External IT Consultants

I’ve just read this article on the Microsoft TechNet UK blog. On the whole I agree with the suggestions in the article. However, the point “Get the right expertise in” concerns me, as based on my experience, IT managers (or worse, non-IT managers) are all too eager to ship in external skills/advisors/consultants having ignored their in-house IT staff.

This is all very well, consultants can certainly provide good value and good solutions, but listening to your own in-house IT staff is also extremely important for managers to do. More often than not, the IT techs know where the problem areas are, and have a good idea how to fix them. If they’re not able to identify or fix problems then perhaps the organisation is not investing in its staff enough and more training should be provided.

Good in-house IT staff will know the systems they work with far more intimately than any external consultants will. Yes, we use industry standard products, but no, we do not configure or integrate them in a standard way. I’ve seen consultants completely break systems due to them making assumptions about how something should be operating which any decent internal IT tech (i.e. me) would have known about – had they been asked to be involved.

Once the install/upgrade/work package is over consultants leave, taking all their knowledge and experience with them. Whereas, by using in-house staff you retain and build upon the knowledge gained during the install/upgrade, which is invaluable for the on-going support and maintenance of the system. Nothing gives an IT tech more confidence with supporting a system than being trained and then actually implementing the system, dealing with issues as they arise during the trial and pilot phases.

Finally, training your in house staff and getting them to do the work is likely to be more cost effective in all of the short, medium and long term and will not give you the “dip” in the level of support provided during the time when the consultants leave and the in-house operations staff are building up their knowledge and confidence.

Likewise, listening to the word of pre-sales engineers over and above those of your own staff is a mistake. Sales staff are there to make sales, and however much this should not happen (especially in environments that profess to follow best practice guidance such as ITIL and PRINCE2) I’ve seen it all too often where technology is mis-sold to non-technical managers without the IT staff being consulted until it’s a “done deal”. This is shooting yourself in the foot as the possibly quite expensive system then doesn’t perform how it was supposed to yet you’re stuck with it having just blown a sizable chunk of your budget on it. Worse still is the managers responsible not admitting to more senior business managers that a mistake has been made. The subsequent implementation delays, rising costs, poor performance and on-going support problems then make the IT staff look incompetent when in fact the incompetence lies with the management who blindly bought the system in the first place.

To summarise: invest in and fully utilise your in-house IT staff – it’ll be to everyone’s benefit. Use consultants sparingly, for specialist work, and ensure your in-house staff are fully involved throughout.

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