Some companies are sitting on record piles of money they're afraid to spend because of the economic climate. This slowdown in technology investments is having a direct impact on consultants and especially IT consultancies that work with 50 to 100 employee and larger organizations. As more clients want low-cost repairs that consultants warn are just Band-Aid fixes, the day will come when a client calls about a tech crisis that has left their business dead in the water.
Resist fast-track repairs
The client wants you to fix the problem today (or by the weekend, if you're lucky). The client doesn't care that the original effort you proposed months ago planned a rolling upgrade across multiple new systems with the entire effort dependent upon a one- or two-quarter data migration led by the application developer in another country.
If you deploy a critical new system in a rush, suffering errors in the process, the client might have to live with those errors for the next five to six years or more. You should impress upon the client the importance of getting the rollout right rather than just deploying it fast. You could also explain the benefit of recovering data access for a single department to enable continued business operations, while a proper deployment is planned and scheduled for less critical staff, for example.Also read: The art of triaging client emergencies
Reality v. expectations
Once the dust settles, clients sometimes have a false sense of security that they'll be in good shape for quite some time. You should seize the opportunity to talk with clients about the importance of maintaining new investments in order to possibly prevent such failures. It might even be time to declare an emergency meeting with the client. Don't say email is going to stop or a middleware app will fail if they don't maintain their technology, but rather that they'll no longer be able to communicate with customers or process claims (or whatever is appropriate for the client) -- that will get their attention.
The next step is to prepare a coordinated plan, with accompanying budgets and schedules, to perform a successful and efficient upgrade. It's a good idea to include all parties, notably the client, the client's vertical market software representatives, and your firm's engineers, if the project involves middleware.
When IT consultants serve mainly as technology ambulance workers, it's inefficient, costly, and ultimately a disservice to the client. One of our most important jobs is to make the client understand something is going to break before there is a tech emergency.
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Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.