How To Choose a Computer Consultant

Total Computer Solutions

ResizedImage273177-web-consultants2At some point in the course of running a business, the need for professional technological help will arise. Very few businesses, no matter how small, can afford to ignore the growing demand for instant information and rapid response to their clientele. Computerization is a standard tool of competition, and if used correctly, it should rapidly pay for itself in a reduction of people-hours and an increase in efficiency. Your options are: assigning a current employee to select, purchase, install, configure and maintain computer hardware, software and networking (providing him/her with, of course, formal training); hiring a full time information systems expert; or, you can commission or out source the work to a computer consulting firm—a company that provides complete computer systems solutions including analysis, planning, hardware, software, networking, training and support.

The only realistic solution, for businesses under 40 to 50 employees, is to utilize a consulting firm. It is not possible for a current employee, working full time as, say, an administrator, to be qualified, competent and up to date with the latest technology. It is also not realistic for a business to hire a full time systems manager, who, at $50,000 to $80,000 annually, will still need to out source the more complicated tasks.

Skills to Look For When Hiring a Consultant

Businesses faced with the task of selecting a consulting firm need to address many different factors. Most companies need a consultancy that can provide an initial analysis and description of the companies’ computer system needs, including hardware, software, networking, training, and support, and then be able to provide all that is needed. Companies also need a consultant who will provide a complete, start to finish solution, spend the necessary time to explore options, explain technology and answer questions, and make repeated, adjusted recommendations.  Employers should anticipate working with the consultants to clearly define the companies’ needs and goals, and the specific requirements to meet them. This will take work on both sides. The employer will need to analyze, with the help of the consultant, the type of work routinely performed in the company in terms of computer automation. The employer should request a written, detailed proposal including all hardware, software, networking and services, with pricing, description and timeline.

Temperament and Personality

Just as important as the consultant’s technical skills are his/her personality traits. Are you comfortable dealing with the consultant? Does the consultant speak plain English, or just techno-babble? Does the consultant seem interested in hearing about your specific needs or telling you what they are? Introduce the consultant to others in the firm to see how well they interact. The psychological, personal, and communicative fit between consultant and director in charge of computers is probably the most crucial aspect to a successful implementation and maintenance of a computer system. The development of a long-term relationship with a computer consultant is crucial to the ongoing efficient use of computers. Computers need routine work, which includes upgrades, maintenance, training users and planning for developing trends in the computer industry, your industry and your company.

Confidence

Confidence in a consultant, that he/she will be stable, committed, professional, attentive, honest and responsive, as well, of course, as competent in the specific computer related tasks, is of utmost importance. An employer will need to rely on the consultant’s knowledge of business and the computer industry in order to most wisely implement new systems, upgrades, etc.

References

Can the consultant provide solid references? Ask for references and see how they have performed in the past.

Expense

The expense of full service computer consulting can be substantial. Rates range between $95 and $175 per hour. The price, however, is a foolish area on which to skimp. It is perfectly clear that the old saying “you get what you pay for” is applicable here. First of all, regardless of what Microsoft’s media hype people would have you believe, installing, configuring, training and maintaining computers are not simple jobs. They are, in fact, complex and require an educated, patient and intelligent person. There is a reason that $175 per hour consultants get that fee – she’s/he’s worth it. Do not fall into the trap of saying “oh, but we only have a simple network—nothing that hasn’t been done many times before.” Computers are not simple, but the proper selection of a consultant will nullify the complexity. A competent consultant will get the work completed quicker, with fewer mistakes and fewer ongoing maintenance issues.

People Skills

What does the consultant do when meeting with resistance from employees to new hardware or software? A wise consultant realizes that the only way in which a computer system installation will be successful is if it is used properly. And the only way it will be used properly is through training and education. It is therefore imperative to find a consultancy that realizes this importance and is willing to provide the necessary training with the psychological delicacy needed to achieve a fit between user and computer on all levels.

Ongoing Requirements

When evaluating a consultant, imagine developing a long-term relationship with this person and the company. You will be working together for years to come, with the common goal of the success of your business. It will be required of you to trust this person with sensitive data, with the proper spending of the company’s money on computer systems and operation and with the most efficient implementation of computer technology. If the consultant seems like a fly by night, or in it for a quick dollar, he/she will without a doubt not serve the firm’s needs.

It is also necessary to understand the level of flexibility of the consultant and consultancy—they should feel responsibility for the continued, proper operation of the company’s computers, along with knowing when to provide continued training, virus updates, backup spot inspections, route or preventative maintenance. In addition, in time of crises, such as during a hardware failure or natural disaster (power outage, floods, etc.), the consultant should still take it upon himself to ensure the health of the computer system. Again, if you do not get the sense and referrals that will support this vision of the prospective consultant, look further.

Business Characteristics

Examine how long the consultancy has been in business. Remember, the field is young, so you will not likely find many 20 year-old firms, but 3 to 5 years of work shows stability and commitment.

Find out if the consultancy deals exclusively with one or two vendors (or manufacturers) of hardware or software. There very well might be a financial incentive to the consultant to recommend a particular solution. On the other hand, the consultant should be fully aware (and act accordingly) that his responsibility is to provide the best solution for the client, and not the one with the greatest profit. Trust and faith in the character of the consultant is what must be relied on here, too, to a great extent.

Conclusion

Choosing a computer consultant should involve considering a number of issues:

The expertise of the consultant in the hardware, software and networking required for your company; the stability and reliability of the consultant; and the ability of the consultant to work with you and your staff.

If these three issues are met, a successful and long lasting partnership is much more likely to happen.

Call Total Computer Solutions today to find out more! 336-632-0860