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All businesses, big and small, require IT support when their software or hardware breaks down. However, few small businesses can afford the wages of a full-time technical employee. Only approximately 4% of small businesses or businesses with 10 or fewer employees hire a full-time IT employee. So how do these businesses fix the technology that breaks?

Most small businesses outsource IT support, and many service provision firms have capitalized on this trend. OnForce Inc., for example, acts like a reserve auction for small businesses by connecting them with IT support companies. This company maintains access to more than 10,000 IT providers. When small businesses place a “work order” with a proposed price, the local IT companies can accept, reject, or counteroffer. OnForce makes $11 on each transaction, plus 10% of the total charges once the work is completed.

But bigger brands, such as Dell and Best Buy, also are growing their IT support divisions. Best Buy operates a “store within a store” for Geek Squad, which offers consultation and installation services. It maintains a fixed prices schedule for the different support services it provides to small businesses. Although Geek Squad represents part of a large network with a great depth of knowledge, some clients resist its offerings, because they prefer not to have to work with a different IT employee each time they face a problem.

In the growing industry for IT support geared at small businesses, customers value a close relationship with a technical support person. It may be convenient to use a company like Geek Squad, located in every Best Buy store, but these technicians also reveal their bias toward Best Buy products, which may or may not be the best solution for the small company.

Discussion Questions:

1. What are the advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing technical support?

2. What benefits does an intermediary such as OnForce provide for small businesses?

Raymund Flandez, “Managing Technology–In Search of Help: For Small Firms Seeking IT Services, the Choices Have Never been More Varied—or More Confusing,” The Wall Street Journal, March 19, 2007.