Business drives staffing changes

If there's no doubt in your mind that your department needs more bodies, what's the best way to justify a request for additional personnel? With the increasing emphasis on tying IT to business needs, linking staffing increases to the long-term business goals of the enterprise may be your best bet.

"IT organisations need to drive toward more business-based models and need to be able to couch things in business terms," says Malcolm Slovin, a vice president at the Meta Group.

In many cases, this means tying the request for extra staff to the skills and personnel needed to accomplish a specific project.

"We try to hire as many people as we think it takes to get projects done in a reasonable amount of time," says David Clarke, CIO of W.L. Gore and Associates. "It's not so much head count as Ôdo we have all the skills covered?' "Kevin Horton of Bank One is another IT manager who bases staff increases on project requirements.

"We want to expand our intranet and do some Web page design, and it's one of these projects I can't get done," Horton said. "The only answer for me is to go out and get another body."

When planning staffing for projects, don't think only about the short term.

A key to staffing success is to plan ahead and clearly define business goals, says David Foote, a managing partner at US consultancy Cromwell Foote and Partners.

"You have to plan 12 months in advance and work closely with human resources," Foote said. "You need a strategic view of how your staff ties in with your company's overall philosophies."

Jeff Rios, manager of interactive services for the Good Guys retail chain in the US, also empha-sises long-term goals when requesting personnel increases.

"Then you can justify hiring the person now and getting them up to speed, not only on the technology, but also on who you are as an organisation and the culture of the company," Rios says.

For IT managers who want a more quantitative view of how many staff members their department needs, some consulting companies offer reports on standard ratios of staff to users, especially for areas such as help desk staff. However, many IT managers say these models are helpful only when they are specific to their company.

"[Staffing models are] based on surveys of other companies, and we don't necessarily strive to do things the way everybody else does," Clarke said.

One alternative to off-the-shelf staffing models is to hire a third-party consultant to examine your specific needs. Steven Striebel, branch manager at Computer People, says some of his customers were convinced they needed to increase their IT staffs after having an outside company assess their staffing situation.

When all is said and done, staffing levels are often directly tied to a company's overall budgetary considerations.

"IT needs to justify the dollars they are spending now," Slovin says. "Without this, it's very difficult for IT to ask for more staff."

But IT managers and other industry experts warn that the cost of rectifying a current staffing problem may be less than the cost of ignoring it.

"If you're short on head count, you're driving your people extra hard and you're probably getting more turnover as a direct result -- which makes you even shorter," Striebel says.

Margaret Steen contributed to this article.

Tips for justifying IT staff increases

Determine the business value new personnel will have for the enterpriseBase the increase on an individual project or group of projectsEstablish a pool of fresh talent for future needsHire consultants to assess specific staffing requirementsUse industry-specific staffing research to determine appropriate levelsTie the request to your organisation's long-term business goals