Wanted: High-Tech Help

Once you've made the commitment to upgrade or or overhaul don't go it alone. Here's how to pick the right consultant for the job.

Early last year, Denise Blake realized that her organization’s Web site wasn’t doing its job. The few visitors that did stop by didn’t stay long because of outdated information and unattractive design. As manager of special programs for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF), Blake knew the Web site (www.cbcfnet.org) had to be updated and modernized, especially if she was going to use it to encourage people to register for their annual conference.

Realizing she needed help, Blake conducted a Web search for African American Web site designers and e-mailed requests for proposals to them. Several responded via e-mail, but Ken Granderson, president of Inner City Software (www.innercity.com), a Boston firm that specializes in interactive Web site consulting and development, was the only one to place a phone call as well. The call, and subsequent conversations, led Blake to contract Granderson’s firm without ever meeting him face to face.

In the first three weeks after its redesign, the CBCF’s Web site received 2,500 downloads of its conference registration form, thanks to the additional graphics and interactive capabilities installed by Inner City Software. Next on tap for the site: internship and scholarship applications, online reproduction of CBCF research papers and audio and video dips of conference proceedings.

Many business owners find themselves in Blake’s position-with a business or equipment problem they want technology to solve and not sure which solution is best. That’s where a technology consultant can come in handy. However, there are some things a business owner should do before bringing one in.

ANALYZING WORK FLOW
Having an accurate concept of how your organization works is the first and most important step when deciding to engage a consultant. Identify exactly what each of your organization’s departments is responsible for and how they interact. This will help you articulate to a consultant what business problem or process you wish to improve through technology.

Work flow analysis can help you decide which functions (e.g., accounts receivable, payroll, personnel) can be automated to improve the way information moves through your organization. It will also help you prioritize your implementation. If you can’t do this yourself, have a consultant help out. David Pinkerton, senior vice president at Lakeside Bank in Chicago, says they had not documented their work flow before engaging Blackwell Consulting Services (BCS), a Chicago-based information technology consulting firm, to redo the network that connects their five branches. “They did a very detailed analysis of our network requirements,” says Pinkerton, “after interviewing all of our key personnel to understand how the whole bank works together.” Such an analysis will ensure That you direct your energy and dollars to the root of the problem and not its symptoms. .

CHOOSING A CONSULTANT
Once you know what you want the technology to do, you need someone to help identify a solution. But where do you find the right consultants? While there are several avenues to take, from the Internet to the Yellow Pages, one of the more reliable ways is through referrals. Ask some of the businesses that you deal

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