Choose the right tech guru to keep your business running with these suggestions from IT consultants
As a professional ghostwriter and executive director of the Association of Ghostwriters, Marcia Layton Turner is quick with a quill, but less so with a mouse. So when she set out to find an IT consultant to help set up her home office, she came prepared with a specific set of requirements. Very specific.
"I wanted someone who could serve as my contract IT department, really. That is, someone who had a broad range of tech skills and could do everything from keeping viruses off my computer, to setting up a dual monitor system, to advising me on new computer systems, trouble-shooting when the computer started giving me error messages, and anything else that might come up. I didn't want to have to call three different IT people for three different issues, nor did I need someone full-time, or even part-time."
Gosh, is that all?
Surprisingly, perhaps, Layton Turner found what she needed—thanks to a personal recommendation from her former webmaster. It’s a universal truism that the best services often come from those who have been handed off personally among friends or colleagues.
Still, a nice referral is only a start. Small business owners have myriad other tasks to perform, if they’re going to find a geek who fits the mold.
Here are some recommendations from the IT managers themselves:
Erik Barnlund, CEO of IT management firm Mavidea Technology Group in Bloomington, Illinois:
IT consultants need to communicate with their teams and their clients. "Most IT people knock out IT issues, one after another, and get enjoyment from resolving the problem. Often, they forget to communicate the completion of a task, its results and impact to those who need to know."
With so many IT fires burning at once, with users knocking steadily on the door, an IT person can sometimes lose track of what he or she actually did all day. "Documenting that time and energy throughout the day is important to the business and everyone involved. Without documentation, a lot of valuable business intelligence is lost."
Brian D. Kelley, CIO, Portage County Information Technology Services in Ravenna, Ohio:
Do due diligence.
"Negotiate a payment schedule based upon satisfactory deliverables, not hours. Negotiate a formal contract and get all verbal statements in writing. Require that the consultant sign an affidavit disclosing all business relationships with technology companies. The affidavit should also state that the consultant will not receive any finder fees or remuneration from any companies related to recommendations or procurements stemming from the consultant engagement with the small business company."
Know whom you are hiring.
"Require the consultant to disclose and provide a resume for all consultant employees working on the engagement and have the consultant identify the tasks to be performed by each employee working on the engagement."
Steve Rigell, President, Preemptis in Seattle:
Technology is a tool that should serve the business by supporting business processes. If the business processes are not optimized and scalable with sufficient accountability and flexibility for agility, the technology will just be supporting a broken process. The first step should be hiring a business process consultant to wrangle the business processes into shape.
Prepare for the new.
Technology is ever on the move; it’s not enough to find a partner just to solve today’s problems. "Very few off-the-shelf technology solutions will deliver 100%support for their business process out of the box. IT consultants should be chosen for their intimate knowledge of the new technology, for their implementation expertise." They should be able to ensure minimum disruption as new technologies come online.
With all these parts in place, it’s possible to find an IT consultant able to bear the weight of a business’s technology needs. But it still will be up to the business owner to see the ball carried across the finish line. They key, says Rigell, lies in training. Any technology will be only as good as the time and effort spent teaching the staff to use it properly.
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