Responsibility Of The It Customer

If the consulting assignment is to be successful, IT managers (i.e., customers) must understand what has to be done to ensure success. The first consideration has to be that the customer, despite any understanding with the consulting firm to the contrary, is the "owner" of the system and, as a result, has to accept final responsibility for the success or failure of the project. The work of the consultants, good or bad, affects the business of the organization to a greater extent than it affects the consultants. If the project fails, the organization is harmed. Consultants will also be harmed, but they will also move on to the next project. A salient question here has to be, "Who has the most to lose if things do not go well?" The answer is: the customer.

Because customers have the most to lose in a relationship with a consulting organization, they must understand the ramifications of dealing with consultants and be prepared to manage the relationship to their benefit. They must understand how to manage a consulting relationship. The following points help to make clear issues in selecting and managing IT consultants:

■ The customer must have a very clear understanding of the work to be done. As consulting organizations are considered for the assignment, the customer must be willing to devote whatever time and effort will be required to make certain the consultants understand the deliverables they will be expected to produce. Those deliverables have to be committed to writing and the document signed by all parties.

■ A search should be conducted in order to identify several consulting organizations that have the capability to do the required work. It may be that the organization has a relationship with a consulting organization, and as a result, that firm is in a favorable position; but it is always a good practice to request several bids for any work to be contracted.

■ Formal proposals should be solicited from each of the consulting organizations that have an interest in the project. Those proposals should respond to the customer's set of project criteria. Part of this criteria is the set of project deliverables. Customers should develop a baseline from which all responses can be judged.

■ If there is a need, the customer should hire someone to assist in developing the criteria required to prepare the proposals for the consultants. If help is required in preparing the proposal, the work should be done by a disinterested third party, who will not be involved in bidding for the project.

■ The customer must be aware of, and resist, the tendency to be swayed by well-done marketing campaigns. Being able to market services well should not be taken as assurance that the same level of competency will carry over into the technical work.

■ Resumes of individual consultants proposed for the project should be reviewed. The IT customer should also ask to meet with each person proposed for the project to make certain that he or she will be a good fit for the project and IT organization.

Establish an agreement with the consulting firm such that those candidates the customer has selected for the project are the ones who show up on the project. It does occur that people are switched. Usually, that new person is not of the same caliber as the person who was originally presented. This may cost extra, but is often worth the added expense.

■ Carefully review references supplied by consulting firms. In checking those references, try to find out the names of other organizations for whom a consulting company has done work. Obviously, the consulting firm is going to provide the names of satisfied customers. A little extra digging can sometimes turn up important pieces of information. When negative information is uncovered, a customer can ask the consulting firm for answers.

■ The customer should inquire about the existence of a quality assurance function within the consulting organization. Consulting organizations concerned about quality review proposals to make certain they stand a reasonable chance of successfully completing assignments. If there are doubts, such consulting firms will work with a customer to overcome any problems.

■ Consulting organizations often offer a standard contract. Such an agreement may not be adequate for a customer, who should insist on adjustments. In any event, the contract must be reviewed by a customer's legal department before it is signed.

■ A contract offered by a consulting organization may provide too much protection for the consulting firm at the potential expense of a customer. A contract may be ambiguous about responsibility for performance. When a contract uses vague terms, rather than precise, concrete terms about the level of work, quality, responsibility, and support, a customer must be cautious. Customers have found, to their dismay, that when things go wrong, the responsibility of the consulting firm, as outlined in the contract, is limited.

■ The financial terms of the assignment must be clearly outlined in the contract. The arrangement may be for time and materials, or it may be a fixed bid. In either event, items such as overtime, travel expenses, and other costs should be agreed upon in writing.

■ Although it may seem obvious, one of the items that the customer should pay attention to is that of having the workspace for the consultants ready for them before they arrive. It does happen that consultants show up and they do not have the hardware needed to begin work. Having the consultants sitting idle for several days while the hardware issues are being resolved is an unnecessary expense.

■ As is the case with any transaction involving legal liability, IT managers must consult an attorney.

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Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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