CEO Sheryl Conway’s company has successfully carved out a niche in a field dominated by corporate giants. She wants to expand the company’s scope, but how can she realistically compete when her resources are dwarfed?

Take IT as a prime example. Those giant competitors can afford to deploy the latest platforms to manage everything from marketing to production. Meanwhile, her team addresses those needs by cobbling together solutions using Microsoft Excel and other off-the-shelf applications. She’s proud of their ingenuity, but those patchwork solutions only become more fragile as the company grows — and CEO Conway knows her next-level funding sources will expect to see more sophistication.

It’s a dilemma faced by growing small and medium-sized companies in every industry in which needs are always a step or two ahead of capital. Fortunately, a new IT management approach gives those companies access to top-tier IT tools without tying up massive amounts of capital or operating funds.

Co-Managed IT involves a partnership between an external service provider and the company’s own IT team. The two divide the responsibilities for IT based upon the internal team’s preferences and level of expertise. The internal IT leader oversees the process. Typically, the external provider takes responsibility for the routine tasks that distract the internal team from more important initiatives, as well as matters that may be beyond the internal team’s capabilities.

In many of the partnerships involving our company, for example, we take ownership of and responsibility for hardware. We issue laptops and other hardware to employees and departments, guide employees through onboarding and upgrades, and provide replacements when a particular device needs service. Instead of calling the internal team for all the small problems that crop up, employees reach out to our team for answers. And, instead of investing large amounts of capital in that equipment, the company pays a predictable monthly service fee.

Through arrangements like that, co-managed IT can free up a substantial amount of the internal IT team’s time. But for companies like the one mentioned at the beginning of this article, the biggest benefit of co-managed IT is that it gives our clients immediate access to a powerful suite of sophisticated software and application tools that would normally be beyond their budget limitations or staff knowledge levels. Often, they’re the same tools being used by the companies’ largest and competitors, helping to level the playing field.

As the co-managed provider, it’s our job to house that software and systems and allow clients to access them as effortlessly as they visit internet sites. We can back that up with training and support to ensure the clients can make the most effective use of the additional resources without having to devote a substantial amount of time to features they have no reason to use. At every level, ongoing reporting and extensive documentation keeps the IT team involved and provides useful information the team can share with top management.

Besides access to more sophisticated software, part of the co-managed provider’s normal role is monitoring and managing the integrity of their clients’ networks, using enterprise-level tools to spot potential problems before they begin to interfere with operations, as well as testing upgrades and patches to ensure they don’t trigger unforeseen issues. The provider applies knowledge of current best practices to streamline operations and protect the company’s technology resources from cyberthreats.

Like the companies they serve, co-managed providers are in a constant search for the most effective tools. Serving many clients gives them a way to amortize their investments in new approaches and state-of-the-art technology, making those tools far more affordable than what the clients would be able to accomplish on their own.

A common misconception about co-managed IT is that it’s similar to bringing an outside consultant in to help with a specific need. Most IT directors can share stories of consultant relationships that cost too much, failed to accomplish what needed to be done, or left the staff a long list of problems that had to be solved. Co-managed IT isn’t a one-time solution. Instead, it’s an ongoing, collaborative relation that operates transparently. Company leadership sees the IT function operating smoothly and accomplishing more — particularly when it comes to key initiatives — which reflects positively upon the IT director and internal staff.

In short, the co-managed IT approach gives growing companies access to the state-of-the-art tools and systems they crave without having to take on the knowledge and time required to make them work — and without dipping into the company’s precious pool of working capital. It makes smart IT leaders look even smarter.

Doug Miller is CEO/CTO of Brightworks Group, a Technology Success Provider (TSP) primarily serving Midwest-based companies in industries such as manufacturing, distribution, healthcare, financial services, and engineering.

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