The 4 Types of Work that IT Does

IT covers a wide number of areas in a business and it is important to recognise and understand the categories that our work comes into. The different categorisations allow for an understanding of work types, and in planning, prioritising and executing work. They are also areas that have to be understood from a contractual perspective so that there is clear engagement with business.

Here at Onega we work across these areas to help clients maintain and progress their business systems and towards mutual goals.

In Short the four kinds of work are:

  1. Reactive Support - ie maintaining existing systems and fixing that which is broken (was working). Also known as fire fighting; reactive support is a vital service provided by IT Service Desk (helpdesk) staff and allows for logging and resolution of tickets from 'server down', 'internet down', 'PC not booting', 'can't send email', 'phone stolen' etc. These are all issues that come up and need to be fixed in order to let you get on with your work.
  2. Operations - these are planned and normally quite standard procedures which include planned maintenance like patches, updates, desk moves, new computer installations, new staff joiners and periodic staff leavers etc. These also need to be done but are generally tasks that have (or can / should have ) a standard procedure and costs to them and an amount of notice prior to taking place. Ie they are planned tasks. Where services are managed, it includes the cadence and cycles for managing these.
  3. Projects - above normal operations which move things on and introduce new systems - generally bigger items that would come under operations with more initial unknowns (which are worked out during the project) . For example an office move project you have a number of phases such as making up a specification for a new office, process of search and short listing offices, negotiating, planning fit out etc. Office Moves are a good example of where IT is involved but others could include major systems upgrades, platform upgrades (moving to the latest generation of systems), cloud migrations etc.
  4. Process Improvement - this is the more internal process of continually looking at how things are done and how they can be best done. In IT as in other areas, we need to be aware that what might have been the best solution before now might not be - Ie a better alternative might be available or factors that were previously unknown about a system might come to light etc. In attitude it is best to recognise that this is the case and proactively embrace this so that systems can be optimised going forward (to best support business needs). This involves training and focus and the scope includes methodologies, systems, processes and automation... all towards the goals of having the best support for the underlying business.

How do the above relate to outsourced IT support / managed services companies?

Here at Onega, we are a Managed Service Provider (MSP) as the latest terminology that describes the work we do. In engagement with clients we might cover one or more of the above service types to our clients depending on our engagement with them.  The foundation of support is Reactive Support above - and when operations and projects complement and add on to this to make for a complete service. Behind the scenes a fair amount of our time is also spent on Process Improvement in keeping up to date with IT - new systems, updates, what is possible etc. The world moves on and we have to make sure we are in the sweet spot of this flow. As this page is written 'The Cloud' is in ascendancy and the impact of pervasive IOT and AI are on the near horizon.

Typically an IT Support Agreement will provide for a Reactive Support desk, along with certain elements of proactive maintenance work - such as Patch Management to push out system security updates to your computers to keep them safe in the face of evolving threats.  Core IT support agreements provide for maintaining systems in the original functioning state - ie keeping your computers running reliably and up to date to be functional. It would also commonly include monitoring virus scanners and making sure these are up to date as proactive measures that overlap to Operations procedures. Typically the nature of the inclusive management and monitoring will be that supported and delivered by highly automated management systems for efficiency.

The area of operations thus normally falls in and out of core IT support contract scope. For example as computing and the Internet as well as business needs evolve; a computer that was state of the art four years ago might struggle with the amount of data that has since been loaded onto it and may well be 20 versions of Chrome / Firefox on from when it was new and faced with running 2018 versions of applications rather than 2013/ 2014 versions that would have been contemporary when the computer was new (not to mention potentially hundreds of Windows / Apple Mac updates issued over the period).. all of which make the computer struggle where once it was super quick. In this case it is important to recognise when a new computer (or any other computing device) is purchased that it will have a planned service production life and this may be three or four years of good service life. After this time it is wise to plan (as an Operational procedure) to purchase and deploy a new computer and migrate from the old one. We are increasingly minded that this time should be at the shorter end of the timescale so that you maintain productivity and don't wait for the frustration of a slow computer (for just one example). The operations procedure to specify, order and implement / swap over to a new computer is one that is quite well defined and will have elements of hardware, software, delivery and services (setup and migration) which can all be considered standard operations tasks.

In most IT service contracts 'day to day' IT is included but big things like new computers or computer replacements would be costed as needed - eg a new PC might be  £550 for a good new computer, £150 for a nice 24" TFT screen, £10 delivery and £340 for standard setup costs, so £1,050 ex VAT in costs overall. Alternatively it is possible under some agreements to opt for 'hardware as a service' whereby you can budget over time for new computers and instead of paying the above £1050, you could budget (or it would be budgeted behind the scenes) just under £1 a day to cover the hardware and replacement as a planned undertaking over three years). Either way things need to be budgeted for and paid for either on a completely planned basis, or on the understanding that they will be expected expenses to address at the time they are needed. Items like adding a new member of staff to a company will also normally have a pro-rata (proportional) impact on the regular service contracts for support and virus scanning -- that computer and member of staff will need helpdesk and patch management etc.

Sidebar: Do you want your computer to run as fast today as it did on day 1 that you had it? There is an easy way to do that ... which you may want to do once you've migrated to a new computer. If you run your recovery disks and restore the software on your computer to how it was new to you, then it will run just as fast as it did back on that day. If you ever want to make use of and old computer and you don't need to run it on the Internet so updates don't matter, then if you want the computer to sing, just run old software on it. A ten year old computer running eleven or twelve year old software will likely run very smoothly. This holds true for games and business software alike and can give a very rich experience though with slightly limited modern context.

Back to Ops and context:

Our best guideline is that items that you expect to occur with regularity (ie every month) should likely be build into a contract / service agreement and be thus budgeted for. There will always be choices and sometimes an organisation might not wish to commit into future to budget for computer replacement three years ahead but may instead prefer the flexibility of deferring that expense until it is absolutely needed if finances are less free in the short term.  

Each operations task will normally have a clear checklist, costs (assuming there are any) and defined measurable outcomes.

Projects will normally be quite obvious in their difference from operations but there can be a bit of a grey area - for example if one new computer is regarded as an Operations task, would two? Probably yes, but would ten new computers? The answer to this would likely be in context to scale and regularity of task. Ie Ten new computers in an organisation with a thousand computers would almost certainly be an Ops task, but if you were a company of ten people, then this would represent a project. The rule of thumb 'do we do this every month' thus serves us well in this context.

Projects are almost always regarded as separate billable services and range in complexity, scale and certainty - which are the key budgeting metrics. Some projects like Office 365 Cloud Migrations are ones that we might have done many times here at Onega and have down to a good art - so we can predict costs and know the steps and timescales accurately given repeating inputs to the process but it is still possible to discover the odd road block such as if you are upgrading from a particularly old system. Other projects like development projects might be better tackled with a defined iterative approach (Agile techniques) that allow for steady progress towards goals, and can be broken down into stages that can be costed and defined in terms of bounds if not exactly to the penny.

If you would like to read more on this subject then we can strongly recommend you read The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim and Kevin Behr where the principles are explained in good detail - as well as the difference between good and bad IT Service Management in an engaging narrative fashion. Makes for a good audiobook.


Having an awareness of the types of work done in IT and how these map to contracts and engagement is important from both the IT and the business side to allow for optimal interaction, management of expectation and mutual support. IT works best when there is healthy business side interaction.

It will be obvious to most that a number of operations measures that create proactive management will reduce the number of reactive incidents and are in the interests of all in providing the best service for any given organisation. Managers should also be aware of what is and is not included in different service agreements and Managed Service Contracts.

.. as ever if you'd like to discuss this article please do not hesitate to get in touch as we're always happy to talk IT.

Thanks to Robin Hunter for the banner image from on this page.