For many dealers, the prospect of adding managed IT to their company is a logical next step. For the sales department, it means adding a new talk track and developing some specialists to help close the business.
It does give a dealer the ability to better position themselves to manage and retain their current customers. It may also provide a competitive advantage in the sales process. However, a typical copier and printer service department will face significant challenges in supporting managed IT.
Separate or Integrated… or Partnered
The first step in moving into managed IT is to decide how you are going to handle IT support. Is it something that will be managed and operated through the service department, or will it be a separate department? Will you handle all customer support internally, or will you outsource some or all of the support?
This is a decision that will vary by dealership. If you currently have a help desk operation, provide all of your own internal network support and currently support third party applications, it may be that you can successfully support your client’s IT infrastructure as well.
Typically to provide the complete support package, you will need to have network engineers, 24-hour help desk support, and a staff that has computer hardware and networking backgrounds.
If you are going to develop your own support in house, then the decision will need to be made about how to manage it. Is this going to be part of the service department? In most cases you will be better served by creating a separate department for managed IT. None of the service department’s metrics will work for managed IT, and the pay scale for managed IT technicians will be significantly different.
For most dealers, this is going to be beyond their current ability and probably not ever going to be cost effective. A partnership with a larger organization will be the best option. There are several national companies that copier dealers can partner with to private label support. This would allow you to provide the service without the large investment.
Finding the right technicians may be your biggest challenge. Once you have determined how you are going to go about providing the support, then you will need to work on acquiring or training staff to provide the needed support.
Most of your current technicians are not going to be qualified to service a client’s computer networks. They will not have the needed training, and most won’t have either the desire or aptitude to make the transition. This leaves you with the need to hire new staff.
There are several differences between hiring for the copier/printer group and the IT group. The biggest will be the pay expectations. Young people coming out of school with an IT interest will be expecting starting wages that could approach what your most experienced copier technician is earning. They will also look at the work environment and management practices from a different perspective. All of these factors will make the hiring process challenging.
In the IT environment certifications will be very important. The absolute minimum would be A+, Net+, and Security+ for a low level IT support person. These are items that I would use as a pre-requisite to hiring someone. Your organization will also need to either develop or hire individuals with advanced certificates. This would include Cisco, Microsoft, and other certifications depending on what service you are providing your clients.
There are a variety of schools available to provide this training, usually on-line. These schools will typically last longer and cost more than the training provided by a copier manufacturer.
As I mentioned previously, the IT support staff is going to have very different expectations. To hire quality people, you are going to have to compete in the market place. To further complicate matters, each new certification that your staff obtains will make them more valuable in that market place.
You can get an idea of the potential salary range for technicians by searching online. A reference from CompTIA, a non-profit IT professionals trade association providing certifications and business credentials, education and resources, said that the average salary for an A+ certified technician was about $50K. That certification would be the minimum useful certification.
Planning will be the Key
While there are significant challenges in providing the necessary service and support that managed IT will require, it is possible. For most dealers this means finding a qualified partner, or acquiring a company that provides network support.
Whatever approach you take will require a plan. Take the time to create a viable plan that address the path forward, the personnel, training, and processes to really succeed in the managed IT arena.