Leadership

How many users can one person support?


As a one-man IT department, I sometimes feel overwhelmed with all of the things to do, the number of support requests, and so on. In addition, keeping abreast of all the changes and nuances in this ever-changing industry can only add to the challenge. Included in my support efforts, I might add, is being involved (actually taking the lead) in supporting – and keeping up with - the company’s primary design software, AutoCAD and its various products, which includes becoming involved in production if those needs arise. (And then there’s Autodesk’s new product, Revit, which is a huge effort currently beating on my door.)

Over the years, I’ve had anywhere from 25 to 35 users in my office, which is small compared to a lot of TechRepublic members, but I’ve always been the only guy. I don’t think I’d want to support many more than that without adding to the support staff, especially considering the wide-range of support I provide. A friend of mine who works at another company within the same industry (the building design industry), but one with about 60 users, provides only the AutoCAD and design support, while the rest of the IT infrastructure is supported by another person. I suppose somewhere between 35 and 60, at least in my industry, is the threshold for needing two people instead of one to wear those two hats.

The challenge especially presents itself when I’m trying to stay focused on a longer term project of some sort, which could be anything from writing some customized AutoCAD programs, to learning a new product (Revit), to installing new workstations, to network or software upgrades, and so on. The interruptions to deal with some nagging little issue makes the process more difficult.

This arrangement certainly has its downsides, but it has the upsides as well. So I take it all in stride, the good with the bad, knowing that the balance usually falls towards the good. What I probably miss the most, however, (not that I’ve ever had it) was another IT savvy person to bounce ideas and issues off of, not to mention having a little help once in a while. Those times when my answer is, “I don’t know”, is always followed by, “But I’ll see what I can find out, and I’ll get back with you”. And then the research begins. Nonetheless, I try to stay positive and upbeat, although I do have to remind myself of that from time-to-time. All-in-all, however, I’ve think I’ve managed pretty well.

I’ve seen these issues addressed before, but it might be worthwhile to resurrect the subject. What kind of ratios do you see? How many users could one person reasonably support? Of course, it depends on any number of factors, but what are they? Do you ever get that support request for which you feel like saying, “Can’t you just figure it out yourself?” Of course, that’s a terrible answer, and one that I pretty much avoid. (Although I have hinted at it a few times.)

Support to user ratio - what are the numbers and the issues. The answers will probably run the gamut.

146 comments
support.services.group
support.services.group

I read all the threads and would like to give you another perspective. I had worked for the 4th largest public school system in the country (Miami) and the 3rd largest school in the county. With over 800 PC's, 50 MAC's and 3500 students and 200 staff, I did it ALL ALONE. Yes, I did, and the interesting thing was - the only thing I needed was a thick skin to deflect all the whining and moaning. I read the threads about standardization, and realized that unless you worked in the "vietnam of the public sector", you have never learned triage of problems, multitasking and prioritization of resources. I also did this before much of the remote software came out, and was in an AD environment with Win98 desktops. I learned about certain software that "froze" the computer operating systems so you could format, delete, etc., and when the machine starts back up, it's all back where it belongs. Network with your peers, and be inventive.

youko_vivien
youko_vivien

Last year when I was working for a bank, me and another guy supported around 150 users, 5 branches, multiple servers (both the bank's and some for central bank), printers, network, security system, card access, processing reports, documentation, the photocopy machines, the server room argonite system, and well...just too many things...oh...including BCP...all done from headquarters... We used PC anywhere to connect to all our branch PCs and do the support that way...but its tedious anyway...I could run maybe four to five sessions to different branches at the same time over the network.

ramuvr
ramuvr

I think rather than concerning about a number it would be worth considering how many sites someone has to handle. When we are dealing with a geagraphic area and a large number of customers in each area, it would be better to limit the number of sites handled by someone and may be team up and regulate the calls.

bob
bob

I used to work in a school and i looked after around 1800 users myself. It was pretty busy but the setup was good so mangaged it fine. Currently i look after around 200 but they are lots of different setups so require more work.

jedurham36
jedurham36

I support ~80 users on 2 sites for a non-profit. This includes 4 Servers,15 printers, Email, fincial package with CRM, etc. I invested the time to create a custom install DVD. It has a baseline setup, (XP, Office, Adobe reader, printers and service packs.) and I add the few apps that the few users need by hand. That alone saves me lots of hours on re-install of a workstation. It is well worth the effort so far. The importance of backups is critical. I check them and the event logs every day without fail. I do all of this part-time. My biggest source of help is from managment and staff.

asperks
asperks

I do IT and CAD support for 75 people.

quie
quie

I've supported 250 people, a bit too many. If you support endusers in the office suite, mail and autocad and advising, networking, servers/ backup and telephony you should manage about 100 - 150 users, but you need to be aware of training in departmentsmeetings - so you can lift up at total department by spending about 30 minutes Friday morning and a couple of powerpoint slides. - structure and stressless is the main part.

ken.meyerkorth
ken.meyerkorth

In the pre .COM days, I myself was supporting 46 users on a network and very busy. Then when they wanted more users and no more support. So I went to a Dot Com and with four others, supported a 250 user network with a seperate group of 4 that did the software support. Not a good thing as there were far too many 36 hour days supporting break/fix, office moves/adds/changes. That caved in and now with a government office I am supporting nearly a thousand with less than four others. Yeah sure the technology helps what with remote administration and patch pushing, but still not one of us can take more than 2 days off in a row to go on a vacation or just get away because of manpower constraints. The stress level is WAY too high in this type of environment. Conversely.... this goes for my entire career ...regardless the stress or the amount of users per tech, it still doesn't stop corporations or even government from hiring the most inept people to use high tech hardware in their day to day jobs. Whats worse, the non-educated manner the hardware is used requires us in the industry to expend our lifes blood making a menial sum to support them. And then when the ineptness hits critical mass....the support gets laid off and more inept people are hired.

Old-Timer
Old-Timer

In the "old DOS days"- yea I know you could care less! The standard for Direct support of a mostly Word Processing and Financial operation was 125 to 175 Keyboards. In general settings (since Windows; It has stayed about the same 150 KBDs.

bkinsey
bkinsey

I've got one technician working for me, and 120 desktops, 20 servers, multiple sites, wired, wireless, leased networks, responsibility for Centrex, IP-PBX's, and POTS lines, cell phones, FCC licensing for two-way radios, strategic planning, software support for half a dozen disparate "critical" apps, and I could probably go on, but it's getting depressing. . . . Supporting the end users, their PC's, and the network is easy; all the other stuff is a little overwhelming. Point is you'll find some variation across industries or business lines, but vastly more depending on organization and responsibilities falling under the label of IT.

tinyang73
tinyang73

I am the only PC support person in a company with 4 local offices (no 2 more than 100 miles apart), several local jobsites with computers that I support, userbase totals about 130 users. If things get really busy, the network admin will lend a hand if she has time to help. I don't find that to be too much for me to handle. I think alot of it has to do with how efficiently you work, and how many tools you use to make your job easier.

reisen55
reisen55

Remember that any company that signs an outsourcing agreement with (example) Computer Sciences Corporation, Affiliated Computer Services et al will have the argument presented to management that you do not need in-house support at all for your computer issues. Our help desk in Bangalore can answer all Windows issues "cheaper, faster, better" by phone. Any IT technician who finds himself in a position where he is moved out of his or her corporate home to being an outsourced employee WILL BE FIRED DOWN THE ROAD.

ghirte
ghirte

We run Citrix Metaframe with Wyse Winterm thin clients for the users. Our environment is pretty static: MS Office, terminal emulator to a VMS host and client for Dynamics AX. (My users don't have a PC of any type that they can crash or load software on.) Two people support 400 users, phone systems at 48 locations and 150 cell phones too.

TheSwabbie
TheSwabbie

How many? Thats a good question. Actually there is more to it than just numbers. There is also the "Dumb A$$ Manager/Director factor". I worked at a small hospital in South Carolina. I was the Network Administrator responsible for the entire Network Infrastructure, Servers, Users (250+), Overhead paging system & the PBX. We lost a helpdesk position because administration had no clue. Then to cover his A** the Director blamed me when I couldnt keep up with everything. He got rid of me - but now has had to replace my postion with 2 people. The crazy part is, I did all the huge projects and work before I left in addition to the normal support role. Talk about a GRINDER! If you have support of your upper management then you can get through the tough times. If you have a Director like I did - which by the way had no IT Experience before he came to the hospital then you have problems - BIG problems. At least now HE ISNT MY PROBLEM! In current position - I AM THE MANAGER and have a great CIO to work with. He rolls up his sleeves when things get tough and we get things gone. As the other new company we started gets going we have already made plans to ensure that we have enough IT Support to make sure our users/customers are taken care of and the IT Staff isnt drove into the ground. Jim S. Laurens, SC.

christopher.ramey
christopher.ramey

We have 4 local building each with about 300-400 computers minimum at each location. We usually have one person per building. But sometimes even that doesn't work. With special projects, vacation time, sick time, etc. Often we have to help out with other buildings. I wish I had only 25-35 users!!!!! Oh, did I mention that we are also the jack-of-all-trades here too. Anything with a circuit board, it seems we need to support. We have about 40 servers as well. Then the phone system. Then the hundreds of printers/copiers. Oh yeah, 2 buildings run 24x7 by the way. And all in a 5 member IT staff! Let the good times roll!!!

reisen55
reisen55

At a major American insurance firm, our local office IT staff supported 900 in building users with a six person staff. I was personally closing 1,200 issues per year and proud of that. Then: cheaper, faster, better came in. Outsourced all of us out and today this office, and other area offices we did not support, are now supported by 3 or 4 technicians, of which only 2 remain from our total area staff. You can guess where the support levels have gone.

sean.mcnulty
sean.mcnulty

With a team of 5 we provide all Desktop support including onsite trouble calls, PC & software installation, Software and hardware moves, all Desktop purchases and minor projects. The numbers seem staggering, especially when you have over 50 different sites in a large City and some that are over a 45 minute drive away. However, by leveraging an excellent home built, web based system to track asset, trouble calls, purchasing and customer requests, an excellent staff, and electronic software distribution it can work. Our success is also due to the implementation of a 4 yr Cycle Replacement program for PC's. We recommend a 3 yr cycle but the powers that be wanted it scaled back to 4. We also leverage contractors when we can for large projects that require massive PC moves and installations like Cycle replacement. Our ESD (electronic software distribution) team has taken automation to the next level by using registry keys to distribute software to users remotely, install key patches and upgrades, and SMS to ensure software compliance and asset continuity. We also lean heavily on a a configuration lab that builds PCs and Servers using that latest in imaging technology.

JosB
JosB

We have a saying on our department that translates best to 'one is none'. While it might be possible to support quite a number of users, this is not the situation you or your company should want. If you call in sick who will replace you? Or when you have an accident or leave the company? When talking about need, one should not only look at workload. When your company relies heavily on IT and their end-users cannot support themselfs if you are not there, they should consider hiring a second IT-guy right now! If their end-users can support themselfs for some time while you are not there, there is less urgency, but for companies above let's say 20 people I'd say there should be at least 2 IT-persons, the second perhaps part-time besides the regular job.

mwl1965
mwl1965

Of course you know there are a lot of factors that have to be taken into account to come up with a magic number of how many people one I.T. person can support. In the working environments that I have experience with (fabless semiconductor companies) I use the 25 to 1 ratio as a rule of thumb, this figure can be stretched in both directions a little depending on who the I.T. support person is. One I.T. person is ok for a start-up but when the numbers start to grow and things take off you must get another I.T. person to cover for holidays/sickness and in case you get run over by a bus. I tend to hire a junior to hold the fort while I am away. Since you are supporting so many users I would advise you to make another I.T. hire, but then you have to balance that with losing your Hero Status :))

Colin Harris
Colin Harris

I used to work for a mobile phone company in the UK and was, for a time, the only IT person on a site with 200 users. I did Novel server and Windows desktop support. It was very busy and there was always a backlog of problems. It wasnt until the numbers increased beyond 200 that I was given another person to share the load. Yes, it does depend on the type of company and the type of support but 200 is well over the top for one person to handle.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

as much as 200 miles apart. 8-12 shared PCs, 3-5 printers, all POS peripherals (pinpads, barcode scanners, etc.), and 12-20 electronic scales per location. Initial on-site response for all communications and network outages, including servers, routers, switches, wireless APs, POS terminals and peripherals. Calls received through central support center/helpless desk that does a fair job of screening out the RTFM and PEBCAK calls. (As usual, it depends on which person takes the initial help call. Level 2 support is good; level 1 support is often MIA). Standarized PC image. Thankfully, I'm allowed to manage my call response so that I'm not ping-ponging from one end of SC to the other on a daily basis. The upside? No phones! The downside? We just picked up maintenance on 2 more printers per store and I'm out of room in the car!

JBrownlee
JBrownlee

I currently support 75 users /pc's at 3 different sites and an additional 15-20 people stationed throughout the world using a VPN. I support everything that is technology related which includes phones, computers, servers, network, custom programs, and also manage a live DR site in case this location ever goes down. My daily routine really isn't that bad as I've automated most things that can be. I spend most of the day either helping local users or researching ways to improve upon what we currently have. It does tend to have a few days every now and then where you really wish you had a 2nd hand to deal with the random questions people seem to have. So one IT person - 75'ish computers - 12 servers - and a bunch of switches and phone equiptment.

kjensen
kjensen

My old job was 400 users, 150 PC's 12 servers and just me. Today it's 100 users, 100 PC's, 25 servers & 3 of us doing it.

dieseldog34
dieseldog34

I am currently the only support person for 140 users in office and 10 scattered in other states. They range from developers/programers to underwriters. At times I'm not very busy but most of the time it's too much to handle by myself. I too wish I had a helper I could bounce ideas off of and take some of the work load. I believe every IT dept. over 50 people should have at least 2 IT staff. Things would get done a lot quicker and it would not lead to burn out, which is where I'm at now. I've been the only support for 5 years now and I don't have the same passion for my job anymore. If I go on vacation, which isn't much, all my work piles up for me to do when I get back. One is the loneliest number. :-)

nathan
nathan

I am currently the only support for 300 users over 3 goegraphical regions in the city. i t is a mixed windows/UNIX enviroment at a manufacturing plant. I.T user knowledge is terrible and i think that i am over the limit! i am also responsible for the project management and implementation of the sites. I wish i had 60 users!

RhysScott
RhysScott

Hi Joseph, My company has just under 250 users, all working shifts and weekends. My job is a 9-5 and I have a dual role manager (IT and another department) who has some advanced knowledge of IT, they have picked up as they have went along really. I was originally hired under an apprenticeship scheme and was made full time last summer. It is pretty much my job to support those users, our equipment, manage updates, maintain licensing, provide monthly training and develop bespoke access applications to help improve the organisation. At times, the job can be ultimately boring and I'd wait impatiently for the phone to ring but at some times (like now!) I'm so run off my feet that I'm just having some difficulty getting projects completed and finding it hard to focus on users who are having problems (I think I've fluffed my telephone greeting at every possiblity). I also don't have the chance to bounce ideas of a fellow IT pro often, We do have a remote support contract with a company and speaking with their technicial staff is helpful but it doesn't beat having someone next to you. I'm probably supporting far too many users but the upshot of that is I've had to learn a lot of technologies quite quickly to keep the company running.

info
info

Full ack for the whole article. As a serviceprovider I've got several smaller companies on my hands. It just sometimes drives one nuts: firewall and mailserver giving you headache and then this customer calls you with a question, to which the answer is written clearly in the manual. And you're not even allowed to yell "RTFM" at him...although you'd really like to... One or two already wrote it: the number of user one can support depends partially on the level of standardization, partially on the level of complexity of devices and software in use. But it is also based on how one's customers are "raised": I always try to raise my customers in a manner to check the manuals before they call me. Sometimes that even works...

sean.mcnulty
sean.mcnulty

Well said and well done. If you ever want to move to Arizona give me a call, I'll hire you in a minute. I have no idea where or when you would find the time to triage effectively with that type of support load. I think your situation is now becoming the norm instead of the exception. Desktop support is going the way of the Mainframe so they are minimizing support staffs in preparation for our exstinction. As we see Virtual PC's popping up everywhere we should be very concerned about our Desktop jobs. Their moving the cheese and us old trench fighters are going to have to move with it.

emerem2tor
emerem2tor

I?m not saying that you should pay attention to all the whining but having so many users and computers to take care of generates problems, which somebody must solve. I understand that you ?deflected? all, but in this case who did it? Who solved printing issues, Win98 shutdown, files recovery, emails, users? passwords, Internet access, antivirus, antimalware, antispam issues, maintenance, firewall, unauthorized access?? And the list can continue. In my opinion, there should be in place a set of rules of engagement, which would clearly define who and what task are supported and in what conditions. Issue?s escalation should also be in place. Otherwise there would be a chaos; nobody would be responsible of anything and in case something goes wrong they blame each other and the problem stay unsolved because nobody wants to get involved in. I also think that one of our duties is to make the management aware of the risk of running the ?business? in such conditions and eventually, if they are reluctant in doing so, just look for something else. Personally, I cannot work in an environment like that. I did in past and I learned my lesson from that bad experience! Never again!

Joe_R
Joe_R

The number of sites would be a huge factor.

Joe_R
Joe_R

Providing both IT and CAD support, that seems like a lot. But it depends, I suppose, on the extent of your CAD support.

dholtkamp
dholtkamp

The video is very well done to show variations in support requirements. It also has a nice 50+% fudge factor. 200 pc's per competent tech is not a stretch at all in a well designed workplace. You folks that only support 20-35 pc's either have way too much time on your hands or a very complex environment.

JennDavisMCSE
JennDavisMCSE

We have 2 IT people supporting 500 users. The only way we get it done is through standardized images, a backend systems management/software distribution system and an ITIL-based Configuration Management system. As for interfacing with the users - our slogan is simple "Open a HelpDesk Ticket!"

Joe_R
Joe_R

That question has come up before, and here are some of the contingency plans that could keep things going (at least in my case). Of course, I'm pretty much always on call, although I haven't received that many emergency cell phone calls over the years. As a rule, everybody's computer is configured with all the same software, so if one fails when I'm away, he/she can use an extra that I always have. Someone could even use mine, for that matter, so there are actually a couple of spares. As for a person's email, which is really the only thing that would be missing, that person could access his/her account through an Internet interface - the same way they can check it from home. It just wouldn't get downloaded into their Outlook client, but they wouldn't be dead in the water either. Should the whole network come crashing down for some reason, I have a couple of emergency contacts should I be unavailable - one of whom is a guy that I've called upon a couple of times when I was faced with one of those head-scratching issues. A couple of key people have his contact information. And, of course, I would never schedule a major upgrade just before I left for vacation. Those kinds of things would occur after I return. However, our business might be different than others in that it could still function even in the event of some major technology failure. They might limp along and have to jump through a couple of hoops, but nobody would be twiddling their thumbs unable to get anything done. It does bring up a great point, though. It's a good reminder that a one-person shop might want to review their contingency plans, make sure they're current, accurate, and updated, and that all the key people have the information.

Absolutely
Absolutely

So, if every IT department must have 2 or more, how many [L-]users necessitate #3?

Joe_R
Joe_R

But it also sounds like you manage pretty well.

Joe_R
Joe_R

Your new one sounds much better.

Joe_R
Joe_R

It sure sounds line you need help. Yep, one is the loneliest number - but that's why I like TR!

Joe_R
Joe_R

How in the heck do you do it?

kavsek
kavsek

In my company we have 60 users on two locations. Me as an IT manager and my co-worker support about 65 pcs, 3 servers, networking and telephony, technical support at events in lecture room, work on different projects as IT adviser, do some custom applications for users and we made and support our intranet page and some odders web applications ... and another very important thing is that over 70% of users are females over 40 years old with very little knowledge about Office and other tools, so we a lot of helpdesk work. We have no outsourcing for anything. Our server are SBS with domain, exchage, sql and two 2003 standard. bye

Joe_R
Joe_R

250 for one person, or do you have help?

Joe_R
Joe_R

Reading the manual - isn't that always the last resort?

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

30 or 40 sites within a 24-miles radius would probably be manageable, depending on the number and type of users. 25 sites spread out along a 240-mile line is pushing it.

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

Do you guys get hit on alot? Do you get your butts pinched ever so often? Nothing better than an office full of menopause MILFS unhappy with their marriages!!!

hagop
hagop

In Our Company we support 50 Users in 3 Locations and 10 heavy remote users. It's me as a Head of Deparmtment + 2 support engineers we also have 40 Servers + 20+ Voip gateways to support. I also work as the purchase manager, Technical and administrative support for diffferent workshops and lectures, and also support to our clients. +Providing reports and white papaers for new projects that we need to implement.

matthew.cummings
matthew.cummings

+outside user software support. Provide all Desktop Server Network Phones etc etc..... I would bet that any of the Administrators writing in that have 160 to 1 or in that range. Would be quite surprised if they did a poll of their users to find out there level of satisfaction with the support they are receiving. I think that the 50-60 range is probably about right but then as most have echoed it does have to do with what services you cover.

therrington
therrington

I DO read manuals. But as I see it most of them are written for people that ALREADY know how to do what needs to be done. I'm not asking for 1st grade reader, just make them understandable to the user! NOTHING is more confusing than a manual that assumes a high level of expertise. I know I'm not stupid, but manual writers sure do make me feel that way!! :-(

Quasar Kid
Quasar Kid

Please keep your inane comments to yourself. My company is about 70% women. I have never been hit on, but then I work in a very professional environment.

Joe_R
Joe_R

And you have help - but another multi-hat person. Thanks for posting.

Joe_R
Joe_R

Interesting point. Thanks

Editor's Picks