Small companies that don’t have an in-house Information Technology (IT) department face a dilemma when it comes time to start a new project or expand operations. The need to make improvements on an existing company website is a typical scenario for many business owners. While in-house staff may have the capability to create a functional site, the company usually needs assistance to design something that is user friendly and ranks high in search engine returns. In order to develop the website further, the company needs to decide if it wants to hire an IT consultant or a service provider.
It’s a common mistake for small businesses to assume that service providers and IT consultants are the same thing. Both spend time researching the client’s needs so they can plan and manage the project at hand. However, the motivation in doing so is completely different. Service providers approach the project with their own company’s profitability in mind. This may result in unnecessary add-on services or project costs that are higher than necessary. An IT consultant, on the other hand, is an objective third party with the client’s best interests in mind. He or she makes recommendations based on the result of research and observations without trying to sell the client anything extra.
When searching for an IT consultant, it’s important for business owners to ensure that the person they choose has the required skills and knowledge about his or her specific type of business. At a minimum, the new IT consultant should have strong project management skills, the ability to assess vendor capabilities, technical skills, and strong business savvy. For example, if the main goal is to ramp up network security, ask the potential consultant what they have in mind in regards to a plan of action. Will he or she develop new firewalls for increased security? Or preforming Layer 7 analyses of bandwidth to identify potential bandwidth issues and apply changes to existing firewalls? IT consultants should be already familiar with the issues and have a idea of how to tackle the issue.
When businesses need an IT consultant to work on a complex or time-sensitive project, it makes the most sense to bring him or her on as an independent contractor for the duration of the project only. However, it’s important to communicate expectations in regards to confidentiality and the expected length of the contract. The company hiring an IT consultant should ask him or her to sign a contract promising not to disclose protected information to any third parties. The contract should clearly specify the work hours required, rate of pay, deadlines, and who is expected to pay for project-based expenses. Lastly, it should designate the legal resources available to both parties if a dispute arises that they can’t work out between them.
Even though an IT consultant is not a regular full-time employee, human resources representatives and department managers should still interview them in the same thorough manner. It’s also essential to check the consultant’s experience, education, and references before extending an offer to work on a project. The applicant should be able to explain his or her precise methodology when it comes to performing the tasks the hiring company requires. Before the interview is over, the potential IT consultant should have a strong understanding of how his or her work helps the company meet its overall objectives. Additionally, this person must have strong teaching skills in order to relay new information to in-house staff once the project is completed.