Confessions of an IT Consultant

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Scott grabbed the corner booth at his favorite Lansing eating and meeting place. While waiting for his friend and mentor, Jim, to arrive, he read through the email that had collected in his inbox since he left the office the night before.

Jim’s voice suddenly interrupted. “Why the long face?”

“Oh, hi buddy, good to see you!” responded Scott. As they exchanged greetings, the waitress arrived with mugs of hot coffee.

“Thanks Beth!” they both responded at the same time. They had shared this corner booth before. In fact, they meet here regularly to discuss business and talk about life. But today, Scott had something important to confess.

“You look a little down this morning,” Jim said. “Is something bugging you?”

“I’m glad you asked,” Scott replied. “But before I tell you, I want you to understand that I’m not complaining, just a little frustrated. I really get tremendous satisfaction from helping people, solving problems, and making technology easier for people to use. But I feel like there is so much more I could be doing for these businesses.”

“I’m frustrated when I’m not in a position to help,” he continued. “I feel that many organizations are not making wise use of their technology resources or budgets. They seem to grasp the tremendous power that technology holds for them, but are unable to tap into it and take full advantage of it. If I could show them how to put the full power of this new technology to use within their organizations, we would see a lot more successful businesses around town.”

Jim replied, “You have a good relationship with these people and you’re their trusted IT consultant. What’s the problem? Why can’t you help them find what they’re missing?”

“That’s my frustration!” replied Scott, throwing his hands in the air. “Here’s my theory: We live in a fast-paced, do-it-yourself society with access to tremendous amounts of information and ‘free advice’ on the Internet. People read about some new device or software and then plunge ahead with it before they’ve really identified the underlying problem that needs to be solved.”

“This is aggravated by the daily email bombardment advertising some shiny new gadget or cool new tool,” he continued. “It is hard for business managers to stay focused on what is important, and to know which technologies will provide them with the real value.”

Jim interjected, “Sounds like short-sighted thinking.”

“That’s part of it,” confirmed Scott. “The worst part is, when one of these short-sighted projects goes down the tubes, it gets harder and harder for the company to say yes the next time someone suggests spending money on IT.”

“What I hear you saying,” said Jim, “is that you’re frustrated because people are making poor decisions and not getting very good value from their investment. If you had an opportunity to advise them, how would you approach it?”

Beth stopped by to refill their coffee mugs as Scott began to speak. “In the email that I was reading when you walked in, the sender noted that they would like to keep better track of sales-related communications with their customers. Then they asked which Customer Relationship Management software I would recommend.”

“The problem,” Scott continued, “is that I need to fully understand their unique needs and desires in order to best advise them about the right choice. It’s like calling a travel agent and telling them you’re interested in taking a vacation, then asking ‘where’s the best place to go?’ The answer depends on what you want to see, how long you plan to be away, how many friends are joining you, and how much you want to spend. The same holds true for critical technology decisions.”

“I think business decision makers have a better chance of finding real IT value if they employ a simple methodology that I call ‘Business Focus First.’ This means developing a business process first; then looking for a technical solution that will make the process efficient.”

“In this particular case, I would document how the sales team currently engages its customers and prospects. A flowchart is a great way to do this. It shows, step-by-step, what data or customer activities are currently being tracked, who is recording the information, and what forms are being used.”

“Once that information is gathered, I can then look for ways to improve workflow. I seek input from others that are familiar with the company’s processes, and I add my own new ideas. The result is a new flowchart, an easy to understand, step-by-step detailed diagram that shows how I would like the process to work. Once this analysis is complete, then and only then do I look for the proper technology to make it a reality.”

Scott concluded, “I think that most processes can be improved with technology, but we have to find the right fit at the right cost to provide real business value.”

“And that’s where it becomes elusive,” interjected Jim.

“Right again,” agreed Scott. “No matter how much money an organization invests in products and software tools, if they lack a qualified team to implement, manage, and coordinate the solution, they will rarely see the full benefit.”

Beth walked by again and asked with a smile, “Are you boys going to eat or just yak?”

Jeff Dettloff is the President and Chief Problem Solver for Providence Consulting, Lansing’s leading provider of advanced computer services and innovative technology solutions.

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