Ask any CEO: we’re willing to bet he or she has – at some point – experienced an IT consulting relationship gone wrong. Common are the stories of woe suffered at the hands of third-party experts who were not well-suited for their assignments.
While it is human nature to blame the consultant for poor outcomes, the onus falls upon the decision makers to change their approach when it comes to hiring IT consultants. To achieve better results, leaders must conduct a thorough and diligent selection process to ensure they hire the right consultants who are equipped to help the company reach its goals. These are the questions executives should start with.
What is the Consultant’s Relationship to Vendors?
There are two types of IT consultants in the marketplace: those with preferred vendor partnerships, and those who are product agnostic. Preferred partners have sales agreements in place with solutions providers, which means they have a monetary interest, and often a binding obligation, in recommending those solutions. If the company knows ahead of time the type of solution it needs, this may not be an issue. However, if you need a truly consultative approach, product agnostic consultants do not have the same product bias, which allows them to approach IT problems with more creativity and objectivity.
Does the Consultant Have the Right Type of Experience?
If you run an small to midsized enterprise, an IT consulting firm that works mainly with Fortune 500 companies may not be able to serve your needs adequately. Likewise, companies that operate in heavily-regulated industries will need to work with a firm that understands their unique security and compliance issues. Always vet the firm to ensure they have experience not only in your industry, but also with companies of similar size, structure, and needs.
Does the Consultant Provide Ongoing Support?
Many companies enter into consulting arrangements assuming the firm provides ongoing support, only to realize too late that no such support exists. If you want a long-term partnership, where the consultant is consistently measuring the effectiveness of their recommended solutions and making adjustments, and where that firm provides ongoing support to your internal team, you must be clear about those needs up front. There are times when a “one-and-done” engagement works, but for a holistic approach to IT, a long-term partnership is the ideal solution.
How Do the Reference Checks Measure Up?
In order to get a real feel for just how a consultant works, and whether or not their firm can meet your needs, you must be able to conduct a real reference check. Even if a firm comes highly recommended by a colleague, it doesn’t hurt to ask that firm for additional references – and follow through on contacting them. In addition, if you want to see detailed information about how consultants work with clients, documented case studies can provide additional insight into their expertise and experience.
Are You Ready to be Honest with Consultants?
To start a consulting relationship off on the right foot, decision makers have to be honest with each consultant they consider. Be open about your internal struggles, the weaknesses you see in your technology strategy (if such a strategy exists), your goals, your challenges, and your budget. It does no good to hold back. If you want to be sure you’re getting the right team for the job, you must provide those consultants with all of the information they need to help them determine whether or not they can deliver.
Choosing an IT consultant is never easy, but in order to make the right choice, CEOs must accept their share of the responsibly. Conduct your due diligence and remember that you can never ask too many questions or provide potential consultants with too much information about your needs and your current situation. The more information everyone has up front, the more likely you will be to make the right choice for your business.