I’ve been touching on this subject on occasion, perhaps because this is the premise behind my business, but also because I’ve seen several business cripple their own ability to grow due to a lack of foresight in this area. Several people have debated this concept with me, and I’ll let you judge for yourself.
The statement that triggered each of the various discussions was as follows:
Every business needs a technology consultant.
Elie Kochman, April 2010
This statement triggered a variety of reactions, one of which caused me to rephrase my statement for the sake of clarity:
Any business needs a technology consultant.
Elie Kochman, April 2010
The change serves to acknowledge the fact that a particular business may not require this, but it will not be because of the industry or field, but because of some other factor. As an example, the second statement says that flower shops need a technology consultant, but John’s Flower Store might not.
The question that has not yet been answered, though, is why?
Businesses have an accountant on retainer, because in the long run, the business will get better advice for financial issues from an accountant who understands the history of the business as well as its current structure. Additionally, long-term plans can be made for tax planning purposes that could only be done by someone who truly understood the business.
Lawyers operate in a similar manner – certain legal work could possibly be done by anyone, but a lawyer who understands his client’s history, current situation, and needs, can provide better service.
In technology, there are two very fundamental divisions of work done on behalf of clients. The first, which most clients are well aware of, is implementation. The second, perhaps less well-known aspect to technology work, is strategy and planning.
Implementation is as simple as the definition of the word – the client knows what they need/want, and they pay someone or a company to make it happen. For example, the client decides their website needs a complete makeover, and they want to do a full re-branding. They can find a company that does this kind of work, and get it done.
Strategy and planning goes further than that, and is provided by some technology-based companies. This work is less about the implementation itself, and more about determining what needs to be implemented at all. The planner will look at the business, what it does, its history, its current situation, what technology and processes are already in place, and then, based on that information, help the business reach its goals (usually a combination of reaching more customers, selling more products, providing better service).
Why it Matters
The most common argument I’ve heard to paying a technology consultant is that they don’t provide any real value to their clients. Sure, they can help figure out that you need CRM software, and even suggest a particular package, but often, this work will be done by someone else, who probably could have made the same decision.
This notion, however, is flawed, because it assumes that an IT consultant doesn’t do implementation. While there are certainly examples that validate this assumption, there are also many consultants who do provide both strategy and implementation. The difference, however, is the focus of their business.
A company who’s focus is about what they can build and create may provide extraordinary implementations. As an aside, they will help you figure out what it is you need. However, because their company specializes in a particular sub-field of IT, they will be concerned with that area more than any other.
On the other hand, an IT consultant has equal concerns for all areas of technology as it relates to your business. Additionally, they understand how businesses work, and spend time learning how your business in particular operates. This diversity of specialties means that your business ends up getting all its needs filled in harmonization with one another.
In fact, you can take the advice provided by an IT consultant and hire your own implementers directly. However, using the consultant to help in this area also ensures that the strategy is played out to completion, and all the pieces fit together smoothly. They will often have a large network of qualified providers, with whom they can get work done at a competitive rate, to which you can now get access.
Any Other Reason?
If you are not yet convinced, here’s another reason that an IT consultant provides ongoing value to your business.
Knowing the structure of your business and technology means that when new technologies become available, there is someone out there who is already thinking about how to apply it to your business in particular. Sitting down to meet once every 3, 6, or 12 months can make sure your business is adopting appropriate technologies as soon as possible.
Your accountant looks over your business at least once a year, and can help you plan forward. If you’re incorporated, you lawyer likely updates your minute books on an annual basis as well. You visit the doctor once a year (at least, some of us do) for a checkup. Visiting your IT consultant is exactly the same – it provides you with updated information appropriate to your business on an ongoing basis.
How about You?
What is your opinion? Do you see value in having such a consultant on retainer? Did I miss some points? Or perhaps you disagree completely – I’d love to hear back from you.