Some businesses think that hiring a consultant shows organizational weakness; a confession that they do not have the right staff or skills to do the job themselves. These businesses may think that hiring a consultant is much more expensive than grooming the talent from inside the company, and when the consultant leaves, the firm will not be able to support or maintain the project.
Concerns like these are overreactions and do not allow the view that the consultant community can be a cost effective extension to the in-house technical support. This article will try to identify some of the issues that surround hiring a consultant.
A consultant can fill a temporary or part-time need for additional staff. In every business there are cycles of heavy and light activity. In the MIS environment when the cycles get heavy, there can be tremendous demands on the already limited staff. Hiring a consultant to fill a particular need will allow critical deadlines to be met and a temporary staffing need met without the delays of hiring or training a new employee or a transfer. The expense of providing salary and benefits, training, and other administrative needs that accompany a new hire can be onerous. Also, when the peak workload diminishes, the consultant can be released much more quickly and gracefully than a permanent employee.
In some situations, your business may be expanding and you need to fill a skill need, but not necessarily require a full time employee to fill the need. Sometimes this can happen as an organization requires the expertise of a CIO, yet cannot justify a full time CIO. In this situation the requirement can be met with a part-time CIO staffed by a consultant.
A consultant can provide emergency support during a catastrophe or other critical time. When a disaster occurs, like a fire, flood or major hardware outage, firms may find that existing recovery plans do not cover everything. A consultant that specializes in this type of recovery will assist and guide your staff through procedures that they may have planned for, but never actually implemented. This would provide you with a highly skilled extra set of hands at a time when they are most needed. In some instances, insurance can recover the entire cost of this consulting service.
A consultant can provide specialized knowledge and skills in a timely manner. As the computing environments change toward increasing complexity, it becomes difficult to maintain skills inside an organization that are aware of all the new technologies and how they affect the business. Companies are also finding that rapid deployment of new technologies can provide significant competitive advantages. If a specific project arises that needs a particular skillset, the delays in having people trained and equipment tested can make the implementation very untimely. By contracting with a consultant who specializes in the target area, you will be able to get the skill immediately. You may even be able to find a consultant that has just finished a contract exactly like the one you are planning (an ideal situation) which would eliminate much of the research and testing phase and proceed with a fairly rapid implementation.
A consultant can provide your staff with education in your environment on your equipment with your software implementation. Hiring a consultant to train your staff with one of your newly installed products or a product that has been underutilized can be very beneficial. The consultant can teach your staff how to use the products in your environment with your unique set of conditions. It will not be a classroom lecture on a generalized product-set totally unrelated to your specific needs. If you are training a few people in this manner, you may find the process to be less expensive than a series of classroom sessions.
A consultant can leave you with enough information to support the project once it is finished. A consultant should document everything that is done and will need to be done during and after a project is completed, before turning it over to the ultimate support staff. Even if the consultant is going to be the person you will be using to support the project upon completion, you would still benefit from full documentation. Consultants may come and go, but you will have this new project for a long time and you will need the documentation to support it.
President, BME Group, Inc.