Is your IT consultant going to be there tomorrow ?

Posted on Posted in Customer Relationships, IT, Security, Suppliers, Telecoms
Written by James Page
IT consulting is a tough, competitive field, and there are ample opportunities for reputable firms to ensure that you get the service you need. There are a number of other IT Support companies that just a hanging buy a string or providing a poor service. At Accede IT we like working with the reputable competitors, and we even endorse IT Outsourcing companies too in other parts of the country if we think the benefit maybe better for you. The one thing we understand at Accede is how to cost a job properly, if you come to us for a quote and ask us to compete against a cheaper quote we will try but we are realist and that means we quote for the work you ask to our high standards. Now we may not beat the cheap quote but we will certainly be alot more straight forward to work with.

 

In the 16 years prior to being self employed I’ve seen numerous IT consultants enter the market, only to fail. During my time I have worked with nearly 50 different Computer firm/software house or support companies. Everyone from large insurance software house to local independents have come and gone. Despite frighteningly large marketing budgets ( adverts and local sponsorship  competitors often fail within just months.

And there’s a reason. IT consulting is a dynamic, ever-changing industry that requires practitioners to maintain multiple skills. Rapid technological shifts frequently change the way you work, the tools you use, and the operational procedures you require. To meet that challenge and stay in the game, you must learn early on how to avoid some of the more preventable pitfalls. Here are 10 mistakes that we seen IT consultants often make when they’re starting out. We make it are mission not to get caught in these traps.

10 Things that might make you ask the longevity of your IT Consultant.

Rogue IT Consultants
Rogue IT Consultants

1: Underestimating total project time

None of us is perfect. Unforeseen issues always arise. There are no “simple” projects. Consultants must take those issues into account when preparing project cost estimates.

I remember as work with working with an Project Manager estimating a simple Windows 7 rollout for a division on a large PLC, They suggested a 6 month role out for 7 different UK locations with upto 100 people in each location.  In developing the with them estimate, I questioned whether there timing allowed the sending of the computers, taking away of the old ones, the refreshing of the old ones (taken) and the registering of the computers on the domain. Without going on further, let’s just say it took longer.

A good consultants must be particularly careful to review project plans before settling on a final estimate that is forwarded to the client. We work and have a wide scope of  consultants who we can dicuss the current IT challenges. We maybe competitors but we all have a story where we can show our prowess in resolve a problem that came up out of  the blue.

2: Failing to properly document project scope

A good consultant will document ( in a day book ) things that he may need should any question may arise such as why did my first server deploy take longer? In conversations with the clients, we like to openly discussing the project. So rather than assuming we just bring a server and booting it up and plugging it in, we will have gone a step further and asked the client about there existing network. The consultants role is to leave with the customer being able to use his new purchase and not seeing it simply dropping the server off.

Its also key to explain to the customer what is meant by a server deployment. There is nothing worse than the client thinking a “server deployment” included installing a couple network printers with network scanning functionality, upgrading Microsoft Office software on eight workstations, implementing site-wide antivirus, and other tasks. Such disconnects are the IT consultant’s fault.

Clients are not technology experts. It is the consultant’s responsibility to ensure that the client’s business needs and objectives are understood and that the technology deployed matches them. Whenever estimating a project now, I provide clients with a project plan that lists specific bullet points. I don’t just state “deploy server,” “configure DNS,” etc., as most clients don’t know what that even means. Instead, before starting a project, I go through a project plan with the client that reviews tasks I will perform and the specific functionality those tasks will provide (“Users will store their files on the server’s X drive,” All users will send/receive email using Microsoft Outlook 2007 on their desktop workstations,” “A new network printer will enable scanning documents and storing them over the network to a Z drive hosted on the new server,” etc.).

3: Underestimating hardware costs

One of my pet hates when I was an IT Manager was consultants trying to alter there price on hardware cause they got the deal later. I can recollect one incident with an IT consultant where we asked for a quotes for a specific gigabit switch. They quoted and forgot to edit the stand quote template, which stated we have 30 days to accept the quote, on the day we said we would proceed they with drew the quote stating they couldn’t source the part. What had happened is the supplier offer had ended, no as the customer that wasnt my fault so as such we went somewhere else and yes it cost us more but if a company is going to mess you about promising things and then not coming up with goods ot withdrawing quotes then they just not worth the hassle. And the cost to you to source from others in time and pressure isn’t worth it. At Accede IT we might not be the cheapest but we are highly competitive and we keep our promise.

4: Trying to master all technologies

Of Course I know what they all do.
What a mess

An IT consultant cannot master all the technologies clients require. It’s not going to happen. As a busy consultants  you will service three or four clients a day, it could be more. There’s no way that consultant is going to develop comprehensive expertise with all the myriad applications clients wield, such as Dentrix (dental), Timberline (accounting), QuickBooks (financial management), Intergy (physician practice), Act (database), Prolog (project management), Aloha (restaurant), and SEMCI Partner (insurance), as well as routing platforms (Cisco, SonicWALL, WatchGuard, etc.), Windows desktop and server operating systems, antivirus solutions, Exchange email, and others.

At Accede we have determine which platforms we will master, as well as promote the ones we already have under the belt. Thankfully for use we have a number of contacts to cover and troubleshooting problems with the remainder. We have a understanding of the platforms but we have a partner who can deal with the super complex issues. As an IT Manager i was extremely lucky to work for companies who invested in their staff. I have passed a number of CII exams ( Insurance), Prince II, Polaris (Insurance Programming), MCITP in Microsoft SQL Server and ITIL Service Delivery. For things like Microsoft Exchange or Sonicwall installations we pull on partner links and a good friend Paul Alsop.

5: Waiting to send invoices

Again going back to my days as an IT Manager, it always alarmed me when a consultant, especially those starting a new business, are particularly eager to jump on your projects. It’s seemingly best to always be billing. Given the choice between taking downtime to develop and mail invoices or go onsite to complete another service call, rookie consultants almost always favor knocking out additional service calls. But there’s no cash flow when invoices aren’t going out so when you then try to buy a new PC from them they cant fulfil the order.

A accountant client gave me great advice. He recommended I always send invoices within a day of completing work. He told me studies reveal customer satisfaction is highest when invoices are received quickly. It makes guess it makes sense. Every day a consultant delays sending an invoice, clients forget a little more the pressing need that demanded the repair or service. When bills arrive three weeks or a month later, cash flow not only suffers, but customers are more likely to believe charges are excessive. This is because the business and operations interruptions and resulting trauma and downtime the consultant corrected have been forgotten.

6: Scheduling too many calls

When planning a typical workday, we schedule one or two hours of time for every hour billed. Essentially, that means two to four service calls are the most that can be reasonably accommodated on any given day.  We do this to ensure you the customer get the best service as there is nothing worse stretching resources too thin. I hate letting a good customer down

7: Failing to market the business

A bad consultants, whether working for a firm they own or as an employee within a consultancy, typically strive to maximize billable hours. The desire for billable hours sometimes comes at the expense of obtaining new clients and chasing larger projects. As we said before we don’t market to the detriment of our prestigious customers. We believe if the deals good enough for a new customer then its good enough for the existing customer too. We have advertised local and joined 4N and other networking meetings. We are heavily involved in the community as well as our contacts in the Insurance Sector. Recently, a longtime friend and ex CII President reminded me that, by scheduling 7:00 AM and 7:30 AM meetings every day, he’s opened an additional 250 meetings a year on his calendar. So check your consultant is connected, if he’s not and cant  name contacts or customer then alarm bells should ring.

8: Overlooking travel costs

At Accede we try to include travel cost as a separate line in our quote, again using the key time need to decide, especially when we have to use airlines to visit Northern Ireland and Ireland. However there are consultants, especially those new to consulting, that don’t realize the costs of travel time. Traffic is expensive. Very. When they realize their mistake the prices go up and the customer then will question this. Those costs must be captured. Typically other, IT consultancies may capture them in the form of onsite service fees, highly for the inflated first-half-hour rates, or other surcharges. Just this past week, a heating engineer completed work at my home. The bill included “travel fee.” That’s nothing but fair. In addition to paying for fuel and wear-and-tear on a fleet vehicle that’s come 40 mile, the engineer needs to cover the time spent traveling to my home.

At Accede for call out to site we have 2 offerings an adhoc service and a virtual IT Manager service (monthly retainer). The Adhoc service will adopt the high first half fee, but we charge by the half hour there after. For our Virtual IT Manager customer you will have paid us a retain for a number of days, we will use the hours from these first and bill you ( after telling you there is likely to be a difference ) separately at the standard rate.

9: Charging too little

At  Accede we have resisted the natural temptation, we run special short term promotion for new and existing customers. But running a business as I am sure you know if you have one costs money, lots of it, and technology solutions are complex. We are proud of our expertise, and the delivery of onsite service. It always worrys me when we get undercut by someone, more so when we now with things like Microsoft Licensing we are fairly competitive. If its cheap is it legal, fakes and consultants that are blagging the skill set, make our jobs so much harder. I feel sorry for business that get caught in this trap as its costly to fix. There are times where by if we think the software is illegal then we will sadly have to advise you of this. As FAST and companies are now catch-up with SME you could get caught and with a huge fine. For Large Microsoft Licensing we have a partner who will do a complete audit of your estate and help you with your submission when Microsoft start emailing you for your declaration. What we do advise is not to ignore them, they come down heavier on you and some business end up being finished. We can ensure that you comply and are legal.

10: Working Saturdays

Can you contact your consultant on Saturday or Sunday? Whilst we don’t advertise being open, our customers have a means of get in touch with us outside normal hours. Most clients don’t call for help before critical systems fail. Instead, they wait. Then they try to fix it themselves. Next, they enlist the assistance of the local computer geek on staff. Often, the consultant is called only after these efforts — and those of the business owners’ friends, colleagues, and neighbors — have failed to resolve the problem.

What works for you?

OK, so you have some choices when you put your business IT in somebody else hands. We are passionate about technology. We truly enjoy diagnosing and repairing technology problems for clients. But the work is stressful when a cheaper solution has cut corner or not done the work. Tidying up administrative tasks can prove maddening especially as we know you have already paid for these service once already. I am sure you have similar challenges in you business industry. I could have easily written this with an Insurance twist or cheap car parts, and cheap in Insurance or car  terms doesn’t necessarily mean best either.

 

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