How to Put a Value on IT Consulting

By Art Reisman

This post was inspired after a conversation with one of our IT resellers.  My commentary is based on thousands of  experiences I have had helping solve client network IT  issues over the past 20 years.

There is a wide range of ability in the network consulting world, and the right IT consultant is just as important as choosing a reliable car or plane. Short changing yourself on a shiny new paint job with a low price can lead to disaster.

The problem clients must overcome when picking a consultant is that often the person doing the hiring is not an experienced IT professional, hence it is hard to  judge IT competency. A person who has not had to solve real world networking problems may have no good reference point to judge an IT consultant. It would be like me auditioning pianists for admission to the Julliard School (also a past customer of ours).  I could not ever hope to choose between the nuances of great pianist versus a bar hack playing pop songs. In the world of IT, on face value, the talent of an IT person is also hard to differentiate. A nice guy with good people skills is important but does not prove IT competency. Certifications are fine, but are also not a guarantee of competency. Going back to my Julliard example, perhaps with a few tips from an expert I could narrow the field a bit ?

Below are some ideas that should provide some guidance when narrowing your choice of IT consultant.

The basic difference in competency, as measured by results, will come down to  those professionals that can solve new problems as presented and those that can’t. For example, a consultant without unique problem solving skills will always try to map a new problem as a variation of an old problem, and thus will tend to go down a trial an error check list in sequential order. This will work for solving very basic problems based on their knowledge base of known problems, but it can really rack up the hours and downtime when this person is presented with a new issue not previously encountered.  I would ask this question of a potential consultant. Even if you are non technical ask the question, and listen for enthusiasm in the answer not so much details.

“Can you run me through an example of any unique networking problem you have encountered, and what method you used to solve it?” A good networking person will be full and proud of their war stories, and should actually enjoy talking about them.

The other obvious place to find a networking consultant is from a reference, but be careful. I would only value the reference if the party giving it has had severe IT failures for comparison.

There are plenty of competent IT people that can do the standard stuff, the person giving a reference will only be valuable if they have gone from bad to good, or vice versa. If they start with good, they will assume all IT people are like this, and not appreciate what they have stumbled into.  If they start with average, they will not know it is average, until they experience good. The  average IT person will be busy all the time,  and eventually solve problems via the brute force method. In their processes they will sound intelligent and always have an issue to solve (often of their own bumbling)   Until a reference experiences the efficiency of somebody really good as a comparison  a good IT person is hardly ever noticed) they won’t have the reference point.

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