As a business owner or executive there is a lot of value in bringing in someone for an outside opinion. The analogy would be other professions that are more mature for example law, medicine, and accounting. It is expected that you go out to a chartered account and get your books reviewed, or you go to a professional engineer to review and stamp a drawing of a bridge, or you go to a doctor and the doctor refers you to a specialist. It’s the same thing with information technology. I feel that the IT field is very immature, it’s very new; it’s growing at an exponential rate and a lot of the best practices that other professions have, or that you should go out and get an expert opinion. It is not necessarily someone who is your uncle’s neighbor whose son that is really good in computers. I’m talking about someone professional who does this as a living.

Knowing where to begin can be very overwhelming but you can keep it simple by bringing in a consultant in what I call a discovery meeting. This should be a short two hour meeting with no agenda where some basic areas covered. It is a question and answer period where the consultant asks questions to paint the picture of what the organizations IT systems look like. Not everything will have an immediate answer. Certain areas may be focused more heavily based on the answer. The meetings are very organic. They usually help bring to surface unexpected areas of concern. The entire meeting might be sidetracked into a certain topic, but that’s okay, it’s just the first meeting.

As a result of that meeting, you’re going to get some homework. I find that frequently in those discovery meetings it’s very helpful to actually sketch out how the IT systems are related, what components are in play, and what your understandings are. It helps bring forth a lot of issues to surface as many organizations don’t have proper documentation. Organizations are literally flying by the seat of their pants and they’re in firefighting mode. The documentation they have is several years old.

The discovery meeting will bring to surface a number of hot topics. Some might be immediate short term issues and others which are longer term. The discovery meeting also helps establish a new relationship between the organization and the consultant to see if there is a fit. When it comes to IT systems, you really need to trust the consultant as you are divulging a lot of critical information about the way your organization is run. Many times it involves more access, user names, passwords and knowledge than the owner or president of the company. You really want to have a solid relationship in place with the consultant. These meetings helps determine if either want to move forward and in what capacity.

The other benefit from starting with an initial discovery meeting is due to most organizations not wanting to make a big investment. They don’t have budget for this. They’re worried this is going to cost a lot of money. You don’t want someone coming to change everything. Having a two hour meeting is a very minor consultation fee that many organizations use discretionary funds in order to initially pay. Then you can get a sense of feeling whether or not you want to move forward.

For more information, see my book www.ITSurvivalGuideBook.com

3 Comments
  1. I like that you use the legal term of “discovery” because the process that you describe is similar to the discovery process used in legal proceedings. It is true that most organizations would prefer to bring in an IT consultant that take on another full time IT employee. These days it is all about avoiding commitments. Sad but true. Such is capitalism. I believe that the discovery process is similar to the “vetting” process that potential political candidates go through prior to being selected as nominees for political offices. Great article here.

  2. This process is indeed a vital part when hiring consultants from the “outside”. As we all know, hiring consultants would entail a large cost, so the services that they will be providing should be utilized wisely. In our group, we only give the consultant the high priority issues, which are long term problems, than the minor issues that we can easily solve. That way, the hours will be prioritize and would be worked on much more crucial issues.

    Also, this interview would also allow people to know that the consultant is qualified enough for the job and has the same priorities as thec ompany hiring them ( if the goal of the company is better system, the consultant must be aligned with that priority, as well as if the company prefers saving cost.)

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