B. Robinson makes and licenses eyewear out of its offices in New York's midtown Manhattan office.

Though it has more than 50 employees, it uses the Lloyd Group, a New York-based information technology firm, for tech support, rather than an on-staff IT professional.

"We could have brought in a generalist," says co-president Cliff Robinson. "Instead, we hired a firm that has a number of experts for essentially the same price and got a whole team that works 24/7."

As technology needs keep increasing, even the most low-tech businesses may find themselves in need of IT advice. And, like B. Robinson, more and more small firms are contracting with outside companies to help them with everything from rebooting a desktop to integrating software applications.

Is outsourcing your IT upkeep right for your company—and if so, how can you find the right consultant? Here are some key questions to consider.

  • How complex are your needs? With companies being bombarded with more computing issues than ever, the level of IT expertise needed at many small firms is rapidly moving beyond the capabilities of one person.

"A person on staff can probably take care of the server and provide desktop support," notes Jim Avazpour, a 20-year veteran of IT outsourcing now heading Infrastructure Services at New York-based OS33. "But can that one person provide applications, say, integrated into a cloud? Inevitably, you're going to have problems."

If your company does need a team approach, make sure you choose a consulting firm with the bench strength to handle your specific needs. Some firms provide a level of service similar to a corporate IT group.

For instance, the 60 employees of Lloyd Group are divided into teams that take responsibility for day-to-day technology operations, do preventative maintenance on equipment, and offer advice on purchases—looking ahead to the needs they may have in the next year or two.

"We sit in on all strategic meetings, track all tech and mobile devices, and manage software," says CEO Adam Eiseman.

  • Will it be cost-effective? Most IT outsourcing companies use a rolling-fee scale, based on number of computers, intricacy of programs and the complexity of government regulations specific to each industry. The Lloyd Group's average client spends about $100 per user each month, although the price can go as low as $40 per user. Eiseman estimates that a company with 42 computer users, at $80 per user, would spend $3,360 a month—far less than the cost of one on-staff IT nonspecialist.
  • Will they be there for those inevitable crises? Not only should the help desk be available at night, weekends and holidays, but your consultant's team should have a mandate to anticipate problems. For instance, the Lloyd Group made sure clients' data were backed up before last summer's Hurricane Irene.

Steve Weinstein writes for Crain's New York Business, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

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