By: Tony Di Pollina
When trying to improve the use of Information Technology (IT) in your civil engineering firm, there are advantages in hiring an outside IT consultant.
Depending on your company's particular situation, following are some areas that a consultant can help with if needed.
A strategic plan takes into account your company’s business requirements and objectives and proposes a long term plan (3 to 5 years) to achieve these objectives.
Also a short term plan (6 to 12 months) is developed, in more detail, giving a higher priority to the items in your long term plan that will provide you the ‘most bang for your buck’, that is, the items that will provide the greatest ROI in the shortest period of time.
The Technology Plan takes the Strategic Plan objectives and proposes which architecture, tools, and technologies can be used to achieve them.
Since there are a great number of available tools available for a given objective, but there is only one that is the optimum and most cost efficient one, the consultant will need to have considerable experience, both with general tools and engineering specific tools, and knowledge of civil engineering processes.
Choosing the right tool is not an easy task, and mistakes can be quite expensive, and sometimes its not obvious that you made a mistake until a couple of years down the road. So you want to make sure that you plan this carefully.
Make sure that the Consultant doesn’t have an economic interest in selecting a tool from a particular software vendor. There have been many cases where wrong decisions have been made based on marketing brochures and technical recommendations from software vendors, who will sometimes overstate the benefits of their own software, sometimes promoting it as a silver bullet that will solve your company's problems.
When analyzing costs, take into consideration not only the initial costs but also the costs for the coming years, including indirect costs. This is sometimes referred to as TCO (total cost of ownership).
In the end, the consultant should only make recommendations, and should setup trial versions of the tools being evaluated, so your team of engineers can test the tools for themselves and make the final evaluation and selection.
Human resources evaluation
Another area where the consultant may be helpful is in evaluating members of your team and making recommendations on what role each one could have in your IT plans, based on individual aptitudes.
The consultant can sometimes have the advantage of not being constrained by prior personal knowledge of your team, or be biased due to friendships, and their advice can be a useful compliment to other evaluations you may have performed.
This is another area where the consultant may contribute, if needed. Based on the Strategic and Technology plans, the work plan breaks out in more detail the work to be done.
A good method for organizing the work plan are the PMI guidelines.
When actually implementing the plans, the Consultant can get you started if needed, but in general its best if the implementation is carried out by your team, following the previously agreed plans. Its better if the consultant “teach you team how to fish instead or providing fish”, it’s best if he limits himself to just providing suggestions and guidance to get the work started. This has the advantages that your team will learn the technology themselves. It should also keep low the consultants’ number of hours needed for the project.