Role of IT department in a small/medium-sized business
Posted on 2010-01-07
I have a general question, and would appreciate feedback from people who have experience in this field.
I work for a company that has approx 100 staff, about 35-40 of whom use a computer in work (I mention this to give some idea of the IT department's workload). Approx 60% of the company's business comes through our own websites (we operate and maintain about 10 ecommerce sites at present), either directly online or from people calling us after visiting our sites. The remainder of our business comes through third party websites.
The IT 'department' consists of me and another guy. Together we build and maintain all of the websites (except the initial front-end design). All of the programming is done by us. We are also responsible for pretty much everything that's plugged in. If a fax/printer/PC/laptop/mobile phone/server/phone system/network/VPN/database/website/standard Windows program/Windows/etc breaks, it's up to us to fix it. About the only thing we don't look after are the desk fans. We can usually do this ourselves, rarely do we call anyone in to help.
Some of our staff use various software packages (non-standard, but industry-specific). These are generally very large, expensive packages, with oodles of functions and options, and which would require extensive training, followed by daily use, to get a good grip on. Indeed, some of the software would probably require a good knowledge of the subject to be well versed in its use (for example, our accounts software - I don't know the first thing about accounts, so I would probably never be much good at using the software, as I don't know/understand the fundamentals behind it).
As it stands, the IT dept keeps these systems running, but ultimately, we don't know much about them at all. They were installed by the manufacturers, and it's been our job since to ensure that they are kept running and available to the users. Beyond this, however, our knowledge of these systems is lacking, from bottom to top really. We don't know how the databases are structured, we don't know when someone asks a question if it's possible or not, as we're not experts at these systems. AFAIK, these systems are black boxes, I don't know if their architecture is published or not. My boss argues that the IT dept should be the go-to people for these systems, and all IT systems we use, that we should know the fine details of the systems, ultimately, that we should be the experts in these systems in the company. He says we're the ones who should be exploiting the data that these systems contain - I agree with him on that point. But he doesn't expect any other department to come up with ideas how to use this data, which I think is a major let-off-the-hook for every other dept. He says we should know what data exists (though it's generated by other users), and how we should exploit it. He says the IT dept is the brains of the company, and, that essentially, we can't expect the mouth-breathers in the rest of the company to come up with good uses of the company's data. I think he's expecting too much of us, and too little of everyone else.
On to my question, finally. Generally speaking, are the IT depts of small/medium-sized businesses the experts of ALL the software systems that the company uses? Are they the go-to guys that should know the nuts and bolts of every system in use, even those that would require good knowledge of the subject matter to even use the systems in the first place? Should the IT dept be the font of knowledge in the company? It seems to me that it's too much of an ask (*certainly* for a 2-man IT dept) to be the masters of every system in use. Admittedly, I'd prefer to know a lot more about these systems, from a comfort perspective, but in reality, there are 100 more pressing needs in the company. And without using these systems every day - for example, the accounts software, how can we ever really be their masters?
Is this our responsibility? Do we need more staff so we can become experts on these arcane systems? Or should our responsibility be solely to ensure availability of these systems, but not knowing much more about these black boxes? What's your opinion on this? I'd really appreciate if anyone could shed some light on this, as I've been with this company for almost 7 years, and for 5 of those years I was the only one in the IT dept, so I don't have much experience in other companies (I'd only worked for 2 other companies before this one, and in quite junior roles).
If there's a better place to ask this (another forum, for example), please point me in the right direction.
Thanks for your time,