When Should I Hire Full-Time IT?
As your organization grows, your technology and support needs to grow as well. At some point, you will start to wonder, should I hire a full-time IT person?
In Framework’s 12+ years consulting organizations about their IT management, we’ve observed a common set of reasons that drive leaders to think about hiring IT staff. We will share the reasons you should consider hiring here and provide some guidelines and exceptions, based on those reasons.
Our goal is to give you a baseline of how to think about your technology management needs and when to hire in-house IT staff.
What are the most common reasons you would hire a full-time IT person?
There are several very common reasons people start thinking about hiring full-time IT staff. We’re going to review the most common and provide some guidelines related to each. You cannot look at one reason only to determine if you should hire IT staff. It's the combination of where you fall in all these areas that produces a real need to hire a full-time IT person.
- Employee Count
- Support Needs
- Technology Product
- Product Dependence
- Custom Technology
Employee Count: How many employees should you have before hiring full-time IT people?
Businesses can easily assume if they’re growing fast or already have a decent staff size, that they need an IT person too. Maybe you’ve filled many of the roles in a typical organization chart and think that you need to fill IT too. Maybe you’ve been paying by the hour for support and it is adding up enough to look like hiring will save money. Maybe you’re unaware of other ways to provide robust IT management and support, like hiring an MSP. No matter what your reasons, staff growth is perceived as driving force for in-house IT staff.
This often results in leaders hiring full-time IT people earlier than they should. If you have less than 25 employees, you rarely need an in-house IT person. There is not enough support and strategy needed at this size to keep a full-time IT person busy. Even in the 25-50 employee range, you're unlikely to need in-house IT staff. At 50-100 employees, it may start to make sense to consider a full-time IT person. If you haven't hired IT staff yet, at 100-250 employees, you'll reach a point where it makes sense to add an in-house IT person to the team.
I'm providing ranges and speaking in less than absolute terms because this is a guideline. There are very good reasons to consider deviating from these employee size thresholds. Support needs can drastically change when it makes sense to hire a full-time IT person. The other considerations below also can necessitate hiring IT people at a smaller size.
Support Needs: What support needs affect when I should hire a full-time IT person?
Another reason that companies hire a full-time IT person is that they believe it’ll improve support. This assumption probably stems from one of a few things. Maybe your organization has had a bad experience with outsourced IT in the past. Given a poor prior experience, it’s easy to assume that's just how all outsourced IT is, so you look to hire an IT person. Another reason you may hold this perception is because of proximity bias. It's natural to assume that if a person is physically present, support will be better.
Outsourced IT, especially managed services, does not mean worse support than in-house IT. Some outsourced IT vendors do offer a worse experience than a full-time IT person. That is the outcome of a bad outsourced IT partner, but it's not the typical outcome. Many outsourced IT vendors provide better support, which we dive into deeper with this article.
So some of these assumptions may or may not be true. Either way, there are also other indisputable support needs that do increase the need for full-time IT people. Adding a full-time IT person may improve support if some of the following points apply to you:
- Onsite Support Needs: You find yourself needing a lot of onsite support. Outsourced IT vendors may not be able to come onsite in a timely fashion and certainly cannot beat in-house IT at that. If you’re in a remote location, that problem can be even further exasperated.
- Frequent Changes: This is especially true if they're often last minute. The in-house IT person may be able to address these in a more timely fashion. That does depend on the outsourced IT vendor alternative you’re comparing to. Some are fast to accommodate moves, adds, and changes. Others are not so fast or are downright slow. Either way, with a full-time IT person, you can better control the timeliness of these IT requests.
Also, some, but not all, outsourced IT vendors charge separately for moves, adds, and changes. If you have frequent needs in these areas, it may make the outsourced IT support more expensive. Adding full-time IT, in this case, may help optimize your costs.
- Hybrid Support: You're going to add a full-time IT person to complement your outsourced IT vendor. Combining the pros and cons of outsourced IT, like an MSP, and a full-time IT person can improve support. This type of hybrid support approach usually doesn’t make sense until a company is 75–200 employees. If you highly value support quality and have the budget, you could add full-time IT earlier as you grow.
- Your Employees are Not Tech-Savvy: If you’d say that your team is the opposite of ‘tech savvy’ or something along those lines, they’re more likely to value face to face support from a team member. Many managed IT companies are experienced in supporting people that do not speak the language of technology. Working with a mostly remote support desk can feel intimidating and cumbersome for tech-illiterate people. An in-house IT staffer can provide more comfort to your staff vs. an outsourced provider.
If someone is the opposite of tech-savvy, they really are going to need more onsite support, so it increases that support need as well. You’ll need a lot of support capacity if you fall this bucket, and may need a full-time IT person at a smaller employee size than most. As mentioned earlier, your employees may prefer a full-time internal IT person out of comfort as well.
Proprietary Technology or Custom Developed Applications
When should you hire a full-time IT person if you’re developing a technology product?
If your product uses advanced technologies, I would consider it a technology product no matter what form it takes. Technology products in this context may not be an actual product per se. It might be applications, platforms, or information-based services. It could be a physical product that's 'smart' or 'connected.' Maybe it leverages AI or is an IoT solution.
When technology is a core facet of your product, you need a technologist on your executive team. Specifically, you'll need a CTO (Chief Technology Officer) and maybe a CIO (Chief Information Officer). You'll need this leader to drive technology strategy, oversee product development, and support. If you're building a technology product, hire a CTO/CIO ASAP.
If you're just starting out and don't have enough funding to hire an executive like this, you're not alone. Companies building a technology product often use equity incentives to attract CTO's early. You can delay adding full-time IT people for support for a long time as you grow. You cannot delay the tech leadership role when you have a technology product or solution you’re developing and taking to market.
When should you hire full-time IT if your product needs a tech for setup or support?
If your product needs an IT person to install or support, it's hard to excel without in-house IT. You can start off by outsourcing portions of your delivery or support to a partner. That will work when your budget is thin, and your volume is low. As you grow though, that will become chaotic, more expensive, and hard to manage with the 3rd party.
If you fall into this category, hire a full-time IT person as soon as it's doable for your budget. This will improve your cost structure, flexibility, and control over your product delivery. In short, it’ll lead to better outcomes for your clients and allow you to scale with less friction.
Frankly, many organizations that are subject to this concern hire a full-time IT person, and as soon as possible, dedicate that person to serving their own clients. It’s common to see these organizations still employ the services of an outsourced IT provider to manage their own internal technology support so they can keep their IT person client-focused!
When should you hire full-time IT if you use custom applications or proprietary technologies?
If you use custom applications, finding efficient outsourced support for them is challenging. The same is true for any custom or proprietary technology. Don't get me wrong, some outsourced IT vendors are willing to learn and support your custom stuff. Unless they devote an engineer to your account full-time, they'll have a longer learning curve though.
A full-time in-house IT person should be able to get proficient quicker. Custom applications usually fulfill critical functions so it's imperative it's well-supported. Paying the original developers forever for support will add up too. These are just some of the challenges that come with developing a custom technology.
Therefore, we recommend avoiding custom applications altogether, if possible. Smaller organizations should avoid them unless it's part of their product. Mid/large organizations can look at custom applications if they vet implications thoroughly. Before they do, they should make sure there's no other software that could meet their needs. Building a custom application introduces support challenges and increases IT management costs.
If you do find the need to go the custom application route, hire a full-time person as soon as your budget allows. You should have an internal champion for a technology that was so critical it was worth the effort and money of a custom build. Your primary support for a custom technology should be an in-house IT person or team.
So, should I hire a full-time IT person?
If you have 25 or fewer employees, only hire a full-time IT person if you’re developing a technology product or need IT to deliver or support your product.
Even once you’re in the 25-50 employee range, you should be skeptical of the need to hire full-time IT. However, your support needs could justify it at this point, especially if you’re forced to look at custom applications or technology.
At 50-100 employees, you may want to consider a full-time IT person, particularly if you have relevant support needs, you offer a tech product, or need IT to deliver your product. If you’ve grown to the 100-250 employee range, congratulations! You’re approaching or at the point where a full-time IT hire is justified, even without the other factors in play we mentioned above. If you’re 250+ employees, you will certainly benefit from a full-time IT person!
If you’re actively considering hiring a full-time IT person, that’s a great time to also learn what an outsourced IT provider can offer to address your needs. Framework is an award winning IT managed services provider. We’ve successfully managed all aspects of the technology of businesses of all sizes.