Right-sizing your telecom team

Is your telecom department overstaffed? If you’re like many of my clients, you’ve been asked that quite a bit recently — usually by higher-ups looking to cut costs.

No surprises here: That’s a pretty universal sentiment. The IT budget of virtually everyone I’m speaking with is flat or declining for 2009/2010. So how big should a telecom department be?

First, some baseline metrics. The ratio of IT staffers to employees is anywhere from 1:37 (for very small companies) to 1:77 (for those with more than 10,000 employees). Seventy-three per cent of all companies have separate telecom/communications teams. And the percentage of telecom staffers to IT staffers ranges from three per cent (large companies) to 37 per cent (small companies).

That’s a pretty big swing, so let me explain: Except for the smallest companies — those that have one or two IT generalists — there are at least a few dedicated telecom staffers. If your total IT team is, say, seven, you’re likely to have two to three folks that spend some or all of their time on networking issues — which gives you that 37 per cent figure.

But if you’re an organization with thousands of IT employees, chances are that only a few percent are on the telecom team. Keep in mind that these are general numbers; the optimal size varies across verticals and by factors such as user types and the degree of geographic dispersion of the company.

So back to the question at hand: Is your telecom department overstaffed? Probably not. I’ve done several staffing assessments for clients in recent weeks, and I’ve been somewhat surprised to see how closely they map to optimal for their organizational sizes and types. A lot depends on what specific humans are doing, though — and as they say, the devil’s in the details. Some of the typical functions that a telecom team handles include data networking (configuring and managing routers); voice networking (configuring, installing and supporting phones); carrier services management and procurement; cellular management; and billing validation.

That’s all well and good, but it leaves out some of the most critical IT initiatives that many companies are launching: VoIP, mobility, unified communications (UC) and security. Very few organizations have a dedicated communications security staffer — or even someone who serves as the go-to person for communications security.

With respect to UC, the project is increasingly driven by folks in the desktop or messaging groups –which I believe is a mistake. And when it comes to VoIP and mobility, it’s critical to have someone on board with emerging applications.

So the question you really should be asking isn’t whether your telecom team is overstaffed. It’s whether your folks are doing the right things. Are your voice and data folks working on a VoIP strategy? Do you have someone assuming responsibility for security? Someone handling emerging applications (both wired and mobile)?

If the answer is yes, chances are that you can feel pretty good about the size and focus of your telecom team. If not — you know what to do.

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