For integrators, there’s been a bit of an ego around growing the number of full-time employees in an organization. Why? Because the concept of having more employees typically correlates with more revenue and perhaps more cache.
For some, there’s a desire to keep everything in house: Finding the most capable lead installers (even as a union shop) and hiring more engineers and programmers to code for DSPs, control systems, and videoconferencing systems. Part of this desire comes from wanting to control resources. But part of it comes from ego – being able to tell clients how well staffed you are. But, today, how important is that? Finding contract and freelance workers may be a better way to grow, adapt, and scale quickly.
Outsourcing found its way into the business a while ago. First, outsourcing was considered for installation – mostly to deal with issues of seasonality. Second, outsourcing has been used as the popularity of control systems has grown. Because most integrators have a small staff of programmers, it became common to outsource coding to allow concurrent control system projects.
Today, technology moves much faster – especially as it pertains to code and IT. The understanding of TCP/IP is more important every day. Wireless has also become a critical topic for commercial integrators. Making time for employee training is hard when you’re busy doing work. This creates a conundrum: You need to make time to train staff without compromising your ability to get jobs done.
If you have the right type of contract and freelance network, however, this need becomes less disruptive. With more freelance workers out there, the onus moves from the integrator to the independent contractor to be up to speed on every programming, configuration, and installation technique. You can vet certifications, but don’t necessarily have to pay for and manage certifications. This gives you the ability to have best-of-breed talent for each job while also knowing you’ll never be stuck on working only with certain equipment because that’s the only knowledge that lives “in house.”
The challenge is to find the right mix of freelancers and build a deeper bench. If you have enough contacts, you can just-in-time the workers for projects, minimize downtime, and maximize profitability. If you can’t keep utilization over 80% for an installer, programmer, or engineer, then maybe outsourcing is your best bet. If you can’t commit to regularly training and educating your staff, then you may have another reason to look beyond your full-time employees for the help you need.
It’s time to put staff headcount aside and think about what’s good for business. A good outsourced relationship may be exactly what you need to grow. –Dan Newman, Cofounder of V3*Broadsuite