On-site branch management

* For most organizations, remote IT staff is a luxury they can’t afford

Managing the growing number of branch locations would be a breeze if organizations had unlimited IT budgets with unlimited headcount. They would simply assign an IT staff member for every remote location, and the IT portion of the virtual workplace would become much more painless.

Of course, in the real world, that doesn’t happen. In fact, on average, companies have IT staff members at only 18.8% of their branch locations. The actual percentages vary by the size of the company. As organizations grow from smaller to midsize, the number of IT staff members at remote sites increases - all the way to 50% for organizations with $500 million to $1 billion in revenue.

As they head into the annual-revenue range of $1 billion and greater, the percentage of remote IT personnel drops - in part because they can afford to invest more heavily in remote monitoring tools or third-party professional services.

But it’s also because the companies start opening very small branch offices, which house fewer than 25 people - and in many cases, fewer than 10 people. At that point, it becomes unfeasible for IT to physically tend to every problem with a staff member at all or even a large percentage of locations. In fact, the largest companies - those with greater than $20 billion in annual revenue, employ only 13% of IT staff in branch facilities.

Several factors affect the penetration of IT support staff at remote locations. If the organization is regional, it often keeps the IT staff at a central site or at a few sites and dispatches key technicians when necessary. “Nobody is sitting there at a desk. People travel and get there within 30 minutes, if necessary. All of our IT personnel are at two hospitals and one data center location,” says the architect for a regional healthcare company.

Large companies tend to place IT personnel strategically, depending on the number of employees at various locations. “There are campus locations with IT people, 13 call centers, and we distinguish between field sites and large regional sites,” says the VP of voice services for a large financial-services company, which has nearly 300 small sites - none of which house IT staff.

In some cases, the organization provides a pool of IT people to support different regions where the company operates. “We have a field organization of 150 folks that provide support for all offices in their region,” says the CIO of an insurance company.

And yes, in a few cases, there are non-IT people doubling up and doing the job. This could include salespeople, administrative assistants, nurses, teachers, and so on. A director of a media company says 100% of his sites have at least one person to deal with IT. “Sometimes, it’s also the guy who works the camera,” he says.

That’s not optimal by any measure! But it’s how some organizations are getting by as their virtual workplace grows at a much faster pace than the IT staff or budget. Others are using managed service providers (MSP) to fill in the gaps or to provide full outsourcing. I’ll review more on the drivers for MSPs next week.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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