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.

with for the names of technology consultants.

Once you have a list of prospects: determine what qualitative and quantitative criteria you’re going to use to select the consultant and evaluate their progress. “These factors should all be decided on up front, so your selection is not based on a sales pitch where the consultant will tell you what to measure them by, which they’ll do if you let them,” warns Hilton H. Augustine Jr., CEO of Global Management Systems Inc., a high-tech company in Bethesda, Maryland, that designs, develops and manages network systems.

Important factors to consider should include how established, the business is, its clients, responsiveness and level of expertise. Also, consultants may be certified through industry organizations such as the Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals or major vendors such as Novell and Microsoft.

Ongoing maintenance and training is also key. “It was very important that our consultant not be a fly-by-night company that would come in, do the lowest bid and be gone the next day,” says Pinkerton.
Other factors to evaluate include the firm’s familiarity with the latest technologies, past assignment completion records, efficiency rates and, whether the work is going to be done at the consultant’s site or your office.

Survey companies where the consultant has done the same type of work you’re interested in. “Most firms gave us three to five [references], but we went beyond what they furnished us,” says Pinkerton, who asked each candidate for 10. He then visited these banks to see their networks and asked about the consultant’s reliability, timeliness, ability to meet the budget and willingness to stay in touch after the project was completed.

It’s important to talk to someone at the executive level during your site visit to learn whether they were satisfied with the results, the consultant’s approach to the work and the performance of the internal project manager assigned to oversee the tasks. Ask what criteria were used to make consulting decisions and evaluate delivery. Someone from the financial side can tell you where they are seeing a return on investment now that the project is completed. Finally, review all the deliverables and any kind of milestones that were set up for implementation and follow-up, including project management and status reports.

The written proposal you request from each candidate should help you understand what methods will be employed to implement your solutions, and evaluate whether the firm has employees qualified enough to handle your needs. The consultant should provide resumes and allow you to interview persons who will be doing the work.

The consultant should be checking you out, too. “Some were eager,” says Pinkerton, “but others wanted to make sure that we were a firm that could absorb the type of technology they recommended and would pay our bills.” Hilton Augustine agrees. “Seeing that a consultant has some kind of evaluation process for you as well shows that they will not just take anything they can get their hands on.” .

“The consultant should do an analysis of your

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