Two New Year's resolutions for IT consultancies

Year-end is a natural time to review professional progress and make improvement plans. Is your consultancy proving successful, and if so, how are you defining that success?

Despite admirable intentions, many New Year's resolutions will be broken by the end of January. Without strong will and a supporting framework, people slip into old habits.

Make 2012 different. Focus on two resolutions, and then implement practices to make the resolutions stick. Here's how.

Two resolutions

Consultants must frequently change gears and tackle vastly different initiatives for various clients possessing widely disparate systems and far-ranging budgets and expectations simultaneously. Worse, in the current economy, many of these projects must be completed within unrealistic timelines because the client retained an old technology too long and it subsequently failed.

Technology consultants can universally resolve to improve their efficiencies and effectiveness by adopting two tenets for 2012:

  1. Develop better estimating, invoicing, and dispatching processes.
  2. Develop new expertise where it's needed most.

Resolution 1: Develop better estimating, invoicing, and dispatching processes

The costs of inefficient operations add up quickly. Even a consulting office with 10 employees that each lose just a few minutes a day battling inefficient estimating, invoicing, and dispatching routines could forfeit thousands of dollars a year in wasted and potentially billable time.

If you consider that some consultancies probably lose 10 minutes or more in lost efficiency per person per day re-entering billing information, manually scheduling engineers, and needlessly researching or repeating estimating processes, you can imagine how the costs could reach alarming levels. Thus, improved internal systems pay tremendous dividends to a consultancy.

Here's the action plan for this resolution:

  • Make the resolutions someone's job: Assign a partner, manager, or director the task of identifying and testing better internal systems. Maybe you need to move to using ConnectWise, AutoMate, or a similar solution.
  • Follow up by setting deadlines: State that potential system improvement options must be identified by the end of January; candidates must be tested in February; and a final system/process must be selected in March with rollout occurring in April.

Resolution 2: Develop new expertise where it's needed most

Every consultancy can improve its expertise. Maybe you're really good at configuring Cisco equipment but struggle with SonicWALLs; or maybe there's turbulence every time your consultancy battles VoIP issues and associated VLAN routing problems. If you're honest, you know your firm's weaknesses. It's time to address the elephant in the room, own up to it, and resolve to master the new technology.

Here's the action plan for this resolution:

  • Make closing the knowledge gap on a new technology someone's job: Discuss the need with engineers and then gauge staff interest. The staff members who demonstrate a willingness to learn new technologies should be rewarded with company-sponsored training materials, time off to attend classroom training, and certification reimbursements. Throwing in raises for employees who earn new accreditations isn't a bad idea, either.
  • Feel free to think outside the box: Offer the first employee earning a needed Cisco certification an extra week of vacation or maybe pay a cash bonus. Failing those motivations, simply ask staff which rewards they might value most.
  • Eat your own dog food. If your staff struggles with SharePoint, roll it out internally and begin requiring its use for internal communications. If you're weak configuring point-to-point SonicWALL VPNs, set some up between your office and staff's homes. By gaining first-hand experience with new technologies in the real world, you can learn the ins and outs of a platform.

Other resolutions?

IT pros (who are often predisposed toward pessimism) should set measurable goals and view the coming year with a sense of optimism.

If your consultancy made professional resolutions or adopted creative tracking techniques, share them in the comments section. Your initiatives may inspire other consultancies facing similar challenges.