Group Theory

Building an IT Department from Scratch

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For many SMB (small to medium-sized businesses), a fully functional IT department is often introduced later as funding allows. In the meantime, the duties of designing, building, and maintaining the IT infrastructure often falls on one (exhausted) individual. For this post, I wanted to dive into many of the aspects and tasks involved in creating an IT department from scratch.

Personally, I’d first attempt to detect what portions of the IT infrastructure have the most negative business impact. Do you have adequate computers for all your users? Is there anything with the machines or network that is causing the users issues with being able to work as fast or efficiently as they otherwise could? Troubleshooting their problems should help you figure out what fragments of the infrastructure need to be built, revamped, or added, to support business needs. Once you reach the point of network stability, you can start looking into upgrades by gaining justification and approval from your superiors.

One mistake many make is the poorly managing the conflict of scaling versus upgrading. As the business grows, so does the demand for additional personnel, equipment, network sophistication, and enhanced security. In my most recent build, I kept reminding myself that one must be wary of scaling too quickly, without strengthening the underlying systems.

While there may be systems and processes already set in place for general IT procedures and tasks, it is an excellent idea to revisit these workflows in the goal of making them more efficient, documented, and as automated as possible. For a small sample of some areas to pay attention to, see below:

  • System purchases and replacements (computers, monitors, keyboards, etc.)
  • System setup/configuration (installing the correct OS and software for the users)
  • Access control (making sure the users don’t have more power/access than they need)
  • Equipment purchases and replacements/maintenance (think printers, scanners, faxes, etc.)
  • Writing proposals regarding IT projects and upgrades (document everything)
  • Project management for the projects mentioned above and upgrades
  • Communication and coordination with local management and/or customers (everything from performing systems analyst duties to helpdesk/tech support)
  • Budget considerations (you’ll have to justify your IT budget, as well as plan for the following year. If your a company with specified budgets, spending too little one year can hurt you in the next)

Depending on the size of your business, you might want to consider creating and hiring for specified IT departments. Each department could only have a single person, but he/she must be skilled in that designated area. Gaining highly skilled IT employees for a specific department allows that person to focus entirely on it, ensuring that the station’s duties are carried out, and to their full potential. For some common IT departments, see below:

  • Help Desk/Tech Support (provide IT troubleshooting for your employees/clients)
  • Programming (write and test the code that creates your software)
  • Web Dev (building and maintaining websites, front-end/back-end)
  • Network Engineers (network setup, maintaining, upgrading local and wide-area networks)
  • System Admins (upkeep, config, and maintain the operation of multi-user computers and servers)
  • Security (the digital shield of your company)
  • Management (oversees the previous departments)

For smaller companies (such as the one I work at), we are often wearing more than one belt. Being a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ can be time-consuming, but the experience you gain in the process is second to none.

This is but a taste of the entire process of building an IT department from scratch, but it should give you some idea of what to expect when you decide to take your company’s IT capabilities to the next level.

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