Twenty years ago, the vast majority of you would not have had a computer in your company. Now, you probably have loads of computers, networked together and linked into the outside world via the internet.

In short, we all depend very heavily on IT. Some of the major viruses spread this year have stopped company’s networks for several days, which can be enormously damaging to business. Your company cannot afford to have your IT system out of action for very long; the question for all of us is how best to manage that? Unless you have especially intensive IT needs, your basic requirements will probably be to set up a simple network, install new equipment from time to time, back up the data regularly, and provide support to staff when problems arise. For most businesses of 20 to 30 people, this probably doesn't need a full time network manager. More IT intensive companies will have their own needs which probably fall beyond the scope of this article. There are a number of firms who will install new equipment for you, and you can also get ongoing maintenance and support from specialist businesses. Bringing IT in-house As your business grows, at some stage it will probably make sense to bring your IT service in house, primarily so you can provide your staff with a speedy response to issues, rather than waiting for hours every time you need to call an engineer out. You will need to weigh up the costs of the delay in solving problems versus the costs of employing someone yourself full time. Be aware that some of the value to this may be hidden: you may well find that many of your staff are spending quite a bit of time fixing, or being frustrated by, IT problems. Hiring an in-house IT person may free up a lot of normal staff time as well as saving the third party support contract fee. When you are ready to hire someone full time, what sort of person should you hire? Almost certainly your first full time IT person should be qualified with the type of network which you run – probably Microsoft, Novell or Apple. The most common network today is Microsoft's Windows, and you should look for the qualification MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer). There are different versions of each network, with new upgrades every few years; you should make sure that whoever you hire is up to date with the version that your company uses. Someone with that qualification and several years' practical experience should be quite capable of setting up and maintaining normal office systems. As your business grows further, you will probably need to add further IT staff, although not all of them need be qualified in the same way. Much of the support work involves setting up new PCs and printers, and addressing problems that arise without needing a lot of network knowledge to solve.

As a general rule of thumb, you probably should have one IT person for every 50 employees, assuming fairly normal office usage. Obviously if some of your 50 staff don't use PCs at all or very often, you should adjust the number to fit your business.