Consultant Master Class columnist Rick Freedman recently interviewed Chuck Krutsinger, COO at Interlink Group, Inc., who oversees the organization’s consulting services. A national consultancy headquartered in Denver, Interlink has practices in e-business enablement, Internet infrastructure, and custom application development. The first part of their discussion centered around the techniques and methods Interlink uses to ensure quality delivery to their clients.

Advice, expertise, and ability to deliver
TR: How would you describe Interlink’s business?
Krutsinger: We extend our client’s business through the Web. We take the business they’re doing and help them do it through the Web. We think it’s important that we have the ability to develop the infrastructure to run their applications, so we’re dealing with the bandwidth, security, availability, and server issues as well.

TR: So it’s really a total infrastructure approach, all the way from the application that users touch to the infrastructure that allows those applications to stay up and running.
Krutsinger: That’s correct.

TR: How do you define the term “consultant” within Interlink?
Someone with advice, expertise, and an ability to deliver. It’s different than just ”resources.”

TR: More than just a tech-for-hire…
Krutsinger: They need to be in a position to advise you, guide you through decision making, apply certain kinds of expertise, as well as help deliver on that. That’s what a client would expect of a consultant.

TR: How has IT consulting changed due to the Internet?
Krutsinger: It’s a completely new game that uses some of the same technologies and skills, but brings them to a new level. It’s a completely different game to build a system that has 99.9 percent uptime than one that has 98 percent uptime. It’s like the difference between a 72 golfer and a 68 golfer. It’s a few strokes, but it’s a whole different level of play and competition. When you expose your company’s brand through the Web, the demand is 99.9 percent uptime, intuitive usability, and flawless software. When I developed claims systems in 1990, claims personnel went through several weeks of training on how to use that system. If I’m going online with an insurance company, I want to use the site right now with no training, no online help. So user interface design is at a completely different level. If the claims department system went down a few years ago, the claims department put up with that. If I’m a customer of an insurance company online, I’m not putting up with that.

Interlink’s home page.

TR: If I don’t have the customer experience I expect at your Web site, click, I’m somewhere else.
Krutsinger: So the consequences are much more serious. People in the IT field, whether consultants or IT professionals, need to be clued in to the new rules of the game. How do you design systems for 99.9 percent uptime, for bug-free delivery, and for intuitive usability?

TR: I like your phrase “exposing the brand” because it’s all about the customer experience when I get to the Web site.
Krutsinger: I’ve never spoken to anyone at Schwab, but I do all my business with them online. My whole exposure to the brand is based on my experience at the site. Schwab has back-office systems that their brokers use. If all they did was open those back-office systems to me, they wouldn’t have addressed my real needs. I’m not a broker, and I’m not a captive audience. Those companies that simply extend their existing systems so that their customers and trading partners can get to them haven’t filled the bill.

TR: So, in order to deliver on these new client demands, Interlink takes a very methodical approach. What does that mean? How do you apply methodology to your consulting efforts?
: We use a full life-cycle approach, starting with the proposal stage and going all the way through successful delivery. Most of our methodologies follow the same format, in which there are some entry criteria for each step. For instance, what are the criteria for deciding that we’re ready to begin an engagement? Those criteria might be a signed engagement letter, a proposal that defines the scope, client letters that give us the project background, and so forth.

Then our methodology leads us step-by-step through determining that during the startup phase we’re going to develop a project plan, a risk management plan, a staffing plan, a communication plan, for example. Then it says, “To create those plans, here are the things to consider, here’s a template you can use.” It might say in the risk management template, “Identify risks associated with the following things: what facilities would we need, what technologies are new to this project, are there resources or skill sets that we’ll need to be successful?” It might also ask, “Are there technologies so new that we’ll need to evaluate project risks from them?” We’ll have a risk-assessment section that leads consultants through listing all the known risks, and then guides them through developing a strategy for mitigating that risk proactively, and a response for that risk if it occurs anyway, which could include even abandoning the project. Our exit criteria for each phase are that those things have been accepted, so in order to have a finished project plan, the client must have accepted it.

Rick Freedman is the author of The IT Consultant: A Commonsense Framework for Managing the Client Relationship and the upcoming The Internet Consultant, both by Jossey Bass Pfeiffer Publishers. He is the founder of Consulting Strategies Inc., a training firm that advises and mentors IT professional services firms in fundamental IT project management and consulting skills.

As a supplement to his Consultant Master Class column, Freedman will periodically interview a leading executive, practice manager, or consultant from the top IT professional service firms. According to Freedman, the practicing consultants out there every day, selling, planning, and delivering projects for clients are the real masters. By giving them a chance to share their concepts, techniques, and lessons learned, he hopes to build consensus among consultants on the industry’s best practices and methodologies. If you have a question for Rick, e-mail us.