Businesses often hire an IT consultant to complete an important technical project, conduct a comprehensive IT assessment or provide ongoing counsel.

In many cases, the demand for consulting is driven by a lack of in-house technical expertise or the desire to have an external perspective on business operations. There’s value in having an outsider bring insights, knowledge and opportunity to your organization.

But choosing the right technology consultant can be a daunting task for those looking for the right fit. Here are some tips.

What Are the Most Important Things to Consider?

The most critical thing to do before seeking a consultant is to have well-defined business objectives. You should have a clear understanding of what your objectives are for the engagement, either short- or long-term, along with the desired outcomes and timeframes. This foundational information helps your consultant help you.

Next, conduct an inventory of your existing technology. This will help your consultant ask questions and conduct an IT evaluation if needed. Here are some good questions to answer:

  • What hardware, software and networks are in place?
  • What data do we collect now? How is it stored?
  • What data do we need to collect?
  • What workflows are working and which are broken?
  • Who is responsible for data backup, data security, service and employee technical training?

This is also a good time to collect resources related to your technology, including equipment warranties, contracts and documents.

What Should We Look For in a Technology Consultant?

To hire the optimal IT consultant, you’ll want to prepare some questions in advance and compare answers. Among the key questions to ask:

  • What experience do you have working with companies like ours?
  • What projects or issues similar to ours have you addressed? What were your approaches and solutions?
  • What vendor partnerships do you have?
  • Who will I be working with — you or someone else?
  • What does a typical contract look like?
  • What references can you provide of companies like ours?

An excellent source of more information about questions to ask can be found here.

Do I Need a Technical Background to Work with an IT Consultant?

One of the likely reasons you are looking for an IT consultant is that your tech solution is not doing what you think it should. You do not need to be an electrical engineer or computer scientist to engage with an IT consultant.

The communication goes both ways.

First, you need to be sure they understand your industry’s syntax, vocabulary and operational techniques.

More importantly, your consultant should be able to explain technical concepts and solutions in clear language. A consultant who cannot articulate clearly what’s being discussed to you and your staff is not going to be an effective partner for you.

There’s another aspect of communication that’s critical: your ongoing interaction with a consultant. How frequently will you meet? How will the agendas be created? What deliverables should be expected? How available are they and how?

The types of meetings will be very different depending on the engagement. If it’s for project management, the update meetings should likely focus on deadlines, deliverables, budgets and challenges.

Assessment and planning meetings will likely dive into the creation of operating plans, measures and budget development. If it’s an ongoing engagement (often referred to as hiring a virtual CIO), then meetings may be monthly or quarterly where the agenda is developed in tandem.

What Should I Expect from My IT Consultant?

You and your IT consultant need to agree on timeframes and budget (which may change from those you developed prior). There should be tangible deliverables, metrics and objectives clearly defined and included in any contracts.

How Does the IT Consultant Interact with our Employees?

The best way to help your consultant succeed is to see him as an extension of your leadership team. It’s also important that other leaders — and to some extent all your employees — understand that perspective, too.

That means inviting the consultant to key meetings, including those where goals, objectives, strategy and tactics are being discussed. These conversations allow for all present to understand the role of technology and possible options. Seeing your consultant as someone focused on your business success can also alleviate concerns or skepticism.

How Does IT Consulting Tie Into Other Technical Services

Many IT consultants own or work for managed services providers. These are companies that provide businesses with an array of technology solutions, including:

  • Cloud hosting of software, data and systems
  • Data backup
  • Help-desk services
  • System monitoring and other cyber defenses such as anti-malware, anti-virus and anti-spam solutions
  • Business continuity and disaster recovery services
  • Business phone system conversion and support
  • Mobile device management

For many businesses, hiring an IT consultant is part of an array of contracted services that can help meet your most urgent needs, plan for the future and gain a competitive advantage.