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.

show you why you should invest in their recommended solutions and where the return on your investment will be.

For example, Pinkerton had unrealistic expectations about how much his Lakeside project would cost. “All of the consultants came in with a much higher figure than we expected, but that’s because we had such limited knowledge. What we first budgeted was unrealistically low,” admits Pinkerton, who had to buy 75 new PCs to get the project going. But when the work is completed, Lakeside employees will be able to fax from their desktop, e-mail internally and externally and dial into the bank’s server from remote locations. Interestingly, while Pinkerton underestimated his costs by 150%, O’Brien’s estimations for Equis’ project were in the ballpark and Blake overestimated by 30%.

Also, consultants’ rates are all over the place, ranging from $400 to $3,000 a day. The $400-a-day firm could be a five-person shop that sends a technician over to install a few applications on your PC. Heavyweights like IBM and Apple might send a trainer in to bring a whole office up to speed on the latest technology and charge $3,000 a day.

Some consultants use fixed-price contracts that cover a variety of skills and services. But the norm is to bill by the hour for as long as it takes to complete the project. The hourly rate works best for clients who have a specific request and understand the technology and its implementation.

Just because you now have in hand a good technology plan doesn’t mean your work is over. You must continue to make decisions throughout the process about the consultant’s conclusions, recommendations, implementation and ongoing support.

CBCF’s Blake suggests having the consultant keep you informed of their progress toward key objectives via written reports and status meetings. During their engagement, Inner City Consulting provided an added benefit by giving Blake a usage report. “It told us the number of hits our site had gotten and the number of downloads of our registration form,” says Blake.

BCS and Equis had a different relationship during implementation, but it worked just as well. “Because they lived here with us, everything was very communal,” says O’Brien, who has worked early mornings, late nights and even weekends with the four BCS consultants who will remain on site for the duration of the project. While designing the core of Q4.0, Equis and BCS would have a steering committee meeting once a week and subcommittee meetings every other day of the week. Lakeside also held weekly meetings with BCS consultants to discuss detailed progress reports prepared, in this case, by the bank’s project manager. “These reports would list every task that was supposed to be done during that particular phase of the implementation and what percentage was completed,” says Pinkerton.

A support strategy, identified during early discussions with your consultant, should include services such as on-site, telephone and on-call support. These arrangements are often defined in service level agreements, which lay out parameters such as committed response time, escalation procedures, problem tracking

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