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Updated by Charles Bystock on 07/08/2014

it-consultantsConfused about how to compare IT consultants? There are many to choose from, and it’s vital to pick the right one, so you can be sure your consulting experience will go smoothly and you’ll get the great advice you need. The worst thing you can do is assume all IT consultants are the same.

Don’t start looking for solution or sourcing advice until you are clear internally on your IT goals and long-term business goals. Your IT consultants will need that information – as you do, of course – to help you most expertly with tailored recommendations, whether you’re looking for help with a narrow-scope project or full-scale IT transformation.

As you’re evaluating IT consultants, look for a firm that embodies all five of these characteristics.

Ability and willingness to listen.

It’s your company and your future. You need consultants who are good problem-solvers, not pre-ordained solutions that don’t actually fit any better than hand-me-down clothing. Expert consultants listen “between the lines,” so they can pick up on sometimes-subtle cultural issues such as your IT staff’s concerns about job security, or your desire to find solutions close to home. The best solutions address every aspect of your project.

Ability to work well with your team.

Without an amiable, comfortable personal fit, the team won’t gel. And without clear, continuous communication, your project is doomed to suffer from misunderstandings, missteps and delay. That will be annoying and more costly, and you could unintentionally end up with a “solution” that is off-base. A waste of time and resources rather than a great leap forward.

Tight-fisted concern for your budget.

Consulting costs money. You want the best price as well as the best value for your investment. Expert IT consultants acknowledge that, with performance-based fees and the shortest possible turnaround.

They also know you need to reduce IT operations costs, or at least better optimize your spend, so they’ll focus on helping you build a comprehensive, accurate business case. That way, you can compare true costs of whatever alternatives you’re considering.

Real-world know-how.

It’s easy to say you’re an expert. But where does that “expertise” come from? Time on the job doesn’t necessarily indicate someone has the right knowledge and skills to help your company. You need IT consultants whose background is broad, deep and relevant.

True experts have both IT operations and business management experience, because the two are inseparable for growing your enterprise. IT consultants should understand what you do and how you do it and why certain details are important internally and/or for your customers. That way, you won’t have to waste time explaining the nuances or risk having your consultants misinterpret your data.

No solution can succeed without taking a holistic approach to your project.

Not every consultant possesses the same expertise, by any means. And not all firms offer the same range of services. Pick one that specializes in the kind of advice or assistance you need. And before you make any final decisions, talk to their past clients about their results and also their experience working with the consulting team. You’ll get the most useful answers from companies that have been using their new solution for a year or more.  

Ability to see into the future.

No, you probably won’t find IT consultants who are clairvoyant. But one critical aspect of their advisory work is to guide you toward solutions, providers, etc. that are best-suited for the long haul. In today’s global business environment “long term” means just a few years, but you want a top-notch return on your investment in IT change and that will depend on your total cost of ownership over those years.

And beyond the financial considerations, you need solutions that enable your enterprise to grow and change nimbly with your marketplace. Inability to do that is a cost that can be fatal.