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Strategic IT, for an IT consultant, is the use of information technology to play a significant role in a company’s business plan by enhancing efficiency, building opportunities, and interacting with customers, suppliers, and vendors. Whereas operational IT is more on the use of information technology to support the systems of the business with such things as e-mail systems, accounting software, and electronic file storage.

How do smaller businesses pick between strategic and operational IT? But before smaller organizations can push through with potential projects with an operational or strategic IT perspective, they often have to look outside for IT resources if they do not have them in-house. But where do you get IT expertise?

IT consultant working on a company's computer system

In smaller enterprises that make use of IT as an operational tool, there will be times that new IT functionalities need to be implemented to stay ahead of the curve. For instance, just about every reputable company has at least a basic Web site with info about the company, how to contact them, and the products or services it offers.

An enterprise with an operational IT approach might tap into people they know who are IT savvy to discover what they needed to do and how to get things done as quickly, efficiently, and cheaply as possible. By contrast, another organization might over operational IT capacities to consider the strategic potential of a web site and diagnose that it needs more than a mere electronic brochure.

For brands without IT management capabilities, an independent IT consultant can be a valuable ally who helps identify needs, advise on provider selection, find potential service providers, and help plan, manage, and even execute the project. Smaller businesses without a skilled IT consultant can bring this skill in-house temporarily for specific projects by hiring independent IT consultants.

Hiring a consultant is actually an investment. Moreover, it’s appealing to cut costs by reaching out directly to service providers without input from an IT consultant. After all, quality service providers will gather requirements, plan and manage the project, so why spend more money to have an IT consultant do the same thing?

Although a service provider and an IT consultant may indeed duplicate roles, they do so with different perspectives: the IT consultant advocates for the clients’ best interests while a service provider will act in its own interest, and that may lead to higher project costs or outputs that do not meet the project objectives or both. An IT consultant plays a vital role to ensure that the service provider delivers what the client requires, not what the provider wants to deliver.

An organization looking for IT services also needs to have an objective insider who is working for it and its interests and can also distinguish the vendors who do not have good practices. Depending on service providers can be tough as they will have their own vision of what add-ons they can sell to the customer, how things should be, and how best to go about completing the project; and, that’s after the difficult task of choosing which company to use for a certain project.

Using the computer

In spite of the obvious advantages of hiring an independent IT consultant, looking for one who’s qualified isn’t easy. If you inquire or ask around enough, you will find someone who is able and willing to help you. You are looking for an IT consultant and not for the best PHP programmer your network can find. With that in mind, here are four things you should try to find in your independent IT consultant:

  • Business savvy
  • Translating business needs into technical requirements
  • Vendor assessment capabilities
  • Project management skills

Being business savvy and being able to translate business needs into technical needs are crucial to making strategic, rather than purely operational, IT decisions. A business-savvy IT consultant understands and knows how to deal with issues like return on cost management, investment, revenue generation, and marketing. Being able to recognize potential service providers and assess their ability to efficiently complete the project is not to be looked over either. By getting someone with these skills to help you out, an enterprise can more safely move forward on an IT project when IT is not a tactical component of the organization.