Picking your brain

Computers are wonderful things — when they work.

When they don’t, your business may need the services of a professional to get them running again. But how do you find a computer consultant who’s right for you?

Conduct interviews until you find the right one.
“First and foremost, besides the person’s technical proficiency, is their ability to communicate,” says Frederick Johnson, president and CIO of Ross-Tek, a computer consulting firm. “Communication is key. A lot of times a person will get involved with someone who it technically proficient, but they cannot dumb the problems down for them. They use a lot of technical jargon that gets the person completely confused, and when they are confused, they hesitate because they are not comfortable making decisions.

“The person should be able to translate technical information into business terms or business sense so you understand what it is you are getting involved in.”

Look at the person’s previous projects, and ask whether he or she has done similar work for someone else.

“You never want to use someone getting into something for the first time,” says Johnson. “You don’t want to be the guinea pig.”

Consultants don’t have to know everything, and most won’t. What you are looking for is honesty.

“A lot of consultants will come in and BS their way through the conversation and not know what they are talking about,” says Johnson. “They should say they aren’t sure how to handle that situation, but they do have resources they can call and get the right information.”

If you have a broad project covering many different subject areas, it’s not realistic to expect the consultant to have the answers to all your questions on the spot. However, if you have a very narrow project and the consultant claims that is his or her area of expertise, then that person should be able to answer most, if not all, of your questions.

“Never assume anything,” says Johnson. “It’s usually not a one-time transaction. You want to build a relationship with someone that is personable, has integrity and can deliver as promised.”

Consultant relationships

*Make sure when a computer consultant makes a proposal that there is some type of project management or timeline.

“The customer should know how long it will take to do a job, the resources needed to do the installation and the estimated costs,” says Frederick Johnson, president and CIO of Ross-Tek, a computer consulting firm.

*Make sure the consultant standardizes any new projects with your existing technology.
“Inconsistent technology generates more support costs,” says Johnson.

*Make sure there is a knowledge transfer.
“A lot of times a consultant will come in, get the job, do the install, get paid and that’s where the relationship ends,” says Johnson. “The customer is never given the opportunity to learn about what they just paid for or how to utilize it. The business should be told how they can be productive with the new install right away.”