Why Tools Don’t Fix Problems

How do you spend your time and why? Have you filled your days with work, errands and odd jobs just because, at some point, you developed the belief that DIY is always smarter than delegating? This post re-evaluates that belief, starting with a practical example: lawn care. From there, I’ll bring the concept of DIY versus using a service into the world of IT.

Where I live, lawn care services cost about $100 per month, or $900 per year (assuming the lawn needs to be mowed 9 months a year). We can compare this with the DIY approach I have been using.

Do-it-yourself:

I have always maintained my own yard (mowing, edging, weeding, etc.) because, 20+ years ago, I decided I didn’t want to spend money outsourcing something I could do myself. Back then, this made sense. I was saving myself roughly $900 a year by not hiring a service. But life has since changed, and it’s time to revisit my decision’s underlying assumptions and costs.

Here’s what I found when I recalculated:

One-time costs:

  • Lawn Mower: $300
  • Edger: $115
  • Trimmer: $70
  • Blower: $50
  • Total: $535 one-time

Yearly costs:

  • Gas: $95. Based on one gallon an hour usage (at $2.60 per gallon currently, here in the great state of Texas).
  • Trimmer thread: $10. Based on average yearly usage.
  • Edger blades: $5. Based on using up at least one edger blade per year.
  • Equipment maintenance: $50. Based on bringing the mower in at least every few years.
  • Equipment replacement: $50. Based on equipment failure over time.
  • Electricity: $5. This is a total swag guess.
  • Total: $224 a year

It looks like a bargain to do it myself! With an initial investment of $535 and a yearly cost of $224, the investment should pay itself off in about 2 years. Compare that to a $900 per month lawn service! However, there is a big component missing from the above estimate: What is the value of an hour of my time, and how has that changed since I decided 20 years ago to maintain my own lawn? If I spend about 2 hours a week, or 72 hours a year, that’s less than $10 an hour for my time (heck, I could almost make more on an hourly basis writing technical books ).

Buying tools didn’t fix the underlying problem:

When I purchased my tools, it didn’t fix my problem. Owning a lawn mower didn’t mean that my lawn got mowed – it just meant that I had the proper tools to perform the task. I still needed to spend the time required to work with these tools. Additionally, if I wanted to really use the tools well, I would’ve spent time reading the manual, in addition to spending time and money on keeping the tools functional. If I chose not to maintain my own lawn, these tools would just sit in the garage and collect dust.

The same logic applies to IT. Many organizations buy a lot of tools, but very few spend the time needed to maintain and to use their tools optimally.
Tools don’t fix problems – services do.

Benefits of a service:

With the lawn service-based approach, I don’t have to worry about the lawn – it just gets done. And that frees me up time that I can spend on more important things. This is the same concept behind all services, especially when it comes to IT. IT-based services can leverage the tools that you already have (or identify the best tool for your requirements) to accomplish the task at hand. If a company does its job well, you know that the underlying problem will be addressed every month, and that communication with the service provider will focus on what else they can do to help. The primary benefits of a service are:

  1. Peace of mind: You know that the service will take care of what’s required on a monthly basis.
  2. Cost reduction: A service can decrease your underlying costs by lowering costs for infrastructure, software licensing, training and personnel. You can go here for an estimate of how much your own company could save by adopting IT services like User Lifecycle Management.
  3. User Productivity & Employee Experience: User productivity can be increased through removing repetitive tasks and by providing new functionality to end users.
  4. Competitive advantage: Services can provide competitive advantage by increasing time for innovation.
  5. Risk & Compliance: Consistent automated processes can reduce risk by providing new security features and by minimizing human errors.

What services should IT teams be investigating?

As a rule of thumb, the best IT workloads to outsource and automate are your most repetitive, time-consuming tasks that occur frequently. Based on Catapult’s experiences, we recommend investigating services to assist with the lifecycles of Windows 10 systems, servers and users. Learn more in my recent post covering the top 5 best IT workloads to automate.

Summary: If you aren’t leveraging services within your IT organization (or at home) it may be worth considering! Put 15 or 30 minutes on my calendar to continue this discussion.

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