WHEN END-USERS & CONSULTANTS MEET
Technology in the security industry is advancing quickly, as is the need to reduce risk and vulnerability, and to protect assets and personnel. Businesses need the knowledge to evaluate security and business issues, and they need the ability to implement desired projects. Both can be time-consuming and even overwhelming.
Consultants can add value to most security projects, and by using some or all of the following recommendations, end-users will be able to choose a consultant through a careful, clear-minded process, thus greatly increasing the chances of getting the expected results.
CONSULTANT OR NO CONSULTANT?
Implementing any security project requires a high level of technical knowledge, as well as procedural, administrative and control knowledge. When undertaking a project to secure a facility to eliminate risk, to reduce vulnerability or to limit access, at least three factors should be evaluated:
Do company or organization personnel possess sufficient skills to manage the project?
Would the company/project benefit from an outside perspective?
Are there sufficient resources to hire an outside consultant?
These initial questions will help determine if a project needs an outside consultant. If there are questions about internal capabilities, a preliminary assessment from a consultant can provide an overall perspective about the project. Aside from a preliminary consultation, let’s return to the basic question: Can an organization’s staff implement the project successfully with minimal supervision? If the answer is no, or if there are significant doubts, hiring a consultant is likely to be in order.
THE CONSULTANT’S ROLE
Aside from the obvious — implementing the desired project — what else can the consultant do? Often, a consultant is called upon for independent validation of a project to corporate or organization decision-makers. In the same way CPAs are hired as financial consultants, engineers or technology specialists provide expert, and usually objective, opinions. The outside consultant can be asked to verify that a proposed new project will:
produce the projected results;
be completed within the planned timeframe; and
be completed within the budget.
The consultant also fills resource gaps. Project resources can include time, technical knowledge or contacts and other “tools” needed to implement a successful project. When an institution is faced with limited resources in any or all of these areas, a consultant can help address the shortages by adding to and extending the client’s qualitative and quantitative resources.
After evaluating an organization’s available skill level, the potential value of a second opinion and the resources that are needed and available, it can be decided that outside assistance is needed to bring added value to project implementation. When a consulting project doesn’t work out for the client, the problem is often that the wrong consultant was chosen, therefore it is important to find and evaluate the right consultant for the job.
MAKING THE RIGHT CHOICE
When selecting a consultant, first consider whether the consultant’s skills are suited to the project tasks. For example, even when access control is needed for a facility, consideration should extend beyond just “access control.” There are several questions end-users need to be ask: Is basic access the only concern? Will there be a need for surveillance? Are there specialized requirements for the facility? Are there integration requirements?
Once the end-user has a clear, complete understanding of the goals of project implementation, then it’s time to collect information about a consultant’s level of knowledge and experience in comparison to specific end-user and project needs. Once on board, the consultant can help refine project needs and goals, but they should be relatively clear before shopping for a consultant.
Next, collect the following information from prospective consultants to help create a short list for final selection:
- Conflict of interest
Is the prospective consultant truly an independent security consultant, and not a consultant who is tied to an integrator, manufacturer or some other third party?
- Knowledge and Experience
Does the consultant have a good understanding of a company’s particular type of facility, its special needs, related laws and regulations and any other unique aspects?
- Scope of work
Can the consultant articulate a clear scope of work required for a project and the specific processes needed to carry it out successfully?
- Liability and risk
Does the prospective consultant carry sufficient professional liability insurance to protect the client’s assets? Many do not.
Consulting fees runs from $75 to more than $300 per hour. A consultant that does not offer a total solution, but tantalizes customers with a “bargain rate,” will probably end up costing more in the long run. Users should ask for a lump-sum bid and a detailed scope of work. Often, the higher-end consultant is more cost-efficient in terms of project cost and in overall value to a business.
- Partnership or just consulting?
In the integration market, consultants should recommend solutions not only to secure a facility but also to assist the business in competing more effectively in the marketplace. Consultants who deliver this kind of service are interested in a partnership relationship.
As this information is collected, it should become clear which consultants are appropriate for a job. Once narrowed to a short list, it becomes a matter of getting some recent customer references. Here are some suggestions for questions during the reference process:
Did the consultant finish the work on time?
Did the consultant stay within budget?
Did the consultant honor other contract terms?
Were project recommendations on track?
Did interventions make long-term, positive results or just fix immediate problems?
Was the consultant open and flexible to input from the client?
How well did the consultant work with the client?
How does the client characterize the relationship — problem solver, consultant, or partner?
When the consultant has finished the work, it is valuable for both parties to sit down and review the whole experience. The goal is to look at both the accomplishments and the problem areas.
Did the consultant fully honor the contract?
Did the project achieve the set goals?
Did the consultant provide good recommendations, designs and management?
Did the consultant’s work contribute to a successful integration project?
Did the project go smoothly?
Did the consultant work well with the company?
Was enough money allocated to complete the project?
Are the project and the business better off from hiring a chosen consultant, or could the same results have been accomplished with internal resources?
Could the consultant be hired again or recommended to other companies?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James Gompers is founder and president/CEO of Gompers Inc., which is made up of Gompers Technologies Design Group (GTD Group), Gompers Technologies Testing and Research Group (GTTR Group) and the Gompers Alliance. The Gompers Alliance pools talent from top consulting firms in the security, communications and data industries. He has more than 20 years of experience in the security industry. E-mail him at email@example.com.