Archive for the ‘IT consultancy’ Category

How to recruit IT staff (when you don’t understand IT yourself)

August 10, 2012

Having recruited more than 1,000 IT professionals over the last 20 years for our managed service teams providing IT support for businesses, I can safely say Plan-Net has learned a thing or two about how to recruit IT staff.

Hopefully this article might help those of you who are less IT-savvy still make wise IT staff recruitment decisions, and avoid costly mistakes along the way.

There is no shortage of IT people in the labour market today, but the real challenge is in finding the good ones – and then, from that much smaller pool, identifying the right one for your business.

Even those of you who don’t have a great understanding of IT will probably have a good feel for what you need IT staff to deliver. Businesses rely on technical tools and systems. We need someone to fix these quickly when they stop working, and we need someone to improve them so we can increase our business productivity and efficiency.

So the first step when recruiting is to articulate the service your business needs from its IT staff or department. The trickier next step is to convert this into an IT job description that thoroughly details all the necessary technical skills and experiences the individual or team would need. If you’re starting to get lost in technical jargon at this point, it might be wise to find an IT friend or contact that can help you do this. Even if it means paying them a small fee, you’ll avoid the first costly mistake, which is the wrong job description.

Recruiting IT staff: finding the good ones

Using a specialist IT recruitment agency is helpful as they will have a wider access to the supply pool than you, so it can expedite your search. However, a note of caution when dealing with agencies is that their interest is in securing the placement as quick as possible so they can take their fee.

So if they find and present you with three candidates, they will want you to choose one of them, even if perhaps none of them are right for your business. It’s worth ensuring agencies offer you at least a 3-month, or even better 6-month, refund or replacement mechanism if things don’t work out. You can also try scouring LinkedIn and asking your existing business network and partners.

Check, check and check again

The risk for any business looking to fill any type of role is taking on the wrong person. Arguably, this risk is greater for a small company, where you are so much more dependent on every individual to perform. It’s even more risky when you’re looking at IT roles. You are entrusting these people with your business data, systems and operations. A mistake could cost your business dearly.

I therefore cannot emphasise strongly enough the importance of a thorough screening process. Interview candidates face-to-face a number of times yourself and enlist your IT contact to help with the interview too.

For IT staff in particular, it’s important to test their technical skills. At Plan-Net, we have developed our own tests in order to be ultra-confident that potential employees have the necessary capabilities. If you’re doing this yourself, you can find a variety of technical tests online. There are free tests available, but my recommendation is that you invest in paid tests. It can act as a false economy not to.

Background checking is also very important. We invest in a specialist service that carries out a number of checks including CRB (Criminal Record Bureau) checks, credit checks and reference checks.

If you decide to do this yourself rather than using a third party, make sure you check every line of the CV. Check the gaps and make sure you verify all references. We’ve found candidates who claimed they have degrees when they dropped out in the first year, some with outstanding debts and unpaid bills and others with completely bogus references. Sadly, in this economic climate, we tend to see a higher proportion of candidates ‘embellishing’ their CVs. When you’re recruiting IT staff, much like in Finance and HR roles, you are recruiting someone who will be a custodian of your critical business systems and your business information.

Almost above anything else, you must be sure you’ve found someone you can trust.

An easy option

Lastly, if anything to do with IT is Double Dutch to you and you just want to avoid the hassle and headache of recruiting IT staff altogether, you can use managed service providers to manage your IT function for you. Finding the right IT staff to adequately deliver this service is then their challenge – not yours.

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Richard Forkan, Director

This article was published on London Loves Business:

http://www.londonlovesbusiness.com/business-news/tech/how-to-recruit-it-staff-when-you-dont-understand-it-yourself/2968.article

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Need or want? A simple metric for your IT projects in tough times

April 13, 2012

Recently, news and government statements on the state of the economy just confirm what all businesses already know: growth is slow; economic recovery will take a few years; all excess must be cut for survival. Although organisations nowadays recognise the importance of IT for the day-to-day business processes, they are struggling to secure investment in IT as is often not considered a priority. Often, as a result the IT Service Desk is the first destined to suffer, and with it, potentially, operational and business efficiency.

Any investment in IT, however small, can still create efficiencies if any project is carefully assessed against a very simple metric: is this a ‘need’ or a ‘want’?

A clear example of this would be a desktop refresh. Even if mainstream support for  Windows XP operating system is ending, they might find it more convenient or cheaper to pay for the extended support and postpone purchasing the latest version for another couple of years, when the company might be in a better position to deal with the disruption and changes to applications. In this scenario, Windows 7 becomes a ‘want’ rather than a ‘need’; by delaying the move, the organisation can get some much needed breathing space, or is able to invest their reduced budget in something more critical.

To evaluate a ‘need’ an organisation must focus on their core processes, main business-generating areas and IT-related risks. Do you need a certain application or technology for any user or a team in particular, say the sales team or customer relations? Is encryption vital across the whole organisation, or just the finance department? Do you need to enlarge your IT service desk team now or can you use home-working contractors to help at peak times until the market has settled?

Another smart approach to create cost-efficiencies is to invest in better management of the resources that are already present, which could involve some consultancy advice. Reducing head-count and cutting down on all IT expenses creates a false economy – yet companies still expect to have the same efficiency and quality of service. Reviewing the use of resources can allow better utilisation of existing staff, e.g. identified recurring issues can be resolved by 1st line support instead of it continuing to devolve to 3rd line, getting the business back on their feet faster and allowing for a more efficient use of existing resources. Other possibilities may be: cutting down on 3rd line analysts and using a cloud service provider to manage their servers; using automation software to deal with repeat incidents can allow the organisation to use less 1st line analysts; managed resources can also improve efficiency and save money, with a service provider in charge of staff management, training and best practices for a fixed monthly fee.

Smaller spending capacity can prove a great opportunity to look seriously at what is essential and what is not, with wiser short-term or far-seeing choices and clear objectives. This period of uncertainty is a challenge that successful organisations will take with a specific goal in mind: to remain successful and retain efficiency despite any difficulties this economic climate might present, and prepare their business to grow and flourish as soon as the economy is on the rise again.

Jennifer Grant, Service Deliver Manager

From in-house to consultancy: moving to the ‘dark side’

November 23, 2011

There are many exciting directions a career path can take when one works in the IT field. This is not exclusive to skill development or career advancements within the same company or field. Many IT people with in-house experience at some point choose to ‘move to the dark side’ and embrace the world of consulting. It can be a positive change for a Service Desk-bound professional to finally be able to get to the clients directly without all the layers of sales people, and be able to make good use of the inside knowledge they acquired by advising companies in different fields and with different environments on what is best for them.

Moving to consultancy is a choice that more and more IT professionals are making, while other professions are slowly becoming less popular. According to the research paper ‘Technology Insights 2011’ published by e-skills UK, there were as many as 149,000 ‘IT Strategy and Planning’ professionals in the UK in 2010. This category consists of professionals who provide advice on the effective utilisation of information technology in order to solve business problems or to enhance the effectiveness of business functions, and in particular computer and software consultants. This sector has an average growth of 2.22% per annum and is expected to grow by another 29,800 people by 2019, with 178,900 professionals working as IT consultants in the UK. Whereas the IT Strategy and Planning field has enjoyed a growth of 15% since 2001, jobs like computer engineers and database assistants on the other hand have decreased, the latter category by a striking -34%. It is evident that the more technical roles are suffering from the increased use of automation software, remote support and best practice processes that allow less skilled and therefore cheaper staff to take the place of qualified engineers without losing efficiency. So it is no surprise that more strategic roles are winning ground and many techies are making the choice to use their skills in the role of advisers.

While moving to a consultancy role can be a very positive choice for an IT professional from a career point of view, it might however also face the person with new challenges – in particular, the negative prejudice they could encounter when approaching clients. Consultants are often seen as salespeople who want to trick companies into buying their services, perhaps long projects that they don’t really need, and overcharge them when they could do the same work themselves, for less. This gives way to many issues. It is difficult for consultants to get hold of business heads or get them to listen to their proposals, and when they do manage to have a meeting, they need to be very well-prepared and find the right balance between cost and quality, where they do not undersell or oversell their services. Finally, they have greater responsibility with regards to the outcome than they had in their in-house role, so it is important that their plan is feasible and effective and that they check and monitor constantly to be sure that everything is going as expected, making any necessary correction along the way.

It is not all bad, of course. At the top of the ‘positives’ list, there is the fact that consultants get to see many different environments, rather than just a few in their career lifespan. This allows them to build a greater, wider knowledge and experience base and improve their professional skills. But it also helps to avoid the feeling of stagnancy, keeping their level of enthusiasm high as they can enjoy working on a variety of projects.

A former in-house professional may also have some advantages over consultants who do not have that kind of background: having experienced ‘the other side’ helps them understand what clients want and, especially, don’t want from a consultancy, so that they can deliver a better service and even identify new work opportunities. They know and understand how things work inside organisations – the communication issues between business and IT, the difficulty in justifying IT projects to the CFO or the blaming game when a project doesn’t go as predicted.

Balancing all the positive and negative sides of this move, one thing is certain: these kinds of professionals have an edge over those without an in-house background, and can therefore be a valued acquisition for a consultancy firm as well as a resourceful advisor for any company in need of IT improvements. And if taken advantage of appropriately, work success and personal satisfaction are natural consequences.

 

 

Jennifer Norman, Technical Consultant

Brace for the feared double dip: IT planning can maximise mergers and acquisitions

October 28, 2011

As the business world lies in fear of a double-dip recession, companies are advised to ‘think smart’ and try to find a way to profit from further economic downturn and not to simply aim to survive it. Or, if they are struggling, to have a ‘rescue plan’ in place that will spare them from drowning in debt or sinking altogether. As a consequence, mergers and acquisitions flourish remarkably in times of financial difficulties, and can be a way to gain during a tough spell – either by buying or joining with another business and expanding or by selling up before collapsing completely.

Mergers and acquisitions, however, are not just the ‘combining of commercial companies into one’ (to quote the mini Oxford dictionary). Business leaders are missing a significant trick if the joining of two businesses is not maximised, i.e. that the market share of the new entity is greater than the sum of the two companies when operating on their own.

It is, however, an ever repeating trend that mergers and acquisitions do not address operational, cultural and technology considerations as part of the consolidation. These often remain ‘off the radar’ long after the legal part of the merger or acquisition is complete.

So, rather than just ‘think smart’, a better message is perhaps for companies to ‘think smarter during tight times and to make the most of these mergers and acquisitions right from the start, by ensuring that the fabric of the new bigger company is appropriately adapted so that it functions in a manner that maximises the now greater trading capabilities.

Those within the IT services industry will have experienced customer organisations that bear the signs of a merger or acquisition and, worst still, continue to tolerate them. The tell-tale signs are classic and include: performance issues; geographically separate and siloed support teams; a large list of supported applications; technical complexities; a high support staff headcount; a disproportionate number of managers; and complex organisational structures. None of these ‘features’ of an organisation can positively contribute to its on-going ability to compete and win in its market place. And if the cost of these inefficiencies could be demonstrated, senior management might just fall off their chairs.

The good news is that mergers and acquisitions can be conducted with a better overall outcome at low cost – through the use of some external aid. These are the kind of projects where the use of a consultancy can really make a difference. Employed during and soon after the merger to improve what is at heart of an improved approach to mergers and acquisitions, ‘people, process and technology’, the cost of a consultant will be a drop in the ocean compared with the overall cost of trying to fix all the possible IT-related faults and issues in the years following the merger or acquisition. The value of the work is likely to be recovered quickly by enabling the business to operate better and by making people’s working practices more efficient. Efficiencies will emerge during the analysis stage of consultancy by identifying opportunities for synergy which will have a positive impact on the on-going investment made by the business in people and systems. The outcome: doing more and doing it better, with less.

So far, all this sounds obvious and nothing more than common sense – so why is it that the ‘people, process and technology’ side of mergers and acquisitions isn’t dealt with early on? Speed, assumption and procrastination are usually the causes.

‘Speed’, because a merger or acquisition deal is usually time sensitive, and focus must be on closing the deal by a given date. ‘Assumption’ because aspects like company culture, people, processes and technology are assumed to be similar and therefore likely to gel. ‘Procrastination’ because activities required to streamline the new business are often planned post-deal, but with human nature being what it is, the plans take an age to implement or never happen at all.

So, if like the United States Army you want to ‘be all you can be’, it is important that people, processes and technology are properly considered and addressed as part of a possible merger or acquisition. You should ensure the IT planning and transformation work starts during the merger/acquisition process so that its importance is clear and understood, then follow it through post-deal before your people return to their normal mode of operation and their old working ways. And, if you are using a service provider for any or all of these steps, be sure to choose one that has a record for properly identifying synergies and efficiencies and who have successfully implemented these. As the recession will not be worsened by losses caused by a faulty or inefficient IT service, the outcome of a well-planned IT merge will surely make the difference.

 

Jon Reeve, Principal Consultant

IT consultants should drop the ITIL clichés to win clients over

October 14, 2011

Good sense and demonstrable results make a winning proposal

Things have significantly changed since the recession affected companies’ budgets and made them re-think their needs and priorities – something IT consultancies have to take into consideration when proposing their services.  ITIL, once a priority within many corporate IT strategies and individual’s personal development plans, is no longer regarded in quite the same way.

‘ITIL is dead’ and other similar statements have been circulated in past months within the IT press. But this is not exactly the case: it’s not that ITIL is dead – there’s plenty left in it yet; it’s simply that ITIL is now ubiquitous within IT and everyone’s had as much as they can take of ‘ITIL this’ and ‘ITIL that’.  IT Managers now want sensible solutions to their IT problems, where value can be demonstrated and which are based on sound thinking and good old common sense.

ITIL is therefore still important; it’s simply not the whole of the answer anymore.

When contributing to customer proposals, I’m finding it difficult to write lines such as ‘support the needs of your business’ or ‘align with best-practice’.  These rather out-of-date terms no longer need to be said. After all, who would buy IT services that weren’t these things?

With a growth in global IT spending this year predicted by analysts such as Gartner and Forrester, IT consultancies have to really think about what to offer clients.  The rest of this year and the next will see an increase in companies buying IT consulting services, which together with software and system integration services are expected to account for 44% of the global IT market.

But if we’re not paying homage to ITIL anymore, what is it that needs to be said when pitching for IT services work?  The answer is quite simple, though it does require credible and demonstrable qualities from those submitting their proposals.  The problem or requirement needs to be fully understood, preferably backed with supporting data that is undisputed.  The solution proposed has to make good sense and be achievable, and the cost of the exercise must clearly demonstrate value to the customer.

As a result, it is likely that IT services companies will need to invest more time in the requirement, supported with sound data analysis, ahead of writing the proposal.  This does mean a greater willingness to invest time before formally engaging with the customer, but, following this, they will have written a proposal which is specifically focused on what will be done (without all the gushing marketing speak).  If compared with proposals from a few years ago, it will lack the blurb and clichés that we’ve all endured for so long and will be clear, detailed and relevant.

Of course, this does mean that businesses needing help need to be a little more forthcoming with providing data, and even access to the business, ahead of receiving any proposal.  They will also need to avoid unnecessarily ‘playing the field’ with IT consultancies, because, by investing a greater amount of unpaid work ahead of submitting a proposal, consultancies will be less inclined to continue in their efforts for no return.  But the outcome of this fresher approach will be far more useful than has been experienced previously.

 

Jon Reeve, Principal Consultant

 

This column originally appeared on ITSM Portal: http://www.itsmportal.com/columns/it-consultants-should-drop-itil-clich%C3%A9s-win-clients-over

 

‘Cloud Consultancy’ – Experience On Demand

September 27, 2011

The value of consultancy in Service Management projects

For many organisations, expenditure towards IT is often a sticky subject – there never seems to be a big enough budget for IT related projects. This is especially true when these concern Service Management. Whereas it is easier to justify spend for hardware or software that needs to be updated or refreshed, Best Practice has always been more difficult to sell to the CFO.

This hasn’t always been the case. A few years ago, before the credit crunch, many organisations invested in ITIL training and qualifications for their own internal personnel. It was ‘the thing to have’ – but things have radically changed now. With tighter IT budgets and an increasing need for improved efficiency in this unstable economic climate, a great number of organisations are nowadays less interested in buying Service Management training for their in-house staff.

Putting staff through Service Management training is not only expensive and time consuming, but also not particularly effective on its own: even with the best qualifications, they would still lack that real-world experience that is so important for a successful outcome. In the same way, ITIL is being seen as  self-obsessed and often being thought as a mere money machine. There is an increasing awareness that Best Practice frameworks need not to be taken as a step-by-step guide – there is a growing necessity for the common-sense principles to be tailored and adapted to a specific IT environment.

What organisations are looking for is not to have the whole ‘knowledge pack’ but rather direct access to relevant knowledge and experience – an expert that can analyse their environment and tell them what aspects of ‘Best Practice’ would benefit their company. They don’t want to buy books, they want to buy expertise – and this is where Service Management consultancy comes into the picture.

An external Service Management professional will have both the knowledge and the experience, often more extensive than any in-house staff could have. This is because they will have worked with different clients, and therefore seen various environments and shared several experiences. They can compare an organisation with others with a similar or completely different system and give them advice on what would work for them, what kind of improvements they should make and what their strengths and weaknesses are.

In a world where everything within IT is becoming ‘on demand’ – software, platforms, databases – it seems Service Management couldn’t avoid following the trend, which has become a necessity for organisations living in constant fear of a double dip recession. Consultants can help by offering direct access to their knowledge base and the appropriate guidance for specific projects. This way, organisations will only ‘buy’ the knowledge and experience that is relevant to them and only for the necessary length of time to complete their project.

In particular, organisations now want a collaborative approach. They want an expert that can help them understand if their ideas are feasible, convenient and efficient and how best to achieve the results they aim at. They can show them what to do, train their staff and support them every time there is an issue, but without the financial burden of being there all the time.

Although very current, this ‘Cloud Consultancy’ is not anyone’s cutting-edge invention. It can instead be seen as the result of the current economic climate: organisations need on-demand resource, knowledge and experience with built in flexibility. It is a natural development to suit these times of economic uncertainties, and provide organisations with the necessary tools to grow and pursue success.

Sharron Deakin, Principal Consultant

5 reasons to employ an IT consultant

May 23, 2011

Have you ever found yourself in that situation where you look all over the place for your glasses, until someone tells you they are on your head? When it comes to IT, it can be difficult to see what is wrong with the system you are using and how it can be improved when you are directly involved in it. In these cases, an external view would be helpful – and it is also beneficial when you don’t have the time or resources to maintain up to date knowledge of your sector’s latest developments or have little experience of alternative environments and IT systems and the benefits they may bring. There are many reasons why the use of an external consultant for IT projects covering infrastructure, service management and even security will bring advantages. Here are five reasons why it is beneficial to use an IT consultant for making improvements to your IT Service Desk:

1 – Unbiased view

An external view can be more objective than an internal one. People directly involved with the IT Service Desk may not want to admit that the Desk is not delivering well, fearing it might be seen as being their fault; that their latest project wasn’t managed or delivered correctly or was a waste of money; or even that some roles, perhaps theirs, might be unnecessary. Some Service Desk managers are protective about how well their department is doing to avoid losing their job or reputation, and prefer to be creative with figures to give the rest of the business the impression their Service Desk is generally doing better than it actually is. As for consultants, it is in their own interest to be completely transparent in the results of their assessment and to make the appropriate recommendations in order to improve service levels and overcome existing issues, demonstrating evidence of the results to the organisation who hired them.

2 – Diverse experience

Normally, an experienced consultant will have worked with many other organisations from different industry sectors and with different solutions for their IT, and they can compare your solution with others, noticing differences and similarities. They might also have experience of new technologies and processes that you are thinking of implementing. Having seen what worked and what didn’t in other contexts, they will be able to suggest the adoption of processes, tools or management systems already in use in other environments that may be suitable for yours. Thanks to this experience, the risk of implementing the wrong solution is minimised and so are the chances of losing money, time and efficiency.

3 – Similar experiences

Consultants may also have experience of environments that are similar to yours, either because they are the same type of company, from the same sector or are using the same IT system. This can obviously bring some advantages – consultants can compare your system to others in use in similar environments and recognise where improvements can be made and pitfalls avoided quickly. Based on this analysis, they can easily make recommendations relating to changes that are quick and easy to implement as they already have proven results. Consultants’ experience is a precious instrument to add value to your IT projects.

4 – Professional skills

With certifications on top of their experience, consultants are usually more prepared than in-house staff. Since their work involves helping people make the right decisions, it is part of their job to keep up to date with the latest technologies, processes and case studies and be able to suggest the right choices, tailored to each individual environment. Obviously, certification alone does not mean a person is able to put theory into practice, therefore it is very important that you choose your consultant carefully, checking if they have already worked with organisations that are similar to yours or have experience of similar environments to be more certain they will be able to meet your particular needs.

5 – Cost savings

Hiring a consultant for your IT projects is less expensive than training your Service Desk manager for every new tool, technology or process, not to mention perhaps taking them out of their day job and having to back fill. For instance, you may want to implement a new tool set and align that to a couple of ITIL processes, those that are relevant to your organisation, without putting your managers through the whole training. An external consultant can perform a short assessment of your environment and from this will make specific recommendations for service improvement, process design and Implementation as well as clarifying requirements for toolset evaluation and selection. This is an advantage of having previous experience: this way, it is easier to understand if it fits the company’s structure and aims – and avoid wasting financial resources on dead-end projects.

External help for your internal needs

Investing in your in-house IT staff, keeping them up to date with the latest innovations within IT and educating them to Best Practice and the culture of constantly changing and adapting will surely have a positive outcome, but the skills your organisation has internally might not be enough if you want to reach maximum efficiency, cost savings and keep innovation risks down to a minimum. For every improvement needed, the use of a consultant trained and experienced in that field can be a less expensive and more effective choice that can ultimately improve the success of your IT projects and add value to your bottom line.

Sharron Deakin, Principal Consultant