One Grantee’s Advice on Selecting an IT Consultant

In today’s fast paced world, the ability to access information online is vital. To make that happen many nonprofit organizations engage an information technology (IT) consultant to support their technology and data needs. These consultants can provide a range of services from designing and installing a computing environment to creating a web-based system of community resources.  We welcomed the opportunity to share this grantee’s guidance when selecting an IT consultant and hope others will benefit from the story.

“We took all the right preliminary steps to select a consultant: research, due diligence, client interviews, release of an RFP and interviews,” said the grant project manager. “The hard part was over, and we could concentrate on the next step.”   

But all was not well. Throughout the year the grant team experienced challenges with the consultant’s project management style, vendor personnel, and the product itself.  

There are multiple factors that go into making a good match with an IT consultant. Clearly the quality of the finished product and technical skills are critical, but factors such as project management, timeliness, communication, and responsiveness to big and small issues are perhaps equally, if not more, telling about how successful the relationship will ultimately be.

In retrospect, the grantee identified several actions which may have resulted in a more positive outcome.

Before signing the contract

  • Ask the consultant the number of clients who renewed their contracts after the initial commitment was finished.
  • Request references whose projects have been complete for at least six months.
  • Ask references about the development process and the final product plus the consultant’s responsiveness, resolution of issues, how requests for repairs and revisions are tracked and handled.
  • Ask the interview team if the consultant understands not only the work and the clients, but also the culture of the nonprofit team. 

Set expectations with consultant

  • Define and articulate the roles and responsibilities of all parties in order to eliminate ambiguity between and within the organization and the consultant.
  • Use action items from conversations and meetings that identify who is responsible for managing the process and how/if the responsibilities are split between the organization and the consultant.

Define the problem

  • Allow the consultant to solve the problem.  Resist the temptation to describe the “look” of the finished product so the consultant can instead focus on addressing needs. 
  • Clarify the meaning of technical terms. Understanding the language will allow individuals to clearly and efficiently discuss the design and project problems.
  • Consider the project’s sustainability in terms of the staff time devoted to project management as well as ongoing expenses related to user fees, hosting and maintenance.

Maintain conversation with the consultant during the project

  • Include a staff person on the team whose responsibility it is to have a working understanding of what the consultant developed. This way information is maintained within the organization and isn’t lost when the consultant leaves.
  • Be honest with the consultant.
  • Express satisfaction and dissatisfaction because no matter how big or small the account, quality results are expected.

When the need arises to enlist an IT consultant to support your organization, we trust that you will consider this grantee’s advice before you embark upon the engagement.