Technical Consultancy – your critical friend whatever the project size

Technical Consultancy Roles - Matter of Software - Choosing a supplier

In this blog we will explore the role of technical consultancy, regardless of your companies’ size or budget – we all appreciate the need to engage with professional services when the need arises, however often people are not aware of the availability of technical critical friend services.

Technical Consultancy can help reduce risk, highlight gaps in services/solutions and reduce costs – to name a few benefits.  This can be project based and ad-hoc or an on-going level of support to help deliver long term transformations or changes.  Understanding your objectives will help to determine the correct type of technical consultancy (just like solicitors have specialties so do IT consultants) and ensure the advice provided is suitable.

How do I choose a technical consultancy provider?

Technical Consultancy Roles - Matter of Software - Technical Consultancy

Step 1 – List what support you are looking for.

In this step list what it is you are looking for support with and ideally list and success criteria.  A success criterion could be:

  • Reducing the current spend on IT by 20%
  • Closing any IT security gaps across the business
  • Selection of a provider/partner based on your needs

At this stage try to not create a solution – don’t say I need an app or I need a new website – instead mention in your own business language the challenges you are facing or would like to overcome, such as:

  • My admin team are spending a lot of unproductive time – can I improve that?
  • I want to improve the value of my sales and number of sales to my prospects and customers.
  • I want to ensure we are compliant with the various IT legal requirements – what are they and are we compliant?

Later in this blog we look at some of the different technical consultancy roles and typical tasks they might perform.

Step 2 – Next find companies/individuals that can provide the consultancy

At this stage you will create a supplier list of companies that possibly provide the type of consultancy you need, typically you can obtain these from:

  • Internet searches (we suggest avoiding the paid for searches)
  • Word of mouth

For each company create a simple Excel sheet with the name, key contacts and any notes about the interaction (were they quick to respond, friendly, professional etc).

Step 3 – Qualification of the supplier

Next you want to qualify that the business has the necessary skills to deliver the consultancy – within the IT industry we have many individuals, with limited personal experience, who transition into consultancy (often with no formal qualifications or training).  Just like you would qualify an electrician or solicitor you need to be sure the advice you receive will be appropriate.

Ask at least the following questions:

  • Can I know the name of the consultant who would be responsible for our advice/supporting us?
  • Can you please share their professional CV?
  • Are you/they insured to provide advice and kindly provide details of the cover?
  • Please provide their technical qualifications which qualify them to provide this consultancy.

Later in this blog we look at different qualifications within the IT industry – feel free to use this as a quick reference guide.

Step 4 – Narrowing, Commercials and Selection

Narrowing

Hopefully you have found at least 1 if not more companies that appear to have the correct qualifications to provide the consultancy.  Next you need to narrow this down to 2 or 3 suppliers to take through to the next stage – if you don’t proceed with any selected you can always approach other companies (so don’t at this stage let anyone know they haven’t been selected).

Depending on your requirements and available budget you might choose to run an interview stage with your top 3 companies/individuals.  For smaller projects/requirements this might not be suitable/required, but feel free to ask if that is something you wish to arrange.

Commercials

Ensuring value is critical for anyone, so ask for the commercials from each selected company.  You need to compare at this stage so ensure you are asking for the same baseline.

Is the project fixed price?  What are the costs for changes?  What is the delivery timescale?  What form does the consultancy take – remote, onsite?  What are the payment terms?

Selection

Through your interaction with the company you will have confirmed they have the skills/resource to deliver the work professionally, that they are insured for the advice and the cost is within your budget/expectations.  Its also important that you have a rapport with any consultant you will be working with – you need to trust them, be able to understand their advice and most importantly they need to understand what you are trying to achieve.

What technical consultancy roles are there and how might they help me?

Technical Consultancy Roles - Matter of Software - IT Qualifications

We explore some of the typical consultancy roles and examine typical work they might produce along with times when you might need their services.  The list certainly isn’t exhaustive so don’t hesitate to ask for any clarifications.

Technical Project Manager

Who: They can review and manage complex technical projects, ensuring budgetary control, correct use of resources and delivery on-time.

What: Either used a supplement to a project manager or stand-alone, they can help manage technical project risks and issues.  Where a project requires a large degree of technical 3rd party interaction a good technical project manager can ensure dependencies are managed and no clear ownership of issues/challenges.

Why: if you have several suppliers who need to coordinate, or integration of any platforms/solutions – a technical project manager can reduce project delivery time, costs and ensure the end solution is fit for purpose and support responsibility is clearly defined.

Enterprise Architect

Who: An experienced technical architect who can take a holistic view of the business requirements and apply to a technical landscape.  They have practical experience to ensure that all systems work as a single solution and more importantly can be maintained/supported.

What: Great at understanding business requirements/business needs and translating into technical requirements.  They have a wealth of experience in what is possible, what is commercially available and the non-functional requirements (think security, availability, speed etc) to ensure the proposed solution is fit for purpose.

They can also analyse existing systems/solutions/processes and recommend possible gaps based on your needs and/or duplication (where costs could be saved).

Why: Before embarking on implementing a new system/solution or changing an existing, a good Enterprise Architect can advise on the options available and guide on requirements.

They can help produce a technical specification which can be used to tender, ensuring you receive like-for-like quotes and importantly the solution being delivered is fit for purpose.

Technical Architect

Who: A specialist who designs a technical infrastructure that ensures your system/solution is available (based on your requirements) and can be maintained.  They focus on ensuring the lowest cost of infrastructure is developed to fit your needs, the solution can be backed up and any legal requirements (data encryption etc) are met.

What: Great for examining an existing infrastructure and advising on possible improvements (reduce costs, improve availability, ensure compliance etc) or proposing a infrastructure for a new solution.  They can advise on the different benefits and options to ensure you make an informed decision between hosting/infrastructure providers.

Why: Are you sure your critical business data is being backed up securely and you could recover if you needed to? Is your system secure and compliant with the secure storage of personal data?  Are you overpaying for hosting/infrastructure and can you save costs without compromising on service?

Solution Architect

Who: A specialist in a specific application/technology they understand how to maximise the benefits of the application, reduce risks (such as upgrade risks) and ensure the solution is used correctly.  Examples include SAP Solution Architect, Web Solution Architect, Database Architect and Mobile App Solution Architect.

What: Great for ensuring a specific product or functional product is used in the correct way, this reduces any upgrade risks, ensures compliance with licensing and increases the chances of the system operating as it should.  Often used to create guidelines for new projects or to review third party development to ensure compliance with best practices (ensuring you are getting a quality deliverable).

Why: Having an external quality assurance for any 3rd party work from the start of the project in our experience increases the quality from day 1.  You might have internal resources or just need a little technical guidance on getting the best from a solution, so a good solution architect can provide guidance and advice at key times.

Technical Consultant

Who: A resource who is able to understand and apply technical changes to an infrastructure or system.  They ensure the solution operates optimally and that any designed processes (backup, email exchange etc) are functioning as they should.

What: Ongoing maintenance of your infrastructure is critical to the successful operation of key systems, ensuring business email remains available through to ensuring encrypted backups of key data offsite.  Your technical consultant can ensure key activities are documented, automated tasks implemented and any failure reporting is relevant.

Why: A review of the existing infrastructure to identify any gaps or issues against needs/requirements, technical support between 3rd parties to implement a robust infrastructure through to providing written guidelines to ensure legal compliance.

What are some of the IT qualifications in the UK?

Technical Consultancy Roles - Matter of Software - Choose Skills

Degree/L4 Apprenticeship

With a wide range of degree’s and level 4 apprenticeships available, not every course is created equal.  Some focus on media and the use of technology, some on development of IT solutions and others on management of systems/solutions.  Ensure any degree held by your consultant is relevant to the work that you are looking them to perform.

British Computer Society

The British Computer Society membership at various levels shows a certain experience, it is also possible to become a Chartered IT Professional via the BCS (this is a formal qualification that requires education, experience and qualifying exams/interviews).

Project Management

There are a number of well-known project management frameworks which a consultant can be qualified in.  PRINCE2 and PMP are two of the largest, PRINCE2 has two levels – an introduction level (basic understanding) and a practitioner level (able to apply key principles etc).

Enterprise Architecture

The Open Group provide a certification for Enterprise Architects called TOGAF, it also provides a framework to develop EA artefacts in a structured/guided way.

Technical/Solution Training

Of course, there are too many to mention but a professional with follow continuous professional development, which means they will take courses regularly and in relevance to their skills and services they offer.

Experience

OK not a formal qualification, but a consultant who has a large breadth/depth of experience can also add a lot of value.  Ensure they actually did what they said they did (references etc) and that the experience is applicable to your industry/business.

Do Matter of Software provide IT Consultancy Services?

Yes we do.  We offer all of the above-mentioned consultancy types and we deliver these either on-site, combination (on-site and remote) or remote to suit.  We deliver ad-hoc one off through to on-going retained services.

Contact us now for a free, no-obligation discussion to see how technical consultancy can help your business.