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Is Now the Time to Dump Microsoft and Fire Your IT Manager?

A few weeks ago I was doing a research project for a nonprofit organization with thirty employees. I struck up a conversation with the full-time IT person while she set me up with an Outlook account, a tedious process that took almost an hour. She didn’t think it would be possible for me to check email from home on my iMac, because Microsoft Outlook Web Access was probably not compatible.

A few weeks ago I was doing a research project for a nonprofit organization with thirty employees. I struck up a conversation with the full-time IT person while she set me up with an Outlook account, a tedious process that took almost an hour. She didn’t think it would be possible for me to check email from home on my iMac, because Microsoft Outlook Web Access was probably not compatible.

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As we talked, she complained about the high cost of real estate in Southern California; I suggested that she buy a home in Priest Lake, Idaho and manage the organization’s desktops, network and website remotely. I said she should ask her employer for a raise, since telecommuting would save the organization a lot of money.

Later that day, I started wondering how a thirty-person, grant-funded nonprofit can justify employing a full-time IT person. Shouldn’t this valuable salary slot be recaptured and used for a person who serves the organization’s actual mission?

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This is the kind of question that made Bill Gates decide to focus on his philanthropic efforts. Firing the IT person means throwing out a lot of high-margin Microsoft products like Microsoft Exchange Server, products that require an administrator with hardcore expertise. Yet here’s the problem: lose the IT person, and you lose corporate email, the ability to share files, calendars and to do lists, and the only person who knows how to update the company website.

Enter a new crop of startup companies flying under the radar of Web 2.0 hype, which thus far has been focused on the B2C space. Built on the twin pillars of open-source codebase and cheap bandwidth, B2B providers are offering enterprise-class hosted applications at bargain basement prices. Sorry, I said that in corporate-speak. Again: scrappy companies are creating heavy-duty software, hosting it on powerful servers, and offering small businesses a chance to use it for a low monthly fee.

Instead of funding a huge software project, the small business owner simply rents time on a standardized system, with costs spread across thousands of users. Instead of buying software, you run web-based software. Your PC becomes the terminal, and your service provider acts as the “mainframe.”

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Sound confusing? It isn’t. It’s actually liberating. Some of these products can get your staff excited about IT again, bringing a new level of creativity into your organization while adding security and data redundancy that your full-time IT person negleted to implement.

Friday’s post will present a case study: a thirty person market research company whose CEO wants to fire the IT person and dump Microsoft. I’ll talk to experts in the field and recommend a six-pack of hosted services for email, collaboration, sales, blogging, and secure document publishing. The goal: to create a fast, cheap, flexible IT ecosystem that requires neither servers nor administrators in-house.

In the meantime, post a comment here if you have some tips on how our hypothetical CEO should get started.

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