Collaboration

When running a one-person IT shop, know when to call in the experts

When a one-person IT department is presented with a new challenge, something totally outside the realm of what might be business as usual, we should know when to tackle the challenge ourselves, learning something new in the process, and when to call in an expert who already knows the technology.

When a one-person IT department is presented with a new challenge, something totally outside the realm of what might be business as usual, we should know when to tackle the challenge ourselves, learning something new in the process, and when to call in an expert who already knows the technology.

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Some time ago, I was asked to look in to videoconferencing systems so our company could hold virtual meetings with out-of-town clients. We discussed having a couple of cameras -- one on a front wall to show the people in the meeting and another camera on the ceiling that could capture the image of drawings and documents on the conference table -- an interface with our company network, so we could access files from our file servers; and a large screen that could be split to show any number of views. Initially, I was pretty excited about tackling the project, even though it was something I've had absolutely zero experience with. Not to worry, however. How hard could it be to pick out a couple of cameras and a display and figure out how to make it all work?

My first stop was my favorite computer superstore to peruse through their inventory of Internet cameras, look at the wide-screen LCD screens, and pick the brains of some sales associates to get a better idea of the scope of what I need to consider. Well, other than some simple and low-cost cameras that mounted on top of a computer monitor, I didn't have much luck. They could provide the hardware to facilitate broadcasting simple Internet images, but when I talked about dual-cameras, high-powered zoom capability, audio features, split screens, and such, they had neither the equipment I needed nor a clue as to how I'd do it.

My next stop was the Internet for a bit of research. A search for Video Conferencing resulted in over 68 million hits. Surely if I reviewed a couple dozen of those sites, I'd have a pretty good idea of what I needed for my project. Well, there's actually so much information out there, that the answers to my questions remained elusive.

Perhaps I should talk to some of our clients to see what they have, so I called my counterparts at those companies to see how they do things, and they were all more than willing to share their knowledge (as I would be). I called only a few, but without exception, they all contracted the project to a firm that specialized in videoconferencing systems -- none had done it internally. I had hoped to turn a $14,000 project into a $7,000 one, thereby having a money-saving feather in my cap, but perhaps it was not to be, at least not this time.

Anyway, after a few hours of research and several phone calls to other IT professionals, and not being any closer to a system recommendation and cost estimate than I was before, I decided to make the following recommendation: I think we should call in a consultant, someone who specializes in videoconferencing systems.

In the end, that's exactly what we did -- and after watching the installation process, I'm glad I decided to pass the project on to others. It took two people two days to complete the installation, which involved mounting the cameras and display; routing the cables through the walls, above the ceiling, under the floor, and through the conference table leg; and completing the configuration and testing. The only thing I was involved in was providing some of the configuration information, such as IP adressing and such. What we ended up with is a very nice Polycom VSX 7000 Video Conferencing System, one that's much better and more professional than one I could have put together myself.

Although I do have a tendency to want to do most things myself, I do ocassionally pass the job on to others. This is one time I'm glad I did.

How about you? Do you always try to do it yourself, or do you contract out certain projects? And what can you share with the TR community about your experience with videoconferencing systems?

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21 comments
juan_milano
juan_milano

Muy Buenas tardes, es cierto en algunos momentos uno debe llamar a alguien para que nos socorra... y en cierto modo es realidad y muchas veces como se muestra fue mucho menos complicado para el encargado del proyecto

enquiries
enquiries

Mike Meyers, the world's most famous A+ teacher and writer, says, in his coursebook, that the best indicator of a good technician is someone who knows exactly when to call in the expert.

JCitizen
JCitizen

I don't mind hiring contractors to do jobs that quite frankly would cost more if I did it myself; just in man-hours alone! But when it comes to designing and building the data facilities, I get very picky, and always build my own racks and control boards. After all I'm the one that is going to have to troubleshoot and maintain them and I probably know what's best for my situationl.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

When I started out in "IT", it was almost possible to know everything about everything. There were only so many technologies and products to choose from applicable to small businesses. Those days pretty much disappeared with shoulder pads and leg warmers. I think that if you're going to a big box computer store for advice about implementing a multi-thousand dollar solution, that's a good sign that what you really need is another consultant with experience in the area you are dealing with. I know that's often difficult to admit or to sell a client on. But the alternative is certainly worse; a solution that is awkward and cheap, or one that is expensive and yet doesn't deliver.

reisen55
reisen55

A colleague of mine, a talented genius in many ways, promised a new account (brand new) that he could install Voice over IP phones. I do not do phones. He has never done them either but he believed his technical genius could overcome this slight barrier to knowledge. I would have recommended a phone consultant. But, my colleague made this commitment without my knowledge, spent $ 600 of his own dime on phones and promptly destroyed the phone network of a lawyer. The last word has vast ramifications. It almost went legal, but my colleague then had to put in about a hundred hours of his own time to restore horrible feelings to fair, may get a check. In the meantime, I am out of income and the reference from a new niche has been destroyed. I do server backups, support, workstations, etc. A corporate IT department. And I would have called in a phone consultant too.

swane04
swane04

I have to agree with Tink. Yes, I also try to do everything myself, but our company has grown to such an extent that I cannot cope anymore with all the different apps we are running, over and above the new projects. Joe - I "still" have to setup a VC and I opted for the Polycom 6400. The project is on hold at the moment because the cost on our side has shot up because of the exchange rates. Neverless, why did you opt for the 7000? Ettienne

rmlounsbury
rmlounsbury

I'm a 1-man shop for a company of 110 and more often then not I farm out projects if for no other reason than I never have enough time. I have acknowledged that I'm good with servers and data networks but that is the limit of my knowledge when it comes to comfort of "doing it myself." In most other scenarios (especially video & telco) I write a request for information and grab as many bids as I can while collaborating with my colleagues in the industry on what they did. Based on their input, the submitted bids, and a little research I select a contractor and set them free. Probably the most difficult aspect (and also on the flip side most enjoyable) of being in an IT shop for a small but growing company is that every one assumes you know everything and can get it done with a snap of the fingers. Thanks to my current job I have been exposed to things I never thought I would and it has even altered my choices about my career going forward.

Tink!
Tink!

If I can't do it, then I look elsewhere for help (why do you think I found TR? :D ) I must say that in a small company bringing in consultants is usually a very last resort. They don't want to pay high fees to get a job done. I do everything I can using all the resources available to me. When I run into a brick wall that I can't climb, I will bring this to the boss' attention. Doesn't necessarily mean a consultant will be brought in. Sometimes the job just sits until I have more time to invest in research. :)

Gate keeper
Gate keeper

Nice article. Im in a similar situation I am the lone IT guy for an engineering consulting firm ... and i try to do IT projects as well as any IT related aspects of the engineering contracts ... at the moment I am the field engineer for a large scale industrial IT project that my company is working on .. and Im also trying to roll out microsoft project server internally .... im loving the job but the stress is crazy

Mindspiel
Mindspiel

Hi Joe, my name is Mario and same as you I'm one man IT department, sys. admin., IT manager, network admin, domain, dns, database and everything else that touch IT at some point. Currently we have > 200 people. I cant remember when i have free time for coffee or cigar. When new project arrive i always try to find mix of best and quickest way to achieve goals. If that means some outsource...let it be. At the very beginning of my IT career i was always trying to do all the job by my self. But in the end, approaching jobs in that way result in lots of stress and slow realizations of projects. Its not matter are we capable of something or not, i know my skills and limitations, we are capable for many things, we will learn in process if that is needed, but to know, to ask for others, for their help is critical for success. kind regards, Mario P.S. whats your experience with Polycom VSX 7000. Is everything you expected?

Joe_R
Joe_R

Re: the original piece http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/helpdesk/?p=307 How about you? Do you always try to do it yourself, or do you contract out certain projects? And what can you share with the TR community about your experience with video conferencing systems?

info
info

As a subcontractor of IT contractors? What would be a good way to assess what the rates should be to the agency you are subing for?

Joe_R
Joe_R

That's what I wanted to avoid. The size and scope of the project did get greater the more I looked into it. At first, we discussed something more simple and for very limited use. As time went by, however, I decided that I wanted to avoid [i]a solution that is awkward and cheap[/i]. Thanks for posting

Joe_R
Joe_R

Thanks for posting

Joe_R
Joe_R

That's why I found it as well. Thanks for posting.

Senior Program Analyst
Senior Program Analyst

Agreed, As I started and my position grew (combining several people into just me) I quickly realized that I couldnt do it all and started "managing" outsources for specific tasks and projects. I always keep my foot in the project so i can learn from these experts as well as give them guidance as to better ways for our needs when i see it. Lately my issue isnt in when to hand it off to outsource but in getting reliable outsources. My work seems to have tripled this past year or two simply because I have to continually call when promised times are up and have no word, Have to double check the work to be sure it was done to my needs (often having them return because something still isnt working). Its a killer to have to track many different projects in many fields of service with several outsources when a promised delivery or tech appearance a few weeks out doesnt happen. The rescheduling, payment tracking, the leading around the location to techs that don't know our site because the "normal" tech cant make it etc. Is a real headache. What happened to the term "Customer Service?"

rmlounsbury
rmlounsbury

I know what you are saying all to well Mario! I am also at the beginning of my career and have found this to be the best opportunity to further my knowledge and experience. This often leads to me getting head deep into a project that I really needed to out source. I remember the day we switched over to our new data network... I had everything in place and setup correctly but the scope of the transition was simply to large for 1 person to do all at once. I learned a valuable lesson that day!

Somewhat anonymous
Somewhat anonymous

It's my goal to get someone else to do almost all of my work . . . haha Seriously, I think my predecessor had this DIY ethic that just didn't work for our office. I think it's hard for people to admit when they don't know how to do something, especially when their boss doesn't know how to do it either but just wants it done with no excuses. But me, I am not proud -- I just want to get something that works so my job is as much being resourceful as anything.

StealthWiFi
StealthWiFi

Any company has to know when to pass it onto more experianced people. In Fact lots of large companies are the ones who have the most consultants. The small shop is more likely to have a well experianced Admin who just wants to slow things down and brings with them all that experiance. Cheers,

Joe_R
Joe_R

Any suggestions?

chris.briggs
chris.briggs

I found that the small shops are the ones that cannot afford to hire the experienced administrators. I have just finished 2 years at a local technical school (BCIT) and was hired right into a full time position as the only administrator at a small (about 50 users) size company. I had two days to absorb any experience from the previous admin and then I was on my own. I am noticing a lack of documentation here. Enough of my sob story though, the point is that I appreciate every bit of the advice I get from TR but to claim that the smaller companies have the more experienced people is wrong. They _should_ have the more experienced people, on this I can agree, but to be 19 and in my position is an excellent opportunity so I cannot complain.