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How to Know When It’s Time to Bring in a Network Consultant

Today’s network managers face technology and operational challenges that few expected when they signed on for the job. A single misguided decision or oversight can rapidly lead to financial and, ultimately, career disaster. That’s why a growing number of leaders facing a complex technology or security issue are turning to external advisors for insight and support.

There are many reasons for seeking outside help. “For example, when a manager needs to fill a skill gap or has a team resource shortage,” says Marc Herren, a director and network advisory lead with technology research and advisory firm ISG, in an email interview.

An independent voice

A network consultant can offer outside opinions, fresh ideas, and different perspectives, Herren says. “Teams can be change-adverse and set in their ways,” he observes. “Even if the team is open to new ideas and solutions, they just don’t have insight into what options are available.” Hiring a network consultant, who isn’t tied to existing solutions or processes and brings insights and experience from across the industry, can help organizations reach an objective decision. Herren notes that a network consultant can also help organizations validate their strategy and designs by providing an unbiased perspective and speaking to what’s currently occurring across the industry.

A network consultant provides the most value when an organization is dealing with a complex, mission-critical issue that their internal team doesn’t have the specialized expertise to resolve, explains David Tang, a former consultant and now CEO of best practices advisory firm Flevy. “An outside expert is able to quickly assess the situation, identify the root cause, and implement a solution,” he says via email. Tang notes that consultants can be particularly helpful when an organization embarks on a major network upgrade or migration project that requires specific skills their team lacks. “My role was to fill in those gaps and ensure a smooth transition.”

A quest for the best

The best way to find a qualified network consultant is by turning to your contact network for referrals, Tang advises. “Reach out to peers, industry associations,” he says. “Look for someone with deep expertise in the specific network technologies and architecture you’re using and who also has a proven track record.”

Herren suggests approaching the task of finding a network consultant as a hybrid version of hiring a new employee and selecting a technology solution. “Schedule a discussion or interview with potential network consultants to gauge their experience related to the specific effort and cultural fit.” He suggests discussing goals and objectives as well as the estimated timeline and fees.

Money matters

When justifying the cost of a network consultant to management, it’s important to focus on the business value the advisor will ultimately deliver. “As a leader, I always quantify the potential cost savings, revenue impact, and risk reduction,” Tang says. “For example, I might highlight the cost savings from resolving a major outage, the revenue impact of a faster migration, or the risk reduction from improved security.”

Herren also advises focusing on the benefits the network consultant will bring to the organization, such as a shorter timeline to complete projects and increased speed-to-business-value realization. “A network consultant’s expertise also reduces the time and cost to upskill and train existing staff, while the consultant’s strategic value and insight on key items, such as industry trends, pros-and-cons of solutions and providers, and market insights, enables the business to make well-informed decisions.”

Potential pitfalls

Failing to set clearly defined objectives and scope is a common stumbling block. “This leads to confusion on the consultant’s side and frustration on the client’s side,” Herren says. “Have conversations upfront and follow up with written recaps to ensure all parties have a clear understanding before reaching a formal agreement.”

Tang agrees. “Without a shared understanding of what you’re trying to achieve, it’s hard to evaluate if the consultant is delivering value,” he says. Take time to document your objectives and KPIs before engaging a consultant to ensure a successful engagement, he says. “This will ensure that you’re aligned on what success looks like and exactly how you will measure it.”

Another danger is failing to align priorities with key stakeholders and ensuring adequate resource availability prior to engaging a consultant. When organizations aren’t aligned internally, and subject matter experts or other resources aren’t available, it immediately places the timeline and project value in jeopardy. “Generally, there’s a high expectation and tight timeframe for consultants to complete the work,” Herren notes.

Relationship building

Herren advises network managers to build a long-term relationship with a consultant who isn’t connected to a specific technology or service vendor. Treat them as a partner and trusted advisor instead of a one-time problem solver, he suggests. “Such consultants can provide market and industry insights and knowledge without the inherent conflict of interest of representing a specific product or solution.”

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