Marketlend Academy: Hiring an IT Consultant for your SME
Hiring an outside IT consultant is often fraught with anxiety for companies and their IT managers. Regardless of how well-regarded the consultant is, he or she is still accessing a company’s secure environment and encroaching on the IT department’s turf.
Reasons for management nail-biting abound. IT consultants are often authorized to do things with the system that the regular IT employees aren’t allowed to do. The consultants are typically tied in with a services contract – meaning they get paid no matter what happens. Consultants are there to do only what they’ve been contracted for, even if IT management disagrees with what they’re doing or how they’re doing it. Consultants also tend to cost a lot of money.
Perhaps most frustrating for IT managers is that the department could probably do the job themselves – if they were only given the proper resources.
Why hire an IT consultant?
For all the worry IT consultants may cause, they can be a key factor in improving a company’s information technology processes, spotting potential security risks or helping to retrain and recharge the department.
The consultants’ biggest strength is that they bring a knowledgeable outsider’s view to a company’s technology problems. For IT departments bogged down in the day-to-day challenge of keeping a network running and servicing users throughout the buildings (or handling IT in multiple buildings across the country or worldwide), it can be difficult to keep a broader, strategic perspective on things.
The right consultant can be a breath of fresh air for an enterprise that is looking for better, cost-effective ways to manage complex IT issues.
Still, companies need to make sure that an IT consultant has precisely the right skills for the project that they have in mind. They also need to make sure the consultant stays on task and works smoothly with the existing IT team.
Where Kablamo fits in
One big issue companies may have with IT consulting firms is that the consultant may blur the lines between purely providing a service versus controlling or fundamentally changing the client’s way of doing things.
A consultant should take the time to really listen to a client’s needs and understand the challenges they want to overcome. He or she should be ready to dig in to discover the best possible solutions. These attributes help to prevent a disconnect between the client’s expectations and the outcome, as Kablamo’s co-CEO Angus Dorney explains.
The rise of enterprise cloud services has amplified worries about consultants’ role with an enterprise. Ditto with the increasing popularity of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies. Now, companies looking to shift into cloud, or to add an AI element to their network – a technology segment still in its infancy – must contend with finding a consultant that understands what is needed to complete the shift. When it comes to cloud services, consultants need to provide a more complete package – a strategic overview of what’s needed, along with the experience and skills to implement the shift to enterprise cloud. Figuratively speaking, a consultant cannot merely provide apples when what an enterprise needs is an apple pie.
What to look for
Say a company needs to evaluate the value of putting a majority of its IT assets into a cloud environment. The IT department may have employees who are able to handle some of this evaluation but may not be able to reassign those employees to perform an in-depth study of the company’s needs. They may not have all the resources necessary to do a proper assessment, either.
This is typically where management calls in a consultant. Knowing what to look for in a consultant is crucial to completing an accurate assessment that will help the company decide how much of its IT infrastructure to shift into a managed cloud environment.
Key questions to ask:
- What expertise does the consultant have? Does that expertise fit within a specific industry niche or within a broader strategic overview?
- How will the consultant work with a company’s IT team? Will the process be collaborative, with meaningful input from employees and stakeholders?
- Is the consultant familiar with the regulations and/or IT practices and policies of the company? What about government compliance requirements, if any?
- Does the consultant really listen to the stakeholders to try and understand exactly what the company is trying to overcome by bringing them in?
Tips for getting the most out of an IT consultant
- Have goals in mind before hunting for a consultant – you don’t need to have all of them, but some direction should be provided.
- Put together as much information about your company as possible to give to the consultant before they begin.
- Direct relevant departments to partner with the consultant so that effective collaboration or assistance take place. (For example, if a consultant needs to do a security gap analysis, make sure the IT department is ready and able to give him or her access to key systems.)
- Look at hiring a consultant as an investment, not as a luxury or as a necessary evil.
Empowering the IT department
A company should look at the IT department, or at the very least its management, as key stakeholders in any strategy or project developed by consultants. At the end of the day, the IT department must deal with whatever technology improvements and processes are put into place by a consultant.
Shifting into a cloud-native architecture, for example, can be a massive and potentially stressful undertaking by IT department employees – even more so if the consultant and employees aren’t working together to move a project forward. Relying entirely upon outside labor to complete the shift can generate some resentment within the department, particularly from employees who feel they’re capable of doing the job if given the right resources or simply the ability to give feedback on a proposal or project.
Companies need to look at the IT department as a key resource and partner for the consultant. Employees’ in-depth knowledge of a company’s technology needs and processes is very important to ensure a comprehensive plan of action is created. Otherwise, the risk of an unsatisfactory outcome, or even a compromised network, is a possibility.
- Make IT department managers or IT executives key stakeholders on consultant-driven projects.
- Ensure open lines of communication between consultants and IT employees so they understand the consultants’ role.
- Give the IT department time to respond to proposed changes to the enterprise network, and to give feedback throughout the consultant’s study or proposed work.