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Benefits of Using Consultants and Contractors

One immediate benefit of using consultants and contractors is their ability to provide readily available technical expertise. Since they're under contract, you pay for only the time they expend. As the demand for IT services continues to increase, it often becomes difficult or impossible to attract and retain skilled, knowledgeable, and highly motivated personnel; this becomes even more challenging as the diversity of IT environments continues to increase. Shops are migrating from one hardware platform to another at ever-increasing rates, or from one software architecture to another, whether applications, databases, or operating systems. In the midst of these many transitions, there may not be the necessary level of technical expertise onboard to perform the migration, support, or maintenance of these systems. Highly specialized consultants can help alleviate this lack by providing technical expertise in the areas needed.

Another benefit that consultants and especially contractors offer to an enterprise is assistance in accelerating critical development schedules. The schedule for the implementation of major applications is often dictated by specific needs. For example, a critical distribution system in a major toy company may have been cost-justified based on its absolute deadline of the Christmas buying season. New systems that were designed to correct the Year 2000 problem obviously had to be in place prior to the start of the new millennium. Organizations may have the necessary quality of skilled employees onboard, but simply not an adequate quantity of them in order to meet critical schedules. In these instances, consultants and contractors may be brought in quickly to assist in keeping projects on schedule.

One of the most highly publicized examples of an IT development effort missing a critical deadline involved the Hershey Foods Corporation. A new and highly advanced distribution system was slated to be implemented during the summer of 1999. Teams of consultants and contractors were brought in to assist in this effort. But a series of missteps undermined progress on the project. Unanticipated problems, untimely miscommunications, and an overly-aggressive deployment plan all contributed to a six-month delay in the launch of the system. Unfortunately for Hershey, most of their annual sales occur in October, in preparation for Halloween. The system was eventually implemented successfully, but long after the lucrative holiday sales season.

Unique technical requirements occasionally arise in most businesses. Even a fully staffed and highly diversified IT department may not possess the technical expertise required for such a task. Consultants may be a more cost-effective alternative to hiring full-time personnel, particularly if the implementation of the project is relatively short-lived. Interfacing an NT-based application with a UNIX/Oracle database environment may be an example of this.

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