3 ways to scale development and IT operations in small businesses

There frequently comes a time when a business glances at its tiny dev operations and realises that it’s just not cutting it. Nowadays businesses have so many opportunities in the digital space, from consumer apps, customer/technical support channels, all the way to internal systems and tools. And yet, despite the advantages these bring, many SMEs neglect their IT departments and fail to capitalise on the new channels for customer engagement and continuous deployment of internal software and platforms that are so widespread today.

But what if you’re looking to expand?

What can you do if you want to take part in these expanding opportunities and potentially even revolutionise the way your business operates? Well, here’s a quick list of ways to expand your dev operations so you can start producing cool apps for your customers and bespoke systems that actually work.

1) Hire new staff members

You, as a business owner, know all about the staff recruitment process, and we all know that it can be a royal pain sometimes, but it can have some benefits. For instance, any employees you hire can be well integrated with the company’s vision and values, something which is a little harder to achieve when using external contractors. On top of this, you’re going to be getting dedicated personnel working full time for you which you absolutely can’t take for granted if going open source or crowdsourcing. These benefits added to the fact that you can chat with your employees face to face and have open discussions about their work, mean hiring new staff members is one of the optimum methods for outputting the highest quality work at the highest speed.

Despite all this, the downside to this method of dev resource expansion is the cost. Not only do you have to pay full salaries or wages to these devs, but you also frequently have to buy their equipment and allocate office space for them. Couple this with a potentially limited skill pool in your locale (not often a problem in larger cities) and the arduous hiring process, and it may not be worth your while. Another thing to consider with hiring staff members is the consistency of work. Are you only really in need of expanded dev resources for a short period of time or on a flexible basis? If so, perhaps other solutions listed below would be more appropriate.

Pros
  • Highly committed workers
  • High-quality work
  • Face-to-face contact & lots of communication time improves projects
  • Can incorporate company values and vision
Cons
  • High cost
  • Inflexible
  • Hiring process can be long and costly
  • Talent pool limited to location

2) Go open source or crowdsource

We’ll take a look now at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Going open source or crowdsourcing. The essential idea here is that you’re using external experts dedicating their spare time to your project. The beauty of this is that it’s completely free and you can be pretty ambitious with the scope of the project whilst remaining flexible with how many resources you need and when. The catch is that generally, whether crowd or open-sourced, the results of their work need to be released in some way back to the public. So while you may not choose to do this for commercial products, it’s certainly advantageous in the creation of, for instance, internal tools which other businesses may need. That’s not to say you can’t monetise the project either through hosting the solution for third parties or providing support for the product or service, but you often have to be a little more inventive with monetisation techniques and plan from the start how you’re going to do it.

There are some relatively large drawbacks that come with this strategy and they mainly revolve around the people and communication element of working with experts all over the world dedicating their spare time. The first issue to consider is the speed and quality of the work. Many people working on your project in their spare time, even if you introduce an incentive scheme, will be considerably slower and less enthusiastic about working for you in their evenings and weekends. Generally, thanks to the sheer number of people on the internet, stuff does get done, but it’s slow and often fraught with refactoring and reworks. Communicating regularly with these contributors can be tricky too thanks to the fluid nature of these kinds of projects, so having someone on your side with a good knowledge of and an ability to execute highly agile methodologies is an absolute must.

Pros
  • Completely free
  • Flexible
  • Large talent pool online
Cons
  • Project management can be tough
  • Can be slow relying on the public
  • Communication can be tricky
  • Can be hard ensure the highest quality of work

3) Outsource

Having looked at the two ends of the spectrum, we’ll look at a happy medium in the form of outsourcing. Outsourcing (including offshoring) can strike that perfect balance of cost, quality and dedication. As with hired employees, outsourced workers will work for you full time during the course of the arrangement, but unlike staff members, there’s the flexibility to utilise these external teams as and when you need them allowing you to have periods of increased production (say, just before a big release) followed by a reduction in capacity throughout the product’s lifecycle and then eventually bringing it to a close at end of life (EOL), or start all over again, it’s your call! Moreover, the talent you hire can be vetted easily, but you also have the option of leaving it to whichever agency you decide to go through, and as an added benefit, you certainly don’t have to worry about your geographical location.

All that said, you still always have to take into consideration issues surrounding communication and project management. Non-colocated teams are always going to have slightly reduced communication compared to colocated teams, at the best of times, so always keep in mind that regular team chats, calls and even texts, are incredibly important.

Pros
  • Low cost
  • Fast hiring process
  • Access to highly talented workforce
  • High work rate, quality and productivity
  • Flexible
Cons
  • Communication must be kept on top of
  • Can be hard to transfer company values and vision

Conclusion

In summary, it really depends on the current state of your business which route you take. All are viable, but some more than others depending on your circumstances. Have the budget to spare, extra office space and consistent work for the foreseeable future? Go through the hiring process. Have no budget, aren’t interested in speed and see a space in the public domain for the project? Go open source or crowdsource. And finally, if you’re somewhere in between and have a relatively small budget and varying projects over the coming months and years, then outsourcing is your best bet.

I hope this has been helpful and offered some insight into how you might be able to expand your dev and IT operations, let me know your thoughts in the comments below or get in touch using the form, also below.

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