All those buzz words you hear when you meet with you IT consultants mean something at big companies. Over the years, large enterprise organizations have spent billions of dollars, and dedicated millions of hours of trial and error to figuring the best way to get their IT projects done.
They have procedures and best practices for every part of their IT business. Many independent IT consulting companies pay lip service to these ideas, but don’t have the technical depth, personnel, understanding, or experience to truly implement them.
Today’s post is about one of the most common issues I have seen working with, and for, third party consulting companies – the lack of specialization.
Specialization is having a qualified person to do each IT task. This means having programmers and engineers who are experts the specific technical discipline that your company uses. If you have Windows servers, you need Windows engineers. If you have an Oracle database, you want an Oracle DBA. These resources should be on-staff, and have a proven history of success with the systems and programs they are responsible for.
Big companies have properly staffed IT departments with resources that are qualified to deal with the hardware and software that they use. Smaller companies and unscrupulous IT Vendors use generalists and part-time contractors.
Many consulting companies will sell a project first and then figure out if they can staff it. In fact, a lot of consulting companies create a staffing practice by pre-selling jobs they can’t service and then scrambling to find resources to work on it. This is great for the consulting company, since they can sell any project or service they want. It is not so great for you, the client, since you are left at the mercy of any resource they manage to locate, often with very little or no vetting or investigation.
This has several negative consequences that will impact your projects. First, an unqualified resource is essentially learning on the job, using your money. You are paying for an expert, but you are getting a trainee. There is also a very real danger that they will make a mistake. This could be catastrophic for your business. It is much easier than you might think for an unskilled person to destroy a system or loss your irreplaceable business data.
My first boss told me that, as an engineer, my job was to protect the data and the systems. That is the core function of the job. It should be the most sacred responsibility of any person you trust to touch your computers. A company that puts their money ahead of the safety and integrity of your systems is violating this most basic trust.
Even if you are lucky enough to get a heavy hitter assigned to your project, it is likely that they will be a part time resource who is consulting on the side. I know a lot of very talented, Fortune 500 technicians who moonlight as consultants. Make no mistake, no matter how good they are technically, this is their second job. Their “real job” comes first and your project will suffer if there is a conflict or if they stop working for the consulting company.
Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. The inspiration for this post came from a call I got two weeks ago from my old boss. One of the systems I built, an e-commerce platform on Redhat, had gone down. When I was with the company, I was their Linux resource. When I left, they made no effort to replace this skill set. Keep in mind that they continued to charge the client for monthly maintenance, os and security patching, and website administration. Nothing had been done since I left, but they had no problem collect their check every month.
When the system was hacked, because they didn’t patch it, they scrambled to find a resource who could help. As far as I know the website is still down and they are still going through their contact list to see if anyone has the skills, time or desire to help.
A good consulting company needs to be able to dedicate resources to your issue or project right away. If there is an emergency you need to know that the company has the people in place to start troubleshooting right way. If the first task they have to do is find someone who knows how to logon to your system, you are not working with quality IT vendor or consultant.
The success of your business can’t be based on a phone call that starts with, “Hey, want to earn some extra money?”
Big companies don’t do business this way. They work with partners and people who specialize in the technologies they use. Their IT projects succeed because they use specialized, dedicated resources. Your IT project could fail because you, or your IT company doesn’t.
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