By Steve Jeffers, Senior Network Engineer
Most mid-size organizations have an IT staff, but it doesn’t take long before you realize that you simply can’t add all the skill sets you need without maintaining a staff that’s too large to cost justify. That’s when we hear from many of our clients – they have a security concern or a question about reconfiguring their network that is outside the scope of their on-staff IT team’s skills. Since many of those skills are very specific, it would take a much larger staff to have them at-the-ready all the time. But, in those cases where you need an expert to help you assess potential security vulnerabilities or to examine the health of your network, developing a strategic relationship with an outside IT consultant may be the most cost-effective and timely solution.
Too often, I see companies struggling to make changes to their IT infrastructure without the right skill sets on staff, a situation which can lead to unnecessary expenditures and incorrect configurations that never produce the desired result. What does an IT consultant actually do to help? We bring the right specializations to the table, allowing our clients to focus on their main line of business rather than the IT infrastructure supporting it.
While most organizations have an idea about how an IT consulting relationship works, many still ask me what a strategic IT engagement looks like in practice. Here’s one example: SRC recently conducted a network assessment for a mid-sized company with about 50 in-house IT end users. We were asked to assess the health of their overall network, so we looked at everything on their network and everything touching or supporting the network from electrical systems to inside data cabling to Internet access. We also evaluated network speeds, existing IT equipment and software. We considered whether or not key systems and software were up to date, and we made recommendations for upgrades that would provide them with better, faster, more secure performance. We also looked at each single point of failure and suggested ways to create standby failovers in the event that a business-critical system went down.
After we observed how everything had been set up and configured, we spent about a week consulting with our own team of highly skilled experts to develop our assessment and recommendations. Even though the client’s internal IT staff is first-rate, this kind of assessment was something that the client could not have accomplished on their own because they simply didn’t have access to all of the different kinds of expertise needed. When we delivered our assessment, we pointed out their risks and vulnerabilities, we suggested remedies for each one, and we delivered an evaluation. While we suggested they address all of the pitfalls identified, the assessment we delivered gave them the ability to prioritize what they believed was most pressing in an order that made sense for their business.
Now that we’ve developed this assessment, we are intimately familiar with their network, so we can be an on-call resource for this client whenever they need expert advice or other IT assistance to augment their staff during a technology change or rollout. Because we know their infrastructure inside and out, and because we have everyday access to the skill sets they only occasionally need, we can really act as an extension of their IT team.
Choosing the Right IT Consultant
Before you develop a relationship with an IT consultant, it’s important to know what you’re looking for so you can choose one that will be the right fit for your organization and its specific needs. As I sat down to write this blog, I gave this a lot of thought, and I wanted to share what I believe are the four most important questions you should ask yourself when searching for a strategic IT consultant that could become a long-term partner to your business.
- How diverse are their skill sets? The whole point in developing a relationship with an IT consultant is to provide you with instant access to the skills your own in-house team lacks without having to hire full-time staffers to meet those occasional needs. Before selecting an IT consulting partner, find out what kinds of skills they have on staff and how much time each of their experts has spent honing their craft. Experience matters in IT. And the more time people have spent working in their areas of expertise, the faster and more accurately they can identify and resolve any issues your organization encounters.
- Can they understand your business goals? Many IT consultancies do a great job with technology implementations, but to truly be an IT consultant, there is no substitute for understanding your business first, then selecting the right technology to support it. When you talk about what you’re trying to accomplish from a business perspective and what you think you need technologically to do that – speed, capacity, redundancy, secured connectivity – whatever it is, there should always be a business justification for the IT solutions you purchase and deploy. The best IT consultant is one that can lead you through the evaluation and decision-making process based on the ways the recommended solution will help your business be more productive and competitive in your market.
- How well does the consultant interface with your own team? It’s a given that the IT consultant you choose should be able to work well with your own internal IT staff, but it’s also important to select a consultancy that can work well with your C-suite and line-of-business executives. Technology is the underpinning for the success of your entire organization, so it’s critical that the consultant you hire is able to pull together the decision-makers throughout your company, soliciting input from everyone and getting all key stakeholders on the same page about what is needed before making their go-forward recommendations.
- Do they have the ability to augment or even manage your IT services? There may be a time in the future when you want to turn over some or all of the management of your IT environment to a trusted advisor – and that’s exactly what your IT consultant should be – a trusted advisor. Even if you’re not interested in doing this today and you can’t imagine you ever will be, you should choose an organization that could do this for you in the future if you have the need. In a managed services relationship, you will need to know who notifies whom about outages, for example. If you have to notify them, find another provider. A managed services relationship should mean that you can be completely hands off – the provider should know when something in your network goes awry before you do, and they should have a remedy in the works before they even notify you that something has happened. Additionally, look for an organization with managerial experience in their field team; you never know when you may suddenly need to augment your staff – either short-term or long-term – and an experienced IT consultant that is familiar with your environment should be able to step right in with key skill sets or even manage your IT staff if the need arises.
Want to learn more about using an IT consultant? Explore SRC’s assessment, design and implementation services, as well as our ability to augment your staff either short- or long-term via our professional services offerings. Need an ongoing managed services relationship? We can work with you hand-in-hand in a co-managed relationship or take over your IT management on your behalf. You might also enjoy reading a few of our recent expert blog posts, which will give you an idea of the depth of our team’s expertise and experience. Finally, contact us to find out what SRC Technologies can do for you.