By JOHN CHARNOVICH, special to Local Tech Wire

Editor’s note: This is the latest in a series of "Executive Insight" columns, a regular feature for Local Tech Wire as part of its partnership with the and . John Charnovich has 25 years of technology leadership experience across Start-up, SMB and Fortune 100 enterprises and is a partner at TecExecs.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Recently, I had a meeting with a prospective outsourcing, cloud partner to see how we might be able to create a working relationship. I was somewhat surprised when they told me the following:

• Their small and medium (SMB) clients don’t really need much IT strategy.

• These SMB clients are primarily interested only in support packages that offload all IT functions.

• Most would not be willing to pay for an upfront assessment to perform due diligence and evaluation by an independent, unbiased consultant before selecting a soup-to-nuts IT provider.

Is this really true? And if so, shouldn’t SMB IT decision makers take the time and effort to understand which partner has the right capabilities, the right culture and the right service levels to support their company? After all, in North Carolina alone, there are approximately 200 such companies that might be the best option, but you’ll never benefit from these choices if you perform minimal internal research and rely on the input of only a few providers.

There is also a strong probability that a decision maker taking the minimalist approach won’t negotiate the best long-term deal. Can you really trust a partner’s input only and get the best outcome—when their business depends on maximizing the fee they earn on a monthly, recurring basis?

Market Research Shows SMBs Need Help To Reign In IT Costs

Of course, all successful companies work hard at creating and keeping satisfied customers, and while most of these firms I know firsthand have a qualified staff of IT professionals, their expertise primarily resides in handling the day-to-day support operations and the tactical aspects of IT. With the exception of a few larger, enterprise players, many of these outsourcing providers do not help companies to continually optimize, wring complexities and cost out of their IT budgets, make smart IT investments, or create a balanced IT roadmap.

How do I know this? For one, I have engaged in a number of outsourcing initiatives, both as a CIO customer and a provider, and I know from experience that unless contracts incorporate these clauses and requirements, only the minimum gets executed. Furthermore, a recent April 15th article published in the IT Value Challenge—which also references a 2009 Gartner study on “dead” IT investment and percentage of revenue IT spending by company size—suggests there is a serious problem. The article states that SMB’s IT spend is more than two times the investment of their larger counterparts.

The Value of An Independent IT Consultant And An Enterprise View Of Technology Spend

Maybe this difference can be attributed to the need to have a baseline IT infrastructure in place for any business, and those with less revenue end up with a higher comparative percentage of IT spending. But let’s face it, SMBs are generally less complex than their larger counterparts, and with outsourcing and cloud companies widely available, an argument can be made that IT expenditures should be lower for SMBs. These companies should have minimum IT infrastructure and application technology on-premise, anyway, as they must be nimble and able to change direction quickly, and only as they mature will they identify competitive IT needs.

I suspect a lot of these dismal IT spending statistics are being driven by SMB executives who do not understand the true value proposition of using independent, unbiased IT consultants across a range of strategy, assessment or due diligence processes or the resulting ROI that pays dividends overtime. These decisions are short-sighted and solely aimed at limiting IT spending; however, the bigger picture suggests that the reverse is occurring.

While you may be able to outsource your entire IT infrastructure and support, are you getting the maximum return on your technology investment and managing total enterprise IT costs? I doubt most company’s technology investment strategies are adequate if the average SMB spends more than six to seven percent on IT. Did you strike a deal with an outsourcing partner that delivers limited or sub-optimized IT strategy? Now that you are dependent for most of your IT function, can you create new IT capabilities, reduce costs and complexities and optimize the enterprise over the longer term horizon across your company’s IT infrastructure, applications and business processes? Or do you expect your partner to continually provide these results?

Are Your IT Costs Higher Than They Should Be?

Market research by Gartner, the IT Value Challenge and many others identify that significant opportunities exist to reduce IT costs across many SMB companies and market averages advocate a segment of these companies already outsource a large portion of their infrastructure. Perhaps it makes sense to periodically bring in that independent, third party IT pro to holistically review your total IT budget, recommend opportunities to create competitive advantages, and optimize your IT capabilities whether outsourced or not.

Or maybe it’s time to hold your partner accountable for more than just providing day-to-day support. Either way, it’s time for a change and a reduction in SMB IT costs. If you have an interest in exploring ways to reduce total IT spending in your company or want to leverage some free unbiased advice, please visit Outsourcing-Cloud Migration Roadmap and download our white paper.

About the author: John Charnovich has 25 years of technology leadership experience across Start-up, SMB and Fortune 100 enterprises and is a partner at TecExecs, a leading provider of IT and software business consulting services that maximize the ROI, TCO and productivity of technology investments. Previously, Charnovich was the chief customer officer at Kineticsware, Inc, a global consumer goods software company, and was responsible for all client facing and operations before its acquisition by Upside Commerce.