When it comes to Information Technology, the generalists and specialists you trust to handle your company’s IT matter. You have hardware, software, data, and so many other moving parts that must run in harmony to keep you moving at the pace of today’s business climate. Since IT covers such a broad range of your business operations, it’s important to understand the roles of the people who maintain your company’s technology well-being.

An IT generalist is a jack-of-all-trades. They’re by your side every day to manage your help desk, support your staff’s IT needs, deliver service and maintenance, and be network administrators. They ensure everything is working as intended. On the other hand, an IT specialist works on more complex technology issues, such as projects and escalations. IT specialists also often take on the role of solutions architects.

With those brief definitions in mind, let’s take a deeper dive into the differences between an IT generalist and an IT specialist. Knowing which you need and when, can positively impact your business’s daily operations and long-term success.

Depth of Knowledge

Generalist

An IT generalist has a broad understanding of your business’s day-to-day IT needs. They know how to support them by functioning in a service and administrative capacity. They will help sort out things like:

  1. Why someone’s laptop isn’t working right
  2. Monitor and manage your internal systems
  3. Connect with vendors and other external technicians

Specialist

An IT specialist is someone with more in-depth knowledge in one or more particular “subject areas” of IT. While they may have started as generalists or have a working understanding of day-to-day operations through exposure and experience, specialists have in-depth knowledge of particular IT topics and tasks.

Think of it like a general practitioner (the generalist) and an orthopedist (the specialist). The GP knows about joint health and can recognize when there is a problem. The ortho is specialized in the skills, knowledge, and latest techniques to restore joint health.

Day-to-Day Operations

You need daily IT support to ensure your business runs smoothly. But maybe you’re not sure if you need to have generalists or specialists on deck, all the time? For the most part, an IT generalist or team of generalists, either in-house or through a local managed service provider (MSP), will be sufficient for your day-to-day needs. If you have specialized IT needs, you may need a specialized IT team. That’s where IT specialists can be your best option.

There’s an interesting trend in the IT world right now, though. It may influence your decisions on who you hire to handle your technology needs. Many IT professionals are moving away from being generalists and into specialization, which can impact who runs the day-to-day IT operations of small-to-midsize businesses. This trend lends itself well to a model known as co-managed services. It’s where part of your IT team is in-house, and the rest is outsourced. This model allows you to directly hire either generalists or specialists and then contract with the opposite for your outsourced services. By having both types of IT professionals on board, you can cover all your business’s needs, ensuring that your IT management is always in good hands.

Long-Term Strategy

Technology moves fast. You need to think about what happens beyond your daily operations. If you want your business to stay relevant and be able to not only keep up, but get ahead of the pack, you need to have IT solutions that work today, tomorrow, and beyond. An IT generalist can ensure your operations today, but what about the future?

While many IT generalists are knowledgeable enough to think about your business’s next steps, propose upgrades, and perform the surface-level work, it’s IT specialists, who will be at the heart and soul of futurization. These are the types of specialists who design, research, plan, and execute the front and back end of your technology upgrades and advancements. And while you may not need them all the time, they should be an integral part of your business’s long-term strategic planning.

To explain the difference plainly, generalists are focused on the “now” of your business, whereas specialists are focused on the “now” and the future of how your business uses technology.

Overhead Costs for Generalist and Specialist

It’s a little tricky to directly compare the total overhead costs of IT generalists and IT specialists because you’re going to need both at some point, right? A better way to think about it is this: if you have a team of in-house or outsourced generalists, like an MSP, or use co-managed services with an MSP, you can use their knowledge to bring in specialists who align with your needs, values, and budget, so you don’t waste any extra resources looking for the right people.

This is especially true if you employ an MSP for either comprehensive IT or co-managed services. They can often add more services as needed to your existing agreement. That’s the beauty of managed services; they’re made to be scalable and flexible. Not only can an MSP help with day-to-day IT needs, but they might also provide professional project services like new infrastructure and cloud solutions, complex networking, routing, security issues and requests, or  engineers to design and architect new implementations. This is because MSPs most often have generalists AND specialists on their team. When you work with an MSP, they can provide more than just daily IT maintenance and management.

So, which matters more: generalist or specialist?

We’ve presented some pretty strong arguments, and we think it’s…both! Your business needs, values, and budget will plot the course of how you handle IT management. You must have reliable daily support to ensure the current health of your company’s technology, but you also have to plan for a future that isn’t slowing down any time soon.

Talking to an MSP might be a good place for you to start. Even if you have a strong team of in-house IT generalists or specialists, the knowledgeable pros at your local MSP can still help. Get in touch today, and let’s have a chat about the value that both IT generalists and IT specialists can bring to your business..