Most small companies don’t engage the services of a Big Six consulting firm for their technology needs, but are more inclined to opt for an independent operator. They give you the advantage of objectivity, and are familiar with the process. A good consultant can help solicit bids, handle contract negotiations, and manage the overall operation, acting temporarily as your company’s I.T. department.
While as a rule they’re cheaper than Big Six consultants, independent consultants can command $100 to $200 an hour. Given how fast the technological field moves, how can you tell if you’re getting the best quality for your money?
While it’s impossible to guarantee a risk-free relationship, small businesses can follow certain procedures which greatly increase the productivity of its consulting relationship and results.
- The first step to finding a suitable consultant for a specific technological project, such as automation, is word of mouth. Ask a consultant to give you the names and contact people of three companies in your field he’s worked with in the past eighteen months who are similar to your organization in size and project scope. Don’t just call a reference – visit them. If you find out the consultant always installs the same technology chances are he’s a value-added reseller – not necessarily a bad thing, but limiting.
- Look far afield – good consultants will travel, and can do much work by modem. Insiders say if you have trouble scheduling a first meeting with a consultant, it probably means you’ve found a good one. Sometimes your trade association can recommend someone who specializes in your field.
- Always sign a formal contract. Include stipulations outlining what stages the work will proceed in and what the incremental quality assessments are. Make sure the contract spells out payment terms and procedures to help prevent disputes before they occur. The contract should also include copyright language, compensation schedules, confidentiality agreements, upgrade provisions and a warranty guaranteeing the technology is free from defects or workmanship for a year.
- Take the technology for a test drive. Don’t let the consultant show you how everything works, pick up a check and leave. Make sure that each person within your organization gets a chance to operate the technology as a trial.
- One last thing – if the consultant’s done her work well, pay up. Many technological consultants embed “time locks” in software that cripple a system if final payment is not received by a certain date.