a highly skilled, cross-trained team.  However, in my situation, you had a highly experienced and skilled technician with no redundancy, as I was hired in a junior position as a “cost-effective investment.” Imagine hiring a bookkeeper as insurance against the loss of your CFO, or a recent arts grad to backfill the VP of marketing: not very realistic options.


Covering the Gap with Managed Services

So what should this CEO have done?  Hire another, expensive, highly skilled senior technician? Maybe two of them?  In this case, there was no budget for multiple senior technicians, and unfortunately, this CEO preferred technicians the entire organization could see: a visual comfort. Cue the false sense of security.

This CEO had another option: Managed IT Services.  Managed IT companies provide business IT support for organizations seeking more depth and breadth for their IT investments without the burden of managing a large IT department.  Many organizations also make this move to leverage advanced cloud technology solutions since investing in and maintaining, their own data centre infrastructure is too costly.  A strong IT strategy is key to the growth of most businesses; ensuring IT supports growth and reduces, rather than adds to, risk.

Evolving Managed IT

Managed IT has been around for many years. I recommend though, looking for more than just a Managed Services Provider.  I suggest you research the next evolution in IT engagements to keep your business competitive.  This new tier of “Business Solution Providers” have requirements to understand your business intimately and to bring solutions that drive, rather than just support, your success.

Remember to always look both ways before crossing the street; stay safe.


Wade Bayntun, Inc.
Managing Partner, Central Alberta