CXO

TechRepublic members suggest the best support staff/end-user ratio

It's a frequent debate among IT managers: What's the magic ratio to determine how many support staff members you should have? Read this article to find out the most frequently suggested ratio sent in from TechRepublic members.


If you want to hire more people, you better make a strong case for it and not rely on any industry standards to help you. That’s what TechRepublic member pbeaudry discovered while trying to make an argument for hiring additional support staff. Here are some of the questions he asked other TechRepublic members:
“What are some accepted guidelines for staffing IT support areas? How many end users justify an additional network admin person who provides server and end-user hardware and software support? Is it 50:1 or 100:1? I can't seem to find any standards,” wrote pbeaudry.

Suggestions to negotiate with your boss
Dozens of TechRepublic members offered advice and empathy in response to pbeaudry’s questions. A few described horrible working environments. James described himself as “drowning in Texas” with one support person for 385 end users.

“Remote Management and Online Information Distribution (a Web-based knowledgebase) is the only way we've had any hope of keeping up,” wrote James.

Some of the letters provided a general rule of thumb like this one:

“If your people are truly giving 100 percent and you just can't seem to get ahead, then it's time to add a person,” wrote rfuller, an IS director who supports 150 users at 30 locations on a “very complex network.”

Tfrank urged managers to consider more than the cost of downtime when making a case for adding support people. “Remind your boss that if you are too thin, you will not get extra projects or upgrades done. You will also not have time to train or resources to cover illnesses or vacations,” wrote tfrank.

Give me an actual number!
Many readers told us they are annoyed that there isn’t a magic number. There are obviously too many variables to allow a one-ratio-fits-all solution.

Andytrent sent an e-mail that explained how to account for the variables:

“If you have one or two servers with the same OS [operating system] and desktops that all run the same OS and roughly the same software, you can probably get by with 100:1 or 125:1,” wrote andytrent.

He also described a circumstance when that ratio would need to be much lower. “If you're talking about having four or five servers with both NT and Netware and desktops in 12 different departments each running their own applications, a ratio of 75:1 is probably more accurate.”

We heard that ratio—75:1—mentioned most often. Yet a few IT professionals argued for a lower number. Kevin’s ratio looked like this:

“If you have a variety of operating systems and no standards for hardware, your support ratio is about 45:1. If you have a single operating system and established standards for hardware purchases, your support ratio is about 70:1.”

Read this before you make your plea for new hires
If you’re looking for ways to justify adding staff members, you’ll want to review the posted comment from Patrick, who listed the variables that may require greater demands on an IT department. If you answer these questions and explain why each factor impacts your department, you’ll be on your way toward crafting an effective argument to hire staff. Patrick listed the following questions:
  • How many systems do you have?
  • How long of a life cycle do you have for your systems?
  • Throughout the life cycle, does a PC stay in one place or does it get recycled to a less demanding user when the current user or application outgrows the system?
  • How many different brands/models do you support? (The fewer models supported, the easier they are to support.)
  • What is the overall reliability of the systems you purchase? (If they have a high failure rate, then you will need more staff. Consider hardware and software reliability.)
  • What is the geographic area you need to cover? Are you supporting one building, offices throughout the city, state, nation, or the world? (Travel time can be a real drain.)
  • How critical are the systems to the performance/profitability of a department? (Some departments may be able to justify having a dedicated person(s), while others may be able to wait a day or two for help to arrive, although they won't like it.)
  • How many variations of configurations do you have? (If everybody uses the same applications and has the same systems, then you can invest in some Ghost licenses and fix a lot of problems by just reloading the entire OS and apps. This is the most common way to fix a Mac.)
  • How techno-savvy are your users?
How did you convince management to hire more staff for the IT department? Did you perform an analysis of what every hour of downtime costs the company, or did you just threaten to quit? How did you determine the correct staffing level? TechRepublic is creating a resource document to help other IT managers who are searching for staffing solutions. Post a comment to this article or send us an e-mail. We may use your comments in an upcoming report, and the people who submit innovative ideas may win TechRepublic merchandise.

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