Guest blog: IT managers in SMEs

In reviewing one of BCS' recently published ebooks, one BCS member raises IT training issues and highlights a potential shift away from the outsourced IT model in SMEs.

In my review of “Management Skills in IT”, I found the majority of examples used were for much larger organisations; local government and large enterprise businesses where descriptions of people moving to roles as CIO of international businesses are good, but very few such vacancies are ever going to be available.

By contrast there will be a considerable number of positions open for capable managers within an SME and I would suggest that the demand for those IT managers with management skills within SMEs would be much higher. Therefore the need for adequate management training aimed at that demographic would be of considerable value to the individuals and to their employers.

This is not to say that the points raised within the publication are not relevant to those people within an SME; I would argue that good management skills are needed at all levels from the smallest business to the largest; and sadly are often lacking. Many of the scenarios portrayed can occur even within relatively small businesses, and the challenges will be as great; possibly greater, due to the reduced numbers of people within the IT teams.

It is still the case that many IT staff have little or no formal qualification; many are hobbyists that have turned their pastime into a job skill. Those that have undertaken formal training do so in a way that does not always relate to the actual job function. Most training is technically based and the quality of this can vary considerably. There is simply too little opportunity for most IT people to undertake non-technical training, unless they do so at their own cognisance.

I would suggest that part of the problem is one of perception; IT is still a relatively young industry compared to most other disciplines. The fact that technology changes so rapidly does not help; and as the majority of IT workers seldom work within an established  structure at any time in their career means that poor practice is commonplace, and good practice is not always easy to institute or disseminate.

A common argument at present is that the traditional IT department within the SME will cease to exist within a few years. The presumption is that businesses will outsource their IT requirements to larger specialist businesses that have access to more staff with a greater breadth and depth of skills. The thinking behind this is that the SME will then have the opportunity to gain the required technical expertise for a reduced cost, as the supplier can provide this support for many SMEs.

This view has been put forward many times and seems very popular within the larger businesses that see the potential for significant savings. However, we are now seeing many large businesses moving away from this; they have identified that the cost savings did not materialise and in many cases, the service level deteriorated. In a recent discussion with a senior manager at BT, she identified that there has been a significant shift away from the outsourced IT model amongst SMEs for that reason.

Food for thought, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on these issues?

Anthony Sutcliffe (PG Dip CCI, MBCS)

July 2018
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