Back office support refers to the portion of a business that is responsible for running the business rather than actually working with customers or making a profit. This is an old term that refers to a time when it was common to have a showroom and sales area in the front of a store and the accounting, manufacturing and administrative areas in the back. Over time, this common design has been replaced for all but very small firms, yet the term has remained behind. Back office support is the opposite of front office work, which refers to the more direct moneymaking part of a company.
Different business have different definitions of what makes up back office support. In general, if a part of the company deals directly with customers, it is in the front office and it is in the back if it doesn’t. In some businesses, the definition is a little different; the parts of the company that actually make money are in the front office and the parts that don’t are back office support. Both definitions are valid and come from the differing business strategies employed in the early days of corporate development.
The different definition makes a couple areas exist in a gray zone. For example, under both definitions, a sales department is front office; but any after-sales support is more difficult to determine. Under a customer-based model, it would be front office since the company is still directly interacting with clients. On the other hand, it is a back office part in the money model as after-sales work is rarely done for profit.
Regardless of the definition used for back office support, a couple of departments are nearly always a part of the system. Accounting is practically always back office in every business but an accounting firm. The part of the business that pays the bills, payroll and suppliers as well as handles budgeting and money allocation doesn’t work with customers or directly make money.
In the same vein, the information technology (IT) department is nearly always back office. This part of the company maintains the network, computers and software for the business. This means the IT department would very rarely make any money or deal directly with customers.
Under the profit-based model, one of the biggest points is direct profit. Even if a part of the company enables another area to make money, it is still back office. For example, if the accounting department figures out a way to increase efficiency and reduce the overhead of the manufacturing arm of the company, it still didn’t actually make any money. The changes created by the new design may increase profits, but these profits would come from a different department.