As business-related technology
becomes increasingly sophisticated and complex, many business owners,
office managers and systems operators are turning to independent computer
consultants to develop high tech business solutions that keep a company
ahead of the competition and ensure their operation has the tools and
training needed to run smoothly and efficiently.
But how do you go about finding and hiring a qualified consultant who
understands your business needs?
The Independent Computer Consultants Association (ICCA), a national
not-for-profit organization which promotes ethical professionalism within
the industry, offers these 10 tips for choosing a consultant:
Be wary of the consultant who attempts to `snow you' with technical
jargon. A consultant should be able to explain things clearly in terms
you can understand. You should feel comfortable with your consultant and
believe that he or she has your best interests at heart.
Listening is a virtue. A consultant should listen to your needs and
objectives, before offering solutions. A consultant's primary task is to
understand your needs and translate them into system solutions that will
work for you.
Check references carefully. It is not necessary that a consultant
has done exactly the same work for someone else, but it is important
that his clients are happy with the results and continued service.
Ask about the consultant's relationships with vendors. Vendor ties
often mean that the consultant has better access to the technical
support needed to complete projects. Some vendors offer extra training
and technical support to consultants with whom they have an on-going
Inquire about the consultant's objectivity. Ask the consultant to
specify any special allegiances or financial incentives tied to computer
products. The ICCA code of ethics specifies that as independent computer
consultants, members do not have undisclosed interests in client
decisions, and are objective in their recommendations for each specific
Determine who the consultant's backup will be. Discuss up front who
will complete the project if something happens to the consultant. Many
smaller consulting practices have agreements with colleagues or through
their associations to provide backup for them.
Consultant Accountability. Regular status reports are a good
safeguard against the unexpected. They should keep you up-to-date on the
consultant's progress, as well as the costs being incurred.
An hourly or daily rate doesn't tell the whole story. An experienced
consultant at a high hourly rate can usually justify that rate by
producing value in a lot less time than a lower priced consultant. Plus,
a good job will lead to lower maintenance costs in the future.
Membership in a computer association adds legitimacy. Consultants in
organizations such as ICCA pledge to uphold a high business standard and
are often backed by professional liability insurance. ICCA, for example,
functions as a nationwide business support forum composed of nearly
1,500 member firms. Through the network, a consultant is able to obtain
business and technical support to provide the best possible service.
Consultants also exchange referrals to help clients find a proper fit
between their needs and a consultant's expertise. Association
involvement demonstrates a dedication to professional development, which
is essential to staying on the cutting edge of the computer industry.
Ask how long the project will take. The consultant should be able to
give you an idea of the time that is involved. This is what he or she
will base the cost estimate on. Make sure you also establish a way for
the consultant to notify you of delays.