When nontechnical employees -- also known as "involuntary IT managers" (IITMs) -- are charged with managing their company's IT solutions, it leads to losses. Big losses.

In fact, those losses add up to more than $24 billion in productivity each year in small businesses in five countries including the U.S., according to an AMI-Partners small-business Relevant Products/Services study commissioned by Microsoft Relevant Products/Services Corp. This loss is a direct result of IITMs taking time away from primary business activities.

The Involuntary IT Manager study examines the prevalence of the IITM role in nine countries in North America, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia. The study specifically focuses on the adverse business productivity impact of IITMs in small business in five countries: Australia, Brazil, Chile, India and the United States.

In a survey of 538 small businesses, IITMs lost, on average, about six hours per week -- that's about 300 hours per year --- of business productivity while managing IT, according to AMI-Partners. While some involuntary IT managers are confident in their technical skills, most find their general work productivity suffers when their work time is diverted to managing IT issues.

The survey also found that small businesses' involuntary IT managers believe cloud Relevant Products/Services-based solutions could help alleviate some of the burden of managing IT.

Of the five countries examined, the study estimated that about 3.8 million small businesses --100 employees or fewer -- managed internal IT by IITMs. Although such small businesses spent $83 billion on IT and communications, they lost $24 billion in productivity trying to manage their internal IT.

Smallest Companies Lose Even More

Other key study findings reveal: 30 percent of all surveyed involuntary IT managers believe IT management is a nuisance; 26 percent indicate they do not feel qualified to manage IT; and 60 percent of IITMs want to simplify their company's technology solutions to alleviate the difficulty of managing IT day-to-day. When IITMs work at small businesses with 15 or more employees, their firms lose even more productivity time than IITMs working at companies with fewer employees.

"Many small businesses don't have the budget for formal IT support, so they rely on the company's most tech-savvy individual to manage their technology," said Andy Bose, founder, chairman and CEO at AMI-Partners.

"As our research shows, relying on an Involuntary IT Manager can have an adverse impact on small businesses' productivity, which can negatively affect revenue and translates into a very high opportunity cost. These companies can potentially leverage cloud services to alleviate the need for day-to-day in-house IT support with positive impact on their business productivity."

How the Cloud Can Help

The cloud could help. And involuntary IT managers are showing an interest in leveraging the cloud during the next 12 months to manage their companies' IT needs, according to the study.

For example, 33 percent are likely to shift more IT spending toward hosted or cloud solutions. Another 36 percent are interested in a productivity and collaboration Relevant Products/Services suite. And although IITMs older than 50 spent the most time managing IT, the study found they are also the most likely to devote their limited IT budgets to acquiring cloud solutions and purchasing online productivity suites.

Among the top concerns for IITMs in deploying cloud solutions are security Relevant Products/Services and privacy (66 percent); reliability (61 percent); the ability to integrate with existing IT investments (53 percent); and limited features (46 percent).

"The cloud, when delivered right, is a game-changer, providing small businesses with the IT solutions they need to solve their most challenging small-business technology concerns," said Thomas Hansen, vice president of SMB Worldwide at Microsoft. With cloud solutions, like those offered by Micrsofot, "the job of the involuntary IT manager gets a lot easier."