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Do You Need A Full-time Computer Professional?
by Jeff Brandenburg

It is always challenging for a small business owner or manager to hire a new employee for a position that has not existed before. The challenge is even greater when the new hire will be responsible for the company’s IT (information technology) systems and infrastructure.

Jim Hartmann, Clifton Gunderson Partner specializing in agribusiness, says managers of cooperatives, farm equipment dealers, fertilizer and chemical services and others farm-related enterprises are finding themselves in this very position. In order to grow, they must explore new ways to leverage their technology investment. In small to midsized operations, that may mean hiring a full-time IT professional.

“At some point, the person who has always been responsible for computers may find it difficult to keep up with new demands and new developments,” Hartmann says. “When this lack of experience or expertise hinders growth, it’s time to make a move.”

Recognizing the Need

The first question is, “How do I know when it’s time to hire a full time information technology manager?”

Hartmann says the timing can depend on strategic goals, competitive pressure, capital and other factors. He says symptoms can include:

  • System downtime interferes regularly with normal business operations
  • Sales, marketing and customer service suffer from the lack of timely technical support
  • Growth is hampered by software and hardware limitations
  • Data security and privacy issues surface
  • The annual fees of an outside consultant exceed the expected salary of an in-house professional

Describing the Ideal Candidate

The right person for this position may already be on your staff, but unless that person is willing to devote their full attention to IT, you should look outside your organization. You should also be prepared to advertise the position, especially online where the pool of qualified candidates can be huge.

On resumes and in interviews, look for these skills —

  • Good communication skills — Although this is no substitute for technical know-how and experience, a great technician who can’t communicate is going to create more problems than he or she solves.
  • Technical competence — You want an expert who understands the latest hardware and software developments, as well as systems networking and functions.
  • Business sense — An agribusiness background is nice, but it may not be essential for someone who is self- motivated and a quick learner.
  • Management experience — Experience planning, managing, prioritizing and administering projects.
  • Strategic thinking — Understanding of the key role technology plays in the profitability and growth of agribusiness.

Writing the Job Description

Even though the day-to-day duties of your new IT manager may seem far removed from other aspects of your business, he/she should not be kept in the dark. Whenever possible, make him/her part of a team that includes business managers, outside vendors and others with specialized interest in some part of the technology puzzle.

Depending on the size and nature of the business, an IT manager might be expected to perform any of the following duties —

  • Manage network infrastructure to maximize the performance and reliability of network operations
  • Maintain hardware for all users
  • Secure systems and data against external and internal attack
  • Maintain software, including configuration, upgrades and evaluation of new solutions
  • Communicate regularly with management and other members of the technology team
  • Continuously evaluate the effectiveness and productivity of software applications
  • Act as an organization-wide training resource

Be Prepared to Compete

According to the Computer Research Association, enrollment in computer science and engineering programs has fallen by more than 50 percent in the last five years. Fewer students mean fewer graduates, which means greater competition for the best candidates.

Like it or not, your competition is the glamour and glitz of software developers and network administrators in large, urban markets. Sell the rural lifestyle and lower cost of living, and be prepared to pay a competitive salary. You’ll find candidates at every stage of their career who are capable and willing to take on the challenge.

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