January 16, 2018 • Smart Resources
What to Look for When Selecting an IT Consulting and Staffing Partner
We’ve seen it countless times in IT departments everywhere. A stack of resumes sits on a desk, waiting for a CIO or IT Manager to carve time out of their busy schedule. When they’re finally able to review the applicants, the all-too-common result is that the candidates fail to meet even the minimum necessary requirements for the role. And that’s often the best-case scenario.
Your business can only be as successful as the quality of those that work for you, which makes finding the right IT partner all the more important. The right one will not only alleviate the difficulties inherent in locating and recruiting experienced talent, but will also provide support and guidance in tech initiatives that impact every area of your organization.
Whether you’re already searching for a new IT partner or are looking to assess your current tech solution, there are a number of critical questions to ask. Find someone who can answer them all satisfactorily, and you’ll find the right firm for you.
Can They Provide the Right Support?
When the right IT experts have your back, your organization can reach new heights. That takes a level of support that many IT consulting and staffing firms fail to provide. Making inquiries about the level and style of support as well as the quality of talent a potential IT partner can provide is essential in determining if they will have your back when you need them most.
Can They Find the Right People?
There’s a reason this is one of the first questions to ask of a firm. Simply put, finding and recruiting IT talent is extremely difficult. With tech unemployment at 2.5% and an estimated 263,586 IT jobs sitting vacant, there is a significant shortage of knowledgeable professionals in the industry. The right partner should be able to provide you with a successful track record of their ability to recruit the best talent. Finding a needle in the haystack must be their expertise.
Ask them about their process for sourcing candidates. Does what they describe sound like they are dumping a pile of irrelevant resumes in your lap? Or are they getting to know your business, goals, strategy, and open roles, and providing a small number of perfectly-vetted candidates? Hearing firsthand how a firm would work with you reveals the level of their talent’s effectiveness. This holds true whether they are locating new candidates or providing their own consultants.
Of course, sometimes your plans change. If your business strategy was set in stone, you would not be agile enough to be successful in your industry. The same must be true of your technology, and therefore, of your IT partner. What experience do they have in changing courses at the last minute? Can they adapt and be flexible enough to provide new candidates for a different project that suddenly took precedence, or are they immobile and clunky in changing gears? Their ability to relay examples of successfully adapting to changing client needs will tell all.
What Sets Them Apart?
Any professional IT consulting and staffing firm will be able to provide you with a differentiating factor that sets them apart from the rest. These statements must be considered carefully. If a firm boasts of their massive network across the entire country with the ability to fill any IT position anywhere, it sounds great on the surface. However, such a firm may be impersonal in their interactions, and can sometimes lack specialized knowledge in certain tech niches. Likewise, even though they would have IT knowledge from all corners of the country, they may not know or understand your local market to the extent you require.
One Partner vs. Multiple Partners
Depending on your IT needs, you may be considering more than one firm to team up with. This is something to bear in mind early on in your search, as many organizations begin with the tunnel vision of seeking one firm, only to later realize their IT staffing needs would be better met by two or more.
The advantage of having one IT staffing firm providing you talent is that they will intimately get to know your business overall. This allows them to understand interactions between the roles they are filling, discover any potential overlap, and take into account team dynamics. On the flip side, engaging with multiple partners can allow for several specialists to fill roles separately. This can provide the best talent for those specific roles, but has the potential for an unclear overall picture. Either way can be successful, as long as due diligence is paid by asking all appropriate questions.
Do They Understand Your Business?
Relying on another organization to fulfill your IT needs or provide you with the right tech talent is not something taken lightly. You don’t just throw the keys to your company to another without faith and trust. That is built on a potential partner understanding your business.
Your Environment & Business Model
Effective IT consulting and staffing requires detailed knowledge of your unique environment and strategies. A Software Developer for one company may require a surprisingly different skill set than the same position in another company. Similarly, the dynamics of each organization vary greatly. While some may have a CIO making all technology decisions, others may have a team of hiring managers that needs assistance managing their IT operations. Ask potential partners how they see themselves fitting into your business model. If they’ve done their due diligence, even in an initial conversation they should be able to provide you with the specific ways they would fit in as well as how they would report to those inside your business.
Can you rely on someone to provide you with the right talent for an IT position if they don’t take the time to understand your culture? Personalities vary greatly in the tech world, and even the greatest Java Developer cannot help you if they don’t fit in and mesh with the rest of your workforce. Since nearly 50% of an employee’s success can be attributed to how well the employee fits in with others in an organization, the right IT partner must understand the importance of cultural fit.
While every organization has commonalities across members, the best IT staffing firms do not make assumptions that are based on stereotypes. The partner you choose must look at individuals, not vast groups of people. Armed with the knowledge of individual aspirations and preferences, a firm can provide you with the perfect talent and support. Asking questions about the types of tech talent a firm sees themselves placing in your environment will indicate if they’ve done their homework, or if they’re just painting with a broad brush.
Do They Understand Your Local Market?
The answer to this question can make all the difference. Any IT partner you choose must have an intimate understanding of your surroundings to the extent of a native. Instead of talking in generalities, let’s use our home market of Richmond, Virginia as an example.
Knowledge of local factors that affect hiring is critical to keeping you ahead of your competition in the area and paying fair market rates for tech talent and services. A partner that knows the often-changing details in your city is one that can provide true guidance. Let’s look at the numbers in Richmond:
A low unemployment rate combined with a low cost of living and strong demand for tech talent is providing a perfect storm for job searchers. For employers, that means strong competition for a small talent pool is raising salary offers. Additionally, talent specific to Artificial Intelligence and self-driving technology is a niche growing quickly in Richmond. Understanding which tech niches will have more severe shortages than others means a consulting and staffing partner can better serve you. If you need AI talent quickly, they would know to immediately recruit from outside the area rather than fruitlessly search within the city limits if talent is depleted.
In addition to knowing the intricacies of local supply and demand, a great partner will also know indirect aspects affecting talent in the area. For example, Richmond boasts activities for any age or lifestyle. In the spotlight are many museums, historic sites, restaurants, breweries, renown institutions of higher learning, and a vibrant tech community that holds meetup groups, user groups, hackathons, charity events, and more. Without this knowledge, it would be difficult for your IT partner to recruit the best talent from outside the area and entice them to call your city home. Best yet, when your IT partner is made up of true locals like those of us at Smart Resources in Richmond, you’ll also be connected to a deep network of local talent.
Are They Comfortable with New and Legacy Technology?
It’s called the “cutting-edge” for a reason. Those pushing the limits of technology face big rewards, but when they falter, the landing is not forgiving. An IT partner should be aware of innovations in the tech industry and have the ability to help you select and transition into new programs or systems as necessary for success.
Bridging the Gap
Some businesses were built on risks, while others have succeeded with tried and true methods. Even if your organization is not typically an early adopter, the implementation of certain new technologies must be considered. The right IT consulting and staffing partner will help you see through the smoke and determine which new technologies are applicable to your business. Then, most importantly, they can walk with you through that transition.
This takes a deep knowledge of legacy technology in order to avoid data loss during a critical conversion of software, systems, databases, and more. A complete understanding of what your old technology is doing for you will also guide and inform the exact specifications of how a new tech initiative can help you, and therefore, how it should be installed. Today, there are a number of innovations in the tech industry that many CIOs are harnessing in order to achieve better results for their organizations than ever before.
Trending Tech Areas
- Machine Learning: Closely tied to Artificial Intelligence, the ability for computers to take in information, quickly learn from it, and generate new and original conclusions nearly instantly can have far-reaching implications for a number of industries.
- Cloud Technology: Now in the mainstream, the cloud has increased efficiency for countless businesses by providing quick and easy access to information across devices and locations.
- Mobile Optimization: With 51.2% of internet access coming from mobile devices, it is imperative for any organization to tailor their website, communications, and any applicable operations to mobile customers and clients.
- Big Data Analysis: Information holds tremendous power, and companies that take the initiative to analyze and make use of the mountain of data pouring into their servers each day are the ones that gleam deeper insights and can better target their prospective customers.
- Agile Project Management: Increasing the speed of product development through sprints, Agile organizations grow revenue 37% faster and generate 30% higher profits than non-Agile companies.
Can They Provide the Necessary Security?
Tech environments are more at risk than ever. While each new tech initiative provides opportunities for growth, there are also vulnerabilities that come along with the territory. Security surrounding every IT function is imperative to avoid becoming a victim.
The Prevalence of Cyberattacks
Cyberattacks are growing in frequency as well as in severity. Every other week, it seems a new and bigger attack makes the news and disrupts operations for banks, hospitals, schools, government offices, and businesses in hundreds of countries. In addition to the direct dangers of an attack, such as a hospital losing control of critical machinery during an operation, the financial implications for a business can be long-lasting. Even giants like FedEx cannot endure severe cyberattacks unscathed, as a recent attack will have a material negative impact on their year-end financial statements.
With such a surging demand for the talent that can protect a business, it’s difficult to have the right people in place. In order to be successful in their devastation, a cyberattack must have a way to enter your network or systems. Unfortunately, the majority of these attacks find vulnerabilities that were left behind by those inexperienced with proper security protocols. When a machine’s operating system is left outdated, a cloud is left unsecured, or IoT devices are not given password protection, a clear avenue is left open for a hacker to stroll down. What security precautions does your potential IT partner have in place?
It’s impossible to guarantee 100% security, and one must beware of those firms that make this promise. But every tech consultant your IT partner provides should know how to close back doors during any given task they are working on. Developers should be investigating how end users will access an app, and create it accordingly to avoid gaps in security. Project Managers and Business Analysts must likewise ask the right questions of their teams and of the information in their hands in order to complete their jobs safely. As long as your IT partner can describe what precautions each role takes in order to stay secure, you can rest easy knowing you’re in good hands.
Are They Cost-Effective?
Assessing cost when determining which business ventures to undertake is a necessary practice. You didn’t get your organization to where it is today by disregarding the price tag of new initiatives altogether. But when it comes to selecting an IT partner, cost should be thought of as more than just a dollar figure.
Those looking for a firm to provide IT consulting services or tech talent have an array of choices at their disposal, with costs that can vary widely between options. Because of this, it’s all too easy to get hung up on the numbers in a contract as the sole deciding factor in choosing a partner. However, the right IT partner will deliver a strong overall ROI with a solution that will add more value to your business than it costs to secure their services. Thinking in terms of “high” or “low” cost is counterintuitive to this end. Instead, consider how much money will be saved in increased efficiency and decreased drain on your resources and compare that expectation with any fees a potential IT partner presents to you.
Perhaps you’ve narrowed down your search and have found the perfect IT partner for your business. It’s now important to appropriately manage your expectations and keep projections realistic. While the best firms will take steps that facilitate an immediate boost to your company, nobody can completely transform your business overnight.
At the outset of a partnership, be clear about your own goals and how they compare to a partner’s capabilities. Before signing on the dotted line, ask for examples of proven successes and use those projected timelines to grant a more informed expectation on how the next week, month, and quarter will play out. Lastly, you’ll need to do your own due diligence and investigate what typical rates are for comparable services in the industry. Just as with any other purchase, not doing so can leave you paying a significant percentage more than necessary.
Evaluating potential partners is not an easy process, and those that expect it to be are in for a surprise. But when it’s all said and done, finding an IT staffing and consulting firm that can satisfactorily address the above questions will be an effective one to join forces with. All the calls, meetings, and legwork it takes to get there will be worth it when you’re backed by the best minds in the industry.