Ever since companies began to establish IT departments, they’ve been expected to handle any hardware, software, or system the company might use, regardless of their level of expertise. That may have been a reasonable expectation a decade or two ago, but no longer.

In-house IT teams are now asked to deal with a breadth and depth of technologies and technology-related issues with which they lack experience. Beyond the nuts-and-bolts of networks, hardware, and software, they’re dealing with relatively new developments such as cloud computing and SD-WAN, all while trying to remain aware of the requirements of privacy laws, government compliance, and evolving industry standards.

One option is to step up training in those new areas, but that doesn’t make sense if team members won’t regularly deal with those issues. Or departments can add staff, but budgets don’t always allow that. Another option is to turn elements over to a traditional managed-service provider.

There’s a newer option that allows internal IT leaders to stay in control of their operations while drawing upon external technology and expertise as needed. What’s known as Co-Managed IT pairs the internal IT team with an external provider to divide the growing workload in the most efficient way. The internal IT leader remains in charge of overall operations, turning to the co-managed provider to handle issues for which the internal team lacks expertise, and for the mundane tasks that often swallow up the internal team’s limited time.

For example, a co-managed IT provider can oversee network and back-office IT operations, provide 24-hour monitoring of the system’s overall health, handle the onboarding process for new employee devices and network access, manage software updates and patches, and serve as a help desk. That allows the internal team to focus on corporate initiatives and planning for the future.

For smaller companies, a relationship with a co-managed IT provider allows the company to deploy enterprise-level tools that might otherwise be outside of their reach or budget. That can give the company capabilities similar to those being used by larger competitors. In other words, the company gets immediate, ongoing access to tested, proven technology without the cost of investing in it.

Just as important, the co-managed IT provider also brings knowledge of current best practices to streamline operations and protect the company’s technology resources from cyberthreats.

One of the roadblocks IT leaders face is the perception their department should be able to handle everything on its own. It’s curious the same standard doesn’t apply to other departments within companies. When the Controller encounters a strange new wrinkle in state taxes, she doesn’t think twice before calling the company’s CPA firm for guidance. If the company faces an unusual legal challenge, the General Counsel instinctively reaches out to a law practice for expertise. When the CEO complains about a drop in sales, the Marketing Director automatically calls upon the company’s ad agency to come up with a solution. And the CEO doesn’t think any less of the managers who make those calls. After all, who can be expected to know everything about everything? Presenting the co-management concept as analogous to those relationships may help overcome resistance.

Some IT leaders worry that bringing in an outside partner will lessen their control and authority or lead management to think about saving money by replacing the internal team. They need to educate company leaders about what having additional help will allow them to accomplish. A co-managed provider will become a resource for the internal team, giving them access to the resources they wish they had, using sophisticated monitoring and testing to head off problems before they affect the company, and acting as a source for well-informed second opinions about situations and challenges.

Co-managed IT is a long-term collaborative relationship built specifically around a company’s unique needs, allowing IT leaders to most effectively deploy their internal team’s expertise, while using the co-managed provider to address areas when they lack knowledge or don’t want to focus their limited time. A co-managed IT provider doesn’t want to take over and become the company’s outsourced IT department. The provider’s goal is helping the company make its IT department even better.

The first step in exploring a co-managed IT relationship is taking a candid look at your team’s current structure and operations. What are your team’s strengths and weaknesses? What activities are interfering with your ability to address critical initiatives? What problems have you encountered because of a lack of resources and expertise? Answering those questions will provide an excellent starting point for conversations with a prospective co-managed IT provider.

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

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