IT Support

What is an IT Consulting Firm and when should one be engaged?

If you are looking for IT consulting, you could be looking for a variety of different things. You could just be looking for help with computers, systems, databases or applications within your business. Or, you could be looking for a company that can help you to find work in the fast-paced and growing IT industry. Or, you could be looking for a Managed Services company.

Let’s break down all the different forms of IT consulting and how different businesses listed here can help.

1. You own a business and you need help with your IT environment

This is a common need. As businesses grow, they tend to grow ad-hoc. There isn’t always a strategy as it relates to IT from the beginning. Businesses start small, adding staff and computers here and there. Eventually, a new printer gets purchased and configured, a new server might be needed to run an application. As things get added over time and just as needed, this is called “ad-hoc.”

Once the business gets to a certain point, executives and decision makers need to start looking at having a plan in place for the future. Adding things ad-hoc gets to be costly and can cost the business money in terms of downtime and lost productivity.

If you are having issues in the business like slow connectivity, viruses, inability to support staff from an IT perspective, and your staff is constantly complaining about how they can’t get work done – it may be time to engage a consultant. Look for one that offers a “health check” or assessment of your infrastructure. You can usually have it done for free. The assessment will provide a report back of your current infrastructure, and recommendations to improve the current network.

Providing improvements to the environment may require new hardware, such as new networking gear, new servers and/or new computers for staff. Look for a partner that provides un-biased recommendations. For example, if you just bought new computers and you’re being told to buy new ones again, look for a second opinion. Also, look for “root cause analysis.” This means if you are provided recommendations – why. What is the reason you are being told to replace equipment. If there is sound reasoning behind the recommendation, that’s a good sign.

2. You want someone else to manage your IT (Managed Services)

Having an external company manage the resources of your IT environment, can free up your people to do other things. One of the challenges in any business, is that the IT people become more like firefighters, and they are not able to focus on important business initiatives. For instance, staff can become accustomed to walking up with their computer problems, instead of following a set process like opening a support ticket. Corporate governance is not something that is always easily enforced, and you don’t want to pay soft your executives by not providing the level of support that they need. Sometimes, working with an outside company can solve this problem by assigning different support criticality to different issues/different personnel. For example, you might have it set up with your managed IT company that if a critical server goes down, they must have a back online within a four-hour period. Because the support and management has been outsourced, you can hold your IT partner to this agreement. However it’s difficult to have in-house resources follow the same strategy. Often times, in-house resources will just troubleshoot what they know about, with no criticality or prioritization assigned within the environment.

Another reason you may look at having your IT outsourced, is to save money. It costs anywhere from 50 to 100,000 dollars to hire a full-time IT resource. This is just for the cost of one resource. A managed IT company can provide a set or group of personnel to be constantly working within your environment, for a fraction of the cost. Most work will be done remotely, which works fine most of the time. If you feel that you need an on-site person, the IT partner will often provide an on-site resource once or twice a week as part of the managed services offered.
Network Architecture & Design

Architecture or re-architecture of a network environment requires expertise, experience, and skill. Building a new network design is much like an engineer building a bridge. All of the underlying fabric, if you will, needs to be looked at during the consultation process. A network engineer cannot enter a business and put together a new design and plan without proper planning. Proper planning means looking at all of the following variables during the consultation process:

  • The number of users within the environment,
  • the number of computers within the environment,
  • the speed at which the network communicates both internally and externally,
  • the load, both in terms of communication in and out, and the compute required within the server environment,
  • the application stack running within the environment, both from a client and server perspective,
  • the business impact, or future goals of the organization, as it pertains to the current environment,
  • the long term plan, the objectives that need to be reached throughout the course of the plan,
  • the current problems, headaches, challenges or other issues that are faced on a day-to-day basis.

This is really just some of the things that a network architect needs to look at within the environment. A legacy environment refers to an infrastructure which is utilizing very old equipment. It doesn’t even need to be very old equipment, but anything that is older than 3 to 5 years is probably deemed legacy at this point. In technology, things change so fast and it’s important to stay up on the most recent developments. For instance, many businesses today still run a network environment which communicates at 1 MB or 10 MB per second. In today’s technology, computers and networking are able to now communicate at speeds up to a gigabyte per second, with fibre runs enabling speeds of up to 10 GB per second.

It’s important to know when you need to upgrade within the environment. It’s also important to know what needs to be upgraded and why. Finding a network bottleneck is not always an easy task, and understanding how to resolve it once identified can be an even greater one. The challenge in this is knowing what works from previous experience. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel or try something completely new, as there is significant investment involved in replacing outdated technology, as well as configuring new technology to run its place.