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Body shop to mind shop
Businesses look for more from third party consultants
By: Quocirca
Published: May 2009
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Businesses look for more from third party consultants IT departments rarely have the luxury of spare capacity or sufficient knowledge of all the products and technologies that the rest of their organisation expects. However, IT is an integral part of most businesses, and supporting diverse or specialised technologies and understanding their impact on the business is a necessity. Organisations not only require help from third parties, they need it to be focussed, expert and cost effective, and based on a long term partnership to ensure that internal and external staff work effectively together.

  • IT departments are often overloaded and overstretched, impairing their view of new technology New technology, even in the IT function, can be viewed as a burden requiring extra work, rather than an opportunity to add value to the business or something interesting for them to tackle. Those companies that use third parties to augment their IT function are less inclined to see things this way and have a far more positive attitude to new technology.
  • Despite the recession, one in five companies think staffing levels in their IT function will increase This might be a little over optimistic for those who are not tightly linking IT with business needs and, if they ignore this, they risk being overtaken by events. It might not be necessary to make wide-ranging cutbacks which may damage the capabilities of the IT function, but it might be worthwhile to check how the skills currently available meet the needs of the business, prune where necessary and bring in outside help to fill gaps.
  • Experienced external consultants bring vital operational skills and offer support for strategic thinking While in-depth technical knowledge is still important, companies are expecting third parties to deliver business consulting skills and industry experience. As well as compensating for missing in-house skills, being able to trust an experienced partner to take care of operational matters can allow more time to work with them to look at the bigger picture. Companies making use of third party help seem much more comfortable in dealing with their overall strategic needs for planning.
  • With rapidly evolving technologies, trusted external partners can help with product selection Although using an external consultant for guidance on vendor selection is not high up the list for most companies, product selection is, as is help with looking at the direction of new technologies. This is an even greater issue for smaller companies who are often too busy trying to deal with existing requirements to look too far ahead, and would appreciate independent advice.
  • Achieving an alignment of IT with business requirements and measuring its impact is more common for those organisations using external support Those having to justify spending on third party help are likely to be familiar with measuring the results and, as a consequence, are more likely to formally measure the impact of IT projects. This is part of the process of ensuring that IT is well aligned to the business, something that companies working with external contractors are also more likely to achieve.

Conclusions
As budgets tighten, it is even more important for a company's IT function to demonstrate its fit with the business and obtain the best value from all resources and services at its disposal. Simply scaling up by regular recruitment or ad hoc use of contract staff is not always a sensible option. Companies can cover gaps and needs with outside help, but they need trusted partners that can supply transferable business knowledge, as well as offering an extra pair of IT hands.

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