Blended IT: What it is and its benefit for you

Companies are spending more on IT than ever before. That's a good thing, but only if they're spending wisely. A study by Computer Economics revealed that operational budgets for IT have risen to $8,000 per user. Yes, you read that correctly — for every employee in your company, you may be spending $8,000 or more on IT. Much of that is likely being spent on your IT staff — but it doesn't have to be.

More and more companies are discovering the benefits of employing a blended IT workforce. This approach involves utilizing a mix of full-time employees, independent contractors and temporary workers. This approach can benefit your company in a number of ways.

Blended IT staffing strategy

Varied skills and experience

Even the best IT teams are limited in terms of skills and experience. No single IT staff can be expected to have deep expertise in all of the many technologies and tools available today. This problem will become even more acute as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device — allowing employees to use their own computer, smartphone or tablet of their choice, rather than one supplied by the company) becomes the norm. By using a blended IT workforce, you can leverage the abilities and expertise of a much larger and technologically-diverse team to tackle issues that your full-time staff may not be equipped to handle.

Increased operational flexibility

When you're implementing a new technology platform or performing a global systems upgrade, you need all hands on deck. On a typical workday, however, your IT needs are much smaller. With a blended approach to staffing, your IT team can scale according to your business's needs. Leverage a team of contractors when you need them, and scale back to your full-time staff when you don't.
Likewise, a blended IT workforce can reduce the stress on your full-time staff by having contractors on-call outside of normal business hours. When your website goes down at 3AM, your full-time employees won't have to drag themselves out of bed to address the problem. Instead, your on-call contract IT staff can spring into action and solve the issue while your salaried employees  - you know, the ones who have to be there in the morning either way - enjoy a good night's sleep.

Reduced turnover

Keeping your IT team's stress level under control can help you retain top performers. High turnover lowers morale, reduces productivity and increases staffing and training cost. In fact, replacing an employee who makes $75,000 or less incurs an additional cost equal to 20 percent of their annual salary – that’s an extra $14,000.

Decreased overall IT spending

Recruiting, interviewing, hiring and benefits and payroll administration are a drain on your both your HR staff and your bottom line. The true cost of these processes — as well as the lowered productivity during a new hire's training period — may be higher than you imagine.

A Houston Chronicle article noted:

“[A] $75,000-a-year — or $36-per-hour — employee would incur almost $40,000 a year or more than $19 an hour in hard costs. This increases the cost of a full-time employee to more than 50 percent of her annual pay for a total of $115,000 or $55 an hour.”

Contractors, however, cost far less. A blended approach to IT staffing allows you avoid the steep cost of the hiring and training process. Additionally, working with a flexible contingent workforce means you only pay for the time you actually need. You won't pay for downtime. You'll also save on overhead like workspace, supplies, devices and utilities.

Blended IT professionals – a new type of IT skill set

Blended IT, however, means more than just a blended hiring approach. When CIOs use the term "blended IT," they're often referring to a type of IT professional, rather than a staffing strategy. A blended IT professional has a much broader understanding of business goals and needs. These professionals may be generalists with strong communication skills, or they may be specialists in finance, sales support or another business function.  In other words, they pair their IT skills with business-savvy know-how.

Blended IT professionals are already in high demand. Unlike the traditional IT staffers, they don't simply focus on making sure devices and systems are functioning properly. They have the ability and strategic vision to build or buy systems that will best support various business needs. Rather than implementing the cheapest or most convenient billing software, a blended IT executive will work closely with the finance team to understand their unique goals before finding a billing system that suits their needs, not just the IT budget.

One blended IT success story is the re-design of the IT practice at SquareTwo Financial. In a recent CIO.com article, SquareTwo CIO Bill Weeks reported that when he joined the company in 2010, he discovered an IT staff that was completely disengaged with rest of the business.

"The previous CIO had told the IT staff, 'Business people are busy doing business things, and if I catch you talking to them, I'll fire you,'" says Weeks. "That's the exact opposite of what I believe."

Changing that mindset became Weeks’ top priority. He spent the next three years rebuilding and retraining the IT staff with a focus on blended professionals who understood not only IT, but the financial industry and SquareTwo’s business. Even though Weeks reports that it’s an ongoing challenge, the benefits of shifting to a blended IT approach are sure to make it well worth the effort.