How working with an outside agency can provide clarity to internal IT departments

Deen Ferrell, Business Development Executive, Cal Net Technology Group

In her summary blog from the World Innovation Forum, author Andrea Meyer noted an acronym, WeKE, which epitomizes how IT environments often perceive themselves. It stands for, “We Know Everything.” The sarcasm of the acronym may seem biting to IT directors who struggle daily with the escalating pace of change, the demand for improved performance and the increased financial pressures of the current technology world.

However, as resources become more limited and demands become more immediate and complex, Professor Mohanbir Sawhney, director at the Kellogg School of Management, says a new operational dynamic is needed. In this shifting model, IT environments accept that they don’t have a monopoly on expertise, are prepared to let go to grow, should communicate to internal stakeholders across the enterprise that open innovation is complementary to internal innovation, and create new roles and units responsible for implementing outside innovations.

“Outside collaboration can help create a synergism within organizations that counters the strain of performance demand, charting new ways of accomplishing more for less,” says Deen Ferrell, a business development executive at Cal Net Technology Group.

“While seminars, trade articles, focus groups and conferences all provide generalized ideas, only trade consultants, with their ability to analyze and assess each specific environment, can provide the particulars that often spark innovation,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with Ferrell about how IT consultants can help your internal department adapt in an ever-changing environment.

How can in-sourcing specific skill sets benefit a lean internal IT team?

In-sourcing specific skill sets that are expensive to hire internally and difficult to retain can help organizations improve knowledge-share without bankrupting their IT budgets. FMS Financial Partners, for example, a company specializing in employee benefits, found a need to ‘in-source’ a core business function outside their area of expertise. The company reported that this type of in-sourcing offered a competitive edge that it couldn’t have gotten on its own.

Specific skill sets that may be tapped include:

  • Unified communications such as VoIP telephony, wireless access, mobile computing and video conferencing.
  • Cloud consulting.
  • Virtualization, which includes server virtualization, VDI and thin provisioning.
  • Backup and storage, for example, business continuity management, disaster recovery planning and SAN replication.
  • SharePoint programing and implementation.
  • Security, including pen-tests, compliance audits and risk management.
  • Infrastructure maintenance such as daily resource provisioning, issue management and on-going network monitoring.
  • Help desk support.
  • Technology design that would encompass assessments, system architecture, return on investment and budgeting.

Even top-level IT teams benefit from in-sourced specialists, who bring a unique perspective to the team — one grounded in wide-ranging practical experience.

Can a collaborative approach to projects really offer a better chance that they’re completed on time, on scope and on budget?

When Harvard-Westlake School, one of the top preparatory schools in Los Angeles County, needed a firewall solution, it decided to work together with an outside IT consultant. Two years later, with hundreds of collaborative projects completed together, school officials said the collaboration allowed projects to be completed rapidly while ensuring a high quality outcome.

World Vision, a not-for-profit organization operating in more than 100 countries with some 40,000 employees globally, had a similar experience. The organization had an enterprise-level project involving a Microsoft product and needed specific expertise, so it turned to a staffing firm, but after several weeks was still unable to meet the specific requirements. That’s when it contacted a local IT consulting firm, which provided the services and solutions that were required for the project and saved money for the organization in the long term.

How does a collaborative relationship spur innovation?

For any real innovation to occur, you have to have a baseline — you have to know what you don’t know. That’s where collaboration comes in. One of the best ways to enter a collaborative relationship is with a frank assessment. Some companies shy away from assessments because they worry about the cost, but having a clear picture of where you are is the best place for creative thinking to begin. In some instances, the right pieces are there, they just need to be pulled together in the right way. An effective IT assessment, coming from outside the organization, provides new critical eyes to clarify where internal vision is clear and where it doesn’t quite hold up. Once weak points are identified, the stage is set for effective problem solving. Collaboration leads to new perspectives, and from new perspectives, innovation is born.

Can this really help safeguard against uncertainty?

Peter Salmon, managing director at FISCHE Consulting in New Zealand, says collaborative innovation may soon define the organization of the future. He says as future uncertainty and change increase, organizations will face increasing pressure to adapt, evolve and remain viable, making collaborative innovation a critical success factor.

The effective trade consultant not only provides a springboard toward collaborative thinking but also provides the very tools to help innovative ideas come to fruition on time and on budget. In uncertain times, this seems to be a safeguard none of us can afford to ignore.

Deen Ferrell is a business development executive at Cal Net Technology Group. Reach him at (818) 725-5062 or [email protected]

Insights Technology is brought to you by Cal Net Technology Group

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