What is Staff Augmentation? An Insider’s Guide for IT Leaders

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In today’s fast-paced business environment, many growing companies eventually want to take on projects that require skills or workers beyond those they already have on staff. Advances in technology may be offering exciting new business opportunities. Or, perhaps, your company needs to temporarily explore staff augmentation to meet a pressing deadline.

Whatever the particular driving force may be, you face a choice. Hire new employees who are only needed for a short time or for a particular project, or bring onboard temporary workers who have the required skills.

It normally makes little sense for a company to invest in hiring and onboarding new full-time employees for projects that are of limited duration. So, what’s the alternative? For companies that need workers with specific skills for a limited time, the best approach to fulfilling that requirement may be a process called staff augmentation.

What is Staff Augmentation and How Does it Work?

As the name implies, the term “staff augmentation” refers to augmenting (adding to) your permanent staff with temporary contract employees. These new team members normally have specific skills that the project they work on requires. Those skills may be in short supply (if they exist at all) among your permanent staff. During the time they are on your payroll, these contract workers integrate into your project team just as if they were permanent employees.

You may engage the workers you acquire through staff augmentation on a short-term or long-term basis. But whatever the length of their assignment, it is acknowledged from the beginning that when the project is finished, so is their tenure with your organization. There’s never an issue of “laying off” these workers at the end of the project.

A business typically obtains these temporary team members through a professional staff augmentation company. Such firms have access to a pool of highly skilled individuals they call on. Those individuals then fulfill the requirements of client businesses. The staffing company employs the workers and handles all aspects of hiring, screening, and paying them. The client simply specifies the particular skills and other characteristics they require. The staff augmentation provider identifies and makes available contract workers who meet those requirements. (In the relatively few instances where a worker turns out to not be a good fit, the staff augmentation provider can usually quickly offer a replacement).

Staff Augmentation vs Managed Services

Staff augmentation is sometimes confused with managed services, but the two are actually quite distinct.

Companies traditionally use managed services for their own IT operations. They contract with a Managed Services Provider (MSP). For a monthly fee, the MSP takes responsibility for keeping the business’s IT systems operating, updated, and secure. The key distinguishing feature of the managed services approach is that the MSP essentially takes on the entire responsibility for managing the assigned project and providing results (or deliverables) as specified in a Service Level Agreement (SLA).

With staff augmentation, responsibility for managing the project, and achieving the desired results remains exclusively with the client. The staff augmentation company simply provides individual workers who have the necessary skills to fulfill their role on the project team. The staff augmentation provider assumes all administrative responsibilities related to hiring, paying, and providing benefits for the workers it supplies. But, it has no role in actually managing the project or ensuring its success.

Which Approach is Best for You?

If your aim is to hand off responsibility for your company’s internal IT operations so that your staff can focus exclusively on meeting business goals, a managed services approach will undoubtedly serve you best. If, however, you want to maintain management control of a strategic internally- or externally-focused project, and simply need additional workers or skills, staff augmentation is the better option.

Benefits of Staff Augmentation

Staff augmentation minimizes the time and expense normally associated with identifying, hiring, onboarding, and training new workers. The individuals supplied by the provider already have the skills required to be immediately productive in your project. Of course, orientation regarding project goals and team dynamics must be provided. But no actual training in the skills required for these workers to fulfill their assigned roles is necessary. In other words, once contracted for, they hit the ground running.

Another important benefit of this approach is the flexibility it provides. Quickly staff up to meet current or anticipated needs. Just as quickly, adjust staffing levels and skillsets for new project requirements. In an age in which new business opportunities or threats appear with bewildering rapidity, having the flexibility to quickly redirect your staffing priorities can provide a major competitive advantage.

Staff augmentation can also play a role in helping you maintain the morale of your current staff. By adding temporary team members with specific skills, you remove pressure for current employees to develop those skills. Plus, when you add workers at critical or “crunch” times, the stresses associated with aggressive project schedules are minimized.

Nearshore, Offshore, or Onshore?

The contract workers you acquire through staff augmentation need not be on-site in your facilities. In fact, they need not even be in the same country.

Workers who live in the same country as your business (or project) are onshore. Nearshore workers reside in a nearby country (generally one with time zones that closely align with those of your company). For U.S. businesses, sources for nearshore staffing generally include Latin America and Canada. Offshore workers live in countries that are further geographically removed from your project team’s location.

In general, it’s your choice whether to specify the countries you will accept as sources for your temporary contract workers. Considerations include the need for real-time communication (that’s why time zone differences might be important), as well as the need to adjust for any language or cultural differences. A good provider only offers workers who meet your requirements in these areas, wherever in the world those workers are based.

Will Staff Augmentation Work for Your Company?

In general, staff augmentation is far more cost-effective for relatively short-term projects. With long-term or ongoing projects, the flexibility of being able to adjust your staffing as needed must be weighed against the higher per-hour labor costs that come with the use of a staff augmentation provider. In general, unless you are adding staff on a permanent basis, the costs of hiring, onboarding, paying, and providing benefits for permanent workers will far outweigh the added salary, overhead, and profit margin costs you incur by working through a staff augmentation company.

If you would like to explore how staff augmentation can work for your business, we’d be happy to help. Please contact us.

Mike Hernandez

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