5 lessons small IT shops can teach the big guys

Thanks to anything-as-a-service options, tiny IT departments can be just as strong as big ones and more nimble, too

The new mantra of IT seems to be "do more with less," but how does that work in practice? Is it possible for CIOs to slim down their IT staffs and still meet the high expectations of business users?

To get the answers, we talked with a half-dozen CIOs who run IT shops that are small by design, with a dozen or so employees. Even more than their bigger counterparts, these shops are using cloud computing, SaaS and outsourcing to offload infrastructure tasks and focus on the essentials of the business.

"This is a golden era for small IT departments," says Reed Sheard, CIO at Santa Barbara, Calif.'s Westmont College, who manages a staff of 15. "With the cloud, I can do things now that only shops with lots of people and money could do before. Now I can play at an enterprise level. It's a huge opportunity."

These leaders of small departments offer five pieces of advice that even big shops can learn from, relating to agility, prioritization, staffing and vendor management.

1. Small makes agility easier – sometimes

For the head of a small IT department, "the opportunity to be nimble exists to a much larger degree than in a multinational corporation," says Sheard. "I can get everybody in the same room at once."

It's not just proximity to staff; it's also the proximity to the business. "It's our responsibility to empower the college's larger mission. That proximity to the heartbeat of the organization is advantageous because I can walk across the hall or across campus in just a few minutes to have a meeting."

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