What is an IT Consultant ?
Put simply an “IT consultant is someone that focuses on advising businesses on how best to use information technology to meet their business objectives. In addition to providing advice, IT consultants often implement, deploy, and administer IT systems on businesses’ behalf.”
Notice the key here - they advise businesses on how to meet their business objectives using IT – not the other way around.
What should I look for?
First and foremost, ask for references, and check these – if the consultancy firm is nervous about giving references then be very cautious. You want to work with someone who has delivered for other clients.
Ask them about there personal credentials – this may be experience or it can be academic – although ideally they will have a good academic or professional background, backed up with good experience. Also ask them about a project or client that they have recently worked with and what effect they had on the business.
They should ask you a number of questions about your current systems, and what you want to achieve – these should be linked to business objectives, which are met through IT. Be wary of anyone who jumps straight into a solution or a product without first taking the time to understand what you want to achieve. If they fail to understand your needs and requirements properly, then it is likely that the solution provided will fall short of what you require.
By it’s very nature, IT is a complex world, but a good consultant should be able to “interpret” for you from the technical. They should explain things clearly – if they try and “blind you with science” or fail to explain clear benefits and then ask them to explain in English! Be very cautious about consultants who are really just engineers and can only speak “techno geek”
Be clear and about what you expect to achieve – be this a reduction in costs, improved reliability and efficiency, the ability to have remote workers. Make sure that the proposed solution will deliver the benefits you require.
Be wary of salesmen that say they are consultants – who will just put in the most expensive solution, or the one that makes the highest margin. Remember the definition of a consultant? Someone who “delivers business objectives, through IT”. The last thing you want is someone putting in IT for IT’s sake – you may not need the most expensive solution, or the latest new system. What you want is a solution that delivers the business objectives and brings the best Return On Investment.
Often, the consultant will provide a written solution, or a list of recommendations. Read this carefully, and ask them questions like – what are the hidden costs? What happens if there is a problem? If the project over-runs, what happens? Look for someone who will take responsibility, and gives you straight answers – rather than someone who dodges issues.