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IT manager workload, small company

Posted on 2012-03-26
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Last Modified: 2012-04-04
I'm curious to find out what y'all have to say on this… what is the upper threshold of company size for one IT person before they need help?

Our company has grown from 5 people to 45 people, most of it in the past 3 years. I started with it, designed all the systems, and did extensive coding in those early years as well (for our local VB based order management app, as well as PHP and MySQL stuff for our website). Now, it seems like it’s all I can do to keep up with everybody’s constant IT-related needs, and have no time for anything other than just actual IT stuff. If so, that’s fine, but I will have to have a talk with The Man to get him to stop adding stuff to my plate like it was 4 years ago, OR to get me some help with administration and maintenance of all the IT / systems stuff.

Jeez, I used to love all this, but nowadays it just feels like I’m scared all the time because something’s constantly breaking. If 5 people shared a single car, the wear and tear on that car would be somewhat reasonable, or at least predictable and manageable. With 45 people in that same car, it’s like those old VW ads where they cram in as many college kids as possible and see what the thing will do - except in this scenario the car is a daily driver. That car would be in need of constant fixing, tweaking, etc., and the mechanic would have no time for anything else. For me, the fun has always been designing and building and implementing the various systems… now, it feels like I have no time for anything other than being a high-tech janitor.

Is there actually a formula for figuring this stuff out based on number of employees? Am I just whining? Am I turning into the guy in the back room that just wants everyone to leave him alone? I hope not, because I helped build this company and I love it, but something has to shift.
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Question by:QMBB
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by:IT-Monkey-Dave
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I was a one-person IT show here for a long time.  I think the threshold for us was around 50 users.  When our headcount passed that level I no longer felt I could take care of everything without feeling overwhelmed. Management agreed and we hired a 2nd person who focuses on desktops and backup to me as the network admin.  I focus on the bigger-picture stuff and cover desktops when my assistant is out.  We peaked around 70, are currently 60.  I suspect if we were to fall below 50 again I'd have to reevaluate the need for 2 x FTEs like we have now.
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by:R. Andrew Koffron
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if it's just the network administration and machines with a reasonable budget for replacements and so on, I'd say about 100 machines and 3 servers for a single IT person is doable most of the time (again stressing JUST admin and break/fix stuff).  Obviously big issues require more and outsourcing the big stuff will be required on occasion.

adding in all the rest of the "IT director type stuff" most of us get stuck with is incredibly time consuming. so usually in a 40-75 machine network, with the added crap, I'd try and hire a couple part time intern type guys, for machine swaps and basic stuff at about 150% of minimum wage.
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by:QMBB
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Thanks both of you so far... we have 11 servers and 40 local machines. Everybody logs in via TS to 2 of the servers to work with our VB app on two screens. One server is Exchange, one is a utility box, one is a SQL box, one is a backup box, one is our AD controller, one is our phone system, and one is our fax server. The 5 remote users login via VPN and then use all the same systems as the local users. Then there’s our 2 web servers which are in a different location across the country. I am not solely responsible for them but am expected to deal with any and all issues they may have. Which, they of course do. We are an internet company and must be open for business at all times.

What brought this to a head is the fact that I can no longer be away from work, whether it’s vacation or a day off or anything else… if I’m gone and something needs to be tweaked or there’s an actual crisis, nobody else here can deal with it. There are 2 people who can handle small things, but even then it’s just a patch until I get to the real issue.

I feel like I’m responsible for keeping the company alive just like the owners are, and the stress is getting to me I guess. It would be one thing if I got paid more, but even with that, I would still feel the stress so I don’t think that’s what I want. It’s not about the money, it’s about the ability to have a life where I’m not on call 24/7 365. If I wanted that, I would have went to med school, become a doctor, and learned how to play golf.
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by:Adam Brown
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Speaking from a Consultant's perspective (never really worked in a company's IT department. I've always been outside help), the break point for having any kind of formal IT staff has been pretty dependent on a number of factors. I've seen 300 users environments get by with 1 full time desktop monkey and a part time server guy. I've seen 50 user environments that had multiple high end IT people. A lot of times I see environments with a full IT staff and I can't imagine how they are spending their time.

There are a lot of different factors at play. Industries with a lot of regulation that are usually pretty profitable (Medical, Banking, etc.) will tend to hire more IT people to handle the load, but that's due to increased bureaucracy that is inherent in those industries. Law Offices and such usually get away with Outsourcing to IT consultants.

More often than not, working smarter can help decrease your load significantly. If you find yourself getting called to peoples' desks very often for issues that you *could* solve on the phone, but are having trouble explaining, look into getting some remote screen sharing software so you can see what they're seeing without having to get up and go over to them (thus resulting in your time being monopolized until their issue is resolved). If you find yourself having a lot of issues with hardware failures, look into hiring some part time hands (get a couple kids just out of or in Highschool to go look at problems before you have to deal with them). If your users are breaking computers or installing a lot of viruses, look in to locking systems down. The users will whine, but you'll have less to worry about in the long run. There are a million ways you can work more efficiently and there's absolutely nothing wrong with trying to find less work to do.
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by:Adam Brown
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As for not feeling like you can get away, that's where you might want to look into getting some support from an MSP or consultancy. But like I said, I'm a consultant, so :D
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by:IT-Monkey-Dave
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Sometimes IT here is barely 50% tasked.  Sometimes we're 100% tasked.  But "SLA" expectations for IT are extremely high.  Network or Desktop Downtime = Unacceptable.  So we're kind of an insurance policy.
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by:R. Andrew Koffron
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haha what's a vacation? I think I remember them from a previous life. even when I do find a break, I have to have laptop with wireless internet capability for me, and at least 2 people that also have 3g or better devices and laptops so that if worse come to worse they can pull me into a remote session and facetime the screen to me :)
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notacomputergeek earned 125 total points
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Start tracking things, so you can provide management with documentation to back up your recommendation. As a bare minimum to keep the computers/servers up, I think it's usually about 25% X number of computers. In this case, about 50 computers x 0.25 = 12.5 hrs/wk. Additional servers, remote users, and software development all add a premium to this estimate. If you're supporting a custom developed app, that could eat up 1 person's time completely, so manage the scope and time allotted to enhancements, bug fixes, etc.

In summary, based on the number of servers/computers, you're a ways from justifying another person, but throw in the software development and it's real hard to measure. Have you considered outsourcing desktop support to a managed services company or outsource the application development?

As for getting away, you need to create backup for yourself, whether it's another employee or outside firm. What if sonething happens to you - I think the company needs to be prepared.
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