Leadership

Deciding the proper user/IT support ratio

When figuring out staffing in your IT department, one of the hardest thing to do is to figure out exactly how much support staff you need based on the number of users you have. Here's a video from ZDNet that recommends a 60:1 ratio and why.

When figuring out staffing in your IT department, one of the hardest things to do is figure out exactly how much support staff you need based on the number of users you have. Here's a video from ZDNet that recommends a 60:1 ratio and why.

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Staffing an IT organization can be difficult. It's not easy to figure out exactly how many support personnel you need to make sure that calls are answered in a timely fashion while not driving support staff crazy with overwork. This video from TR sister site ZDNet outlines what CNET's own Justine Nguyen feels is the proper ratio.

Justine starts of with a baseline estimate of 60:1. That means one IT support person for every 60 users. Justine also goes through a lot of variables that affect the number of  users that can be supported, including remote control software, automated deployment, patching, and other things.

I'm not sure this is the official formula that's used by CNET internally, but I assume that it is. If nothing else, it gives you a little bit of "Inside Baseball" about how we do things here behind the scenes at TechRepublic.

What's your ideal ratio?

When I was an network administrator, the ratio that we often kicked about support was 30-35:1. Justine's base number of 60:1 sounds like it would make for a very busy day for the poor IT support person.

What ratio do you use in your organization and what variables affect it?

15 comments
rajnisaund
rajnisaund

I found this to be very helpful. I run a helpdesk with 3 techs for a 350 user organ. It seems what she said is right on, but we could use another 1/2 person for the spikes that come every time we push out new software or preparing for a move.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

I recently was part of a project to create a call center and realign the work of the staff still out at the sites. Some of the metrics we looked at were: a). Average Calls Per Day x Average Call Duration b). Previous average completion times to complete hands-on assignments (server work, desktop replacements, etc...we had a process improvement event to whittle these down prior to go-live) c). Total average time 'not available' (lunch, bathroom breaks, random call from kids' school, etc) Once you get an idea of those numbers, you can begin looking at them in conjunction with the time the staff will be available to help (7-6, 8-5, etc) as well as SLAs, and get a pretty good handle on the amount of staff you'll need. Additionally, we looked at what some contemporaries were doing, graphed them out on a sectored chart, and plugged in our numbers to see where our plans at the time fit. We were a pretty middle-of-the road setup, neither bleeding edge nor tail dragging. We found ourselves right in the middle of the chart; which validated our findings to an extent. So, I suppose I'd say in summary, that I'd challenge people to move away from a pure POPULATION:STAFF ratio model, and more towards a WORK:STAFF model if possible. 1000 people doing everything via remote desktop/web apps and locked down won't generate nearly the volume of calls as a 20 person design team that is always upgrading/tweaking/installing stuff on their systems with full local access.

reisen55
reisen55

It used to be 350 per staff but given outsource today, it can be over 1,000 per staffer and that is on a dirt cheap salary too. And that is inclusive of multiple off-site locations.

dagar
dagar

I liked the insight of this video. I would be interested in seeing something along the lines of total IT (not just support) per user. I too am supporting a user base of "traditional computers" of about 60, qualcomm hardened on devices in the trucks of about 240, servers (windows, Linux, IBM iSeries), networkiing, custom reoprting, ... currently by myself. I got the approval for an intern recently, but still. Anyway, I am always looking for ways to streamline things.

bdean
bdean

I'm running in a company that has 1 (myself) to about 130-150 employees. I've done pretty much everything she has on that list, and its not terrible. Remote access to all machines is a BIG saver. The fact that I don't even have to leave my chair to solve most problems saves TONS of time.

John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro
John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro

It's not always easy trying to figure out how many users an IT support person can take care of. Staffing capacity can be a complicated equation. When I was a network administrator, we ran with about a 35 to 1 user/IT ratio. The video I put up on Decision Central shows how CNET internally recommends a 60:1 ratio and what affects it: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/decisioncentral/?p=153 How does your organization decide how many users can be supported by IT? What factors affect your own case and what do you think about Justine's recommendation?

JoiseyBill
JoiseyBill

I'm working for an EDU, and the model can be very frustrating. - All users want (and usually get) full Admin rights. - Budget constraints mean my current population of 250 or so machines gets upgraded or replaced at around 30 - 40 per year. Yes - I'm keeping 5 and 6 year old equipment limping along.. even a 10 year old server or two. - Factor that with ego and tenure, some folks want laptops, others get desktops, Blackberrys, Palms, some get all of that. Some want Apple, others Lenovo / IBM /Sony .. the majority of folks feel like they have "settled" for a brand new HP or Dell workstation. - Telephone support? Do you mean old fashioned 4-conductor cabling, repairing or moving wall outlets, re-labeling punch blocks, or installing & maintaining that new PBX or VOIP that somebody 'read about' ? - Same for networking.. mix& match off-the shelf retail (like Staples / CompUSA) grade equipment with some Enterprise level switches, routers, and wireless. - Oh, and then add in the tide of students flowing in & out. - does your "IT person" also have clerical duties, maintain Audio-visual equipment ( loan it, fix it, beg for new parts) or need to train new part-time help? - Does your help desk handle 10 flavors of hardware + OS combinations and "make it work"? There is little chance of a standardized model in my environment - not without major funding and a buy-in by management. Oh - and 'management' is a rotating list of tenured professors who serve for a few years, then go back to their old teaching jobs. Now, I'm not really unhappy. Frustrated, yes. Underpaid, - probably. All this turmoil keeps me on my toes, and I get to feel all "MacGuyver"-ish when I get to rebuild a hacked server with old parts, hard-copy printed "backups", a few paper clips and masking tape.

dstanton
dstanton

not to be mean, but 350:1?? If you have a very managed environment, where user don't have any administrative rights, you have software deployment, the network infrastructure to support user files being stored on the network, and the spare hardware to swap out machines if something goes wrong rather than fixing it, and just reimage the machine, then I can see that. 1000:1?? not unless you have superman working on staff. I once worked in an environment for a very large corporation, where they had a managed environment, users had no rights on the machine, Support staff had slightly elevated rights, but not full admin rights, and the rule was 15 minutes of troubleshooting, and if you couldn't fix it, swap out the machine. even so, we had a 300:1 ratio, and were barely making SLAs.

LarryD4
LarryD4

The NJ State Judiciary Ratio is currently 120 to 1 and is rumored to be going to 150 to 1 due to the fiscal issues. Thats the breaks when you stay for a pension.

bens
bens

Yeah...I currently operate at about 50:1, but there are those days when maybe a handful of my users have a memory lapse and at that point my ratio drops to lets say...2:1. ;-) All kidding aside, I've implemented remote support, restrict local admin rights and started ghosting. We are almost at the point of implementing thin clients w/ VDI and/or Terminal server - which I'm hoping will make my life easier.

grephead
grephead

Ratios can't be applied as a blanket rule. I'll give an example. Once I managed a place with 150 users that had an AS/400 running ERP, Windows/Linux servers internal, Ecommerce sites for North America, VPN tunnels to CA and MX locations. 2 of us did the infrastructure (including TCP/IP config and web server on AS/400). 2 guys were exclusively dedicated to the AS/400 RPG programming and ERP modifications. Consultants did the web dev work since the iseries guys had no clue about object oriented (cough - modern) programming. So that's a 37 to 1 ratio or less with consultants counted. It would have been greater without the AS/400. So I would say any ratio has to reflect the type of technology in use. A shop with say Windows and Cisco stuff only is going to be far cheaper than one with Windows, Linux, AS/400, 400 based ERP, Cisco, AS/400 add ons, etc. The business maturity is a huge factor - many smaller businesses have little in the way of standard processes and that loads up the IT team with lots of tasks. There is no one ratio that applies to every company in regards to IT staffing.

amkrap
amkrap

I was by myself with 120 PCs, 10 servers both Dell and Sun, supporting an ERP system, Cisco routers, switches, writing reports, and just about everything you can think of for 10 years. It was extremely challenging. Last year I had enough and complained to management and we hired a tech person to help out. I think I more busy now than I was before.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

...seems that the amount of what you do is based off of factors far beyond pure staff #'s. Almost like weighing yourself at the doctor by just putting one leg on the scale and keeping the other on the floor---how accurate is that going to be? I am going for my MS now, and had the opportunity to work with college professors and networking teams on a project that spanned 4 universities in three countries. The project lasted 2 months. Using that as a barometer, I feel for you!!! I found myself counting to/from 10 several times and taking deep breaths.

reisen55
reisen55

That is a fact: Aon Group at 199 Water Street, New York, NY. One onsite tech for 1,200 users. I used to work there until outsourced out in December, 2005. Chicago management has cut and cut and cut until only one tech is left. When there, I was closing 1,200 tickets per year - I counted that.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

not that impressive really - just steady.