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.

business and help you create a plan where technology can help you grow, whether it be a five-year or a two-month plan,” says Granderson.
In analyzing your business, consultants should understand your current state of technology and ask questions about your company’s direction. In addition, they should determine how technology can support your business and give you a competitive edge.

Each prospective consultant’s written proposal should outline the strategy–the beginnings of a technology plan–and estimate the time and costs involved in your project.

Equis Corp., a Chicago-based real estate firm, called on BCS to upgrade the company’s database management application from Q3.0 to Q4.0. “Conceptually, we were sure what we wanted says John O’Brien, vice president of Equis, “but the actual design, implementation and all of the little practical details evolved during the planning.” A detailed technology plan will develop from further work flow analysis, give-and-take meetings and research by both the consultant and the client.

“Our consultant e-mailed a step-by-step plan prior to the [Web site] redesign,” says Denise Blake. The beginning of the plan outlined objectives that she wanted Inner City to accomplish, such as text replacement, graphic addition and color enhancement. “Then he went into things that I didn’t know I needed, like online registration,” she adds. The plan included information about e-mail capabilities from the Web site, satellite
video conferencing ideas and general completion dates.

Your company’s business plan can also be invaluable. “The technology plan should map to your business plan, which tells you what you’re going to do, where you’re going to focus and how you’re going to make money in the future,” says Robert D. Blackwell, president of BCS.

The following information also should be in your technology plan: a schedule of updates, what needs to be purchased, cost estimates, training options, warranty periods and support strategies.

WHAT ABOUT COST?
During the first couple of meetings, a business owner should evaluate how creative the consultant appears to be when working within certain bounds of constraint-such as a tight budget. For example, if the plan involves buying 20 PCs, its wise to wonder about obsolescence. A consultant who’s looking out for his or her client’s best interests might recommend leasing equipment rather than buying-or suggest ways they can make do with existing programs and equipment. In fact, the consultant should start by exploring additional solutions available through your existing technology. Find out what features you would sacrifice if you go with a lower-cost solution If you can afford what the consultant is recommending, but they don’t seem certain about what they’re proposing, you shouldn’t engage them. “Of the proposals I got, the prices quoted varied widely,” says Blake. “But some consultants were proposing things I did not need and others neglected to give me all the options.”

Every business starts from a different level of technology, ranging from ground zero to sophisticated, which means you may not have any idea what your expenditures should be. Not only should consultants be realistic and candid about what technologies cost, but also it’s their responsibility to

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