• 07/15/2002
    4:00 AM
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Hire Authorities

Before calling in the experts, do your research and get the best consultant for the job. Then be prepared to manage that relationship. here's what you need to know.

Satisfaction With IT Professional Services
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While we think you should check out a prospective consultant's stats in much the same way you check out an outsourcing firm's chops (see for some suggestions), be aware that some metrics are self-reported. We'd agree that personal referrals should count for a lot when you're dealing with a strategic (heart surgery) vs. a nonstrategic (wart removal) project.

As far as other attributes go, we'd suggest having a look at ITSMA's survey of 391 Fortune 1,000 execs on the importance of various attributes of professional services firms (see graphic "Satisfaction With IT Professional Services"); use it as a good starting point for a checklist when you're choosing a consulting partner. ITSMA found performance, collaborative work style and technical proficiency to be at the top of the list. That is, besides being able to deliver the goods, consultants must be able to transfer their knowledge to you and your staff. If your consultant doesn't play well with your IT staff, start worrying. The company's employees are important stakeholders, so it's crucial to involve them in the referral process as well as the ultimate decision. We have been told (usually by folks solely in the consulting business) that the most effective and focused consultants are those who do nothing but consulting.

True? A definite maybe. While you wouldn't be too concerned about buying shoe inserts from a podiatrist, after your third joint replacement by an orthopedist who happens to be in the joint manufacturing business, you might start to wonder. Clearly, in IT, you need to watch for conflicts of interest, but you can also take advantage of synergies.

For example, if you want to find the best-of-breed SAN (storage area network) for your environment, asking IBM Global Services to come in and identify the most appropriate technology fit might not be a great idea, as IBM makes and markets a SAN. But what if you're already an IBM customer? It makes sense to use IBM's consulting and system integration teams to get off the ground: Nobody knows IBM better than IBM.

But don't expect nirvana, even when you're using "native" consulting services. You'll still have to work through typical project issues. In one New York-based ISP's iPlanet upgrade, for example, the Sun consultant solved the ISP's internal LDAP synchronization problems, but in the process an external synchronization problem arose that slowed things down. The Sun consultant said a bug was causing the problem, while Sun engineering blamed the ISP's environment. Moral of the story: Even the internal consultants can have a bug-vs.-environment fight with the internal engineers. When the problem persists, expect a VP to come along to bang some heads together--as with any internal conflict.

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