by July 7, 2000 0 comments

With the Internet boom taking off in a big way in India, most
companies want to jump on the Net bandwagon as soon as possible. However,
choosing the right person or team that can deliver what you envision can be a
tricky proposition.

The following points are more or less based on my experiences
as a technology consultant. I’m assuming that you’re new to the business of
computer consultants and that you don’t have a virtually bottomless budget to
advertise for one, or to call up the most expensive one. Here, I’ll try to
tell you what to look for, the right questions to ask, and how to proceed in
choosing a consultant for your Internet business.

Look around, ask around, read around
Try to get a feel of the Internet scene. Find out about consultants working in
different areas of Internet technology. Contact lists on Websites are a good
place to start, but remember that not all good Internet consultants even do
Websites. This is only meant as a good place to start.

Ask friends, colleagues, and relatives about consultants they
know. You may find it easier than you think. Everybody seems to know someone
“doing” computers nowadays, and the companies they work for might be a
good starting point. Remember that the number of clients that a consultant has
is not as important as the number of repeat clients. This is an indicator of how
satisfied customers have been with the work done.

Read the past few issues of popular computer magazines. Look
at the types of technologies being talked about, even if you are a novice. See
what the regular contributors write about and try to find a pattern there. Do
these patterns match what you have in mind? Contact them on e-mail to establish
a rapport. Many of us may give you some free advice on certain areas, especially
if you give us some useful feedback on any of our articles.

Maintain communication
Once you have a list of possible consultants for your project, open a
communication channel with them and maintain it. Ask them what they work on,
current projects they’re handling, etc. This will let you find out the kind of
actual work they are into. Ask them for references you can look up–published
material, stuff on the Web, or even other satisfied customers. Follow up these
references religiously. Make sure that the work they claim to be theirs is
actually theirs. Even, or especially, in the Internet world, unscrupulous
persons can pass off others’ work as their own.

To choose the correct consultant, you’ll need to know exactly what you’re
looking for. Do you need someone to create your Website with 100 pages of static
text and graphics, or is more dynamism needed in the form of database access,
search engines, and the like? Or are you concerned not with Web development, but
more with security-related aspects of the Internet, because you want to open
your internal company Web server to a select few customers and don’t want any
unauthorized persons coming in? Consultants can be specialists in some areas, or
experts in many. The communication you’ve had with them should have helped you
in establishing their strengths.

If required, call each one of them to present their core
areas of expertise. Do a little homework beforehand and be prepared yourself.
For example, if it’s a Web development project, ask them about their skills
and experience in technologies like ASP, PHP, XML, XSL, XSLT, etc. Everyone
knows PERL and Java applet programming, so that’s nothing great. Strengths in
packages like Adobe Photoshop shouldn’t be a criterion at all. If the project
is on network infrastructure, the consultant should have expertise in proxies,
firewalls, IP masquerading, subnetting, virtual domains, etc. Not only will
researching some of these topics let you ask the right questions, it’ll also
help you understand your requirements better.

Brainstorming with experts
Technology consultants are experts in their fields. Brainstorming sessions with
the chosen person or team about your project plan will give you a good feel of
the technical feasibility of the project. These sessions will not only iron out
most of the holes in your plan from a technical angle, but will also let you
estimate the time and effort required. Brainstorming sessions are a very
important part of the project, and you must treat them as such. Many companies
think of these sessions as a free service that the consultant needs to give
them. Remember that the consultant is actually sharing a lot of
“domain-knowledge” with you at this point, which could potentially
save you a lot of moolah at the end of the day. Treat it as an investment.

Have a business plan ready
If you’re planning a big project, make sure your business plans are
rock-solid. That is, you should have worked out exactly what service you wish to
offer, the business-related issues that you foresee, the budget, and the
business revenue model if any. Many of the things could become clear during the
brainstorming sessions with the consultant. Make a detailed project plan for
yourself. This will reduce confusion later. Changing the specification midway
through a project will cost you time and money, and may be bad for your business
in the long run.

Make a detailed and specific agreement between yourself and the consultant.
Since most projects involve only a digital transfer of information, or in some
cases–as in the case of network setup–not even a transfer; deliverables,
measurements, payment terms, sign-off agreements, and acceptance criteria should
all be part of the contract.

Consultants are always glad to help, most of the time for a fee of course, but
sometimes even for free. And their domain-knowledge is what makes them so
important for the success of any endeavor on the Net. Wish you all the best for
your venture.

Vinod Unny is a technology consultant at
iSquare Technologies

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