How important are consulting and specialized engineering services for computer center projects?

 

Historically most small and medium businesses (SMBs) in the region rarely contract consulting or specialized engineering services for their computer center projects. Instead, they usually accept the guidance and “free services” of local system integrators in the market, not really understanding the implications this can entail. We would therefore like those involved in such projects to understand the importance of specialized consulting and engineering services from a disinterested third party, and why the expense is justified. In this article we place special emphasis on SMBs, since the majority of large companies or corporations traditionally make use of special services from third parties.

There are several reasons that explain the historical context set out above, including the following, among others:

a) Traditionally SMBs have a very limited budget for their computer center projects and on many occasions can even make the mistake of tackling what is urgent before what is important, implementing partial solutions in different processes and moments. Some also think “normally the budget is already small for acquiring the equipment and/or software required, much less for contracting professional services.”

It would also be fair to say that in some cases those responsible may not do a very good job justifying the need for a larger budget to top management, and top management can view computer center projects as an expense rather than an investment in their business.

b) As business strategy, many (not to say almost all) local system integrators offer “advising” and services “free” to those involved with developing these projects in the SMBs, on how the customer should supposedly carry out the project, supplying “at no cost” base tendering documents, specifications or RFP, basic services in evaluation or assessment of the current physical infrastructure, or even “free” designs of the new project.

It is also fair to say that many of those responsible in the SMBs do not themselves have the internal technical resources, knowledge or time to create or execute this type of documentation or services.

c) And more recently, “cloud computing” has been added to the context: outsourcing computer services (or at least part of them) to third parties. Many have the erroneous idea that such outsourcing will make it even less necessary to contract specialized consulting and engineering services.

In this regard, nothing could be closer to reality than the popular sayings, “you get what you pay for” and “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” especially in business.

When we say “advising” and “free” services, we are of course implying that there is nothing free about this commercial strategy, and it practically never (so as not to say never) has any objectivity in terms of the interests of the final customer. No company gives anything away “for free” without expecting something in exchange. The technical design and specifications provided as a favor, value added for being a special customer, etc., in reality are based on products that the system integrator distributes and sells. By accepting “the favor,” the customer is implicitly accepting the solution that the integrator offers, which is not necessarily the one most suited to the interests of the customer’s company.

In the market we continually find RFPs and designs based on an interest in selling products the integrator commercializes, but which lack objective and disinterested criteria regarding the customer’s needs. A good number of those responsible for the customer’s projects will find nothing new in this, of course. In fact, many understand and even accept it because they have been convinced by the system integrator that his “solution” is what they actually need. Some even believe it unlikely that the process could be carried out in any other way.

Nevertheless, without truly objective and disinterested advising from a specialized outsider, how could they be sure if the solution they are implicitly accepting is the right one for the interests of their company? How could they be sure that the outsourcing solution they are contracting is actually the best fit for the type of business and organization, for both today and years to come, without the disinterested consulting of a third party? How do I feel secure about changing equipment in the infrastructure based on what I read in the integrator’s free assessment report, when the equipment he suggests be changed just happens to be the one he himself distributes?

Along with not raising these questions, which those responsible for accepting this practice do not usually take into account, by accepting the “free” services of an integrator or distributor, in actuality they will be spending more money than they really should if they had the professional services of an objective and disinterested third party! Why? Simply because the free designs are always oversized (or the free reports are accommodated). Since there is no serious and objective study by a third party beforehand, the system integrator has less information, equipment capacity reflects greater tolerances, and contingencies and unknowns are factored in, leading to higher capacities and hence higher or bloated prices of equipment in the “solution”.

Based on the budgets we have been able to collect from multiple projects that did not initially have the objective and disinterested intervention of a third party, this oversizing generates unnecessary costs 30% to 40% over the total value of the solutions developed with “free engineering” by the integrators.

To the contrary, by including the professional services of an objective and disinterested third party, at a fair market price the increase in budget is usually between 10 and 15% of the solution’s total value. In other words, acquiring these services (design, preparation of RFP and/or evaluation of the existing computer center, among others) by an outside, objective and disinterested consultant can not only ensure better compliance with the customer’s interests, but actually lead to savings of up to 30% of the project’s total cost.

It is important to clarify that we are talking here about disinterested consultants, meaning those who truly do not represent any manufacturer or distribute or sell any equipment or software, but only provide professional specialized engineering services. To the extent that “the consultant” has any other interest, disinterested consulting is undermined and passes once again to the level of system integrator interested in selling his equipment. Only a disinterested consultant can work objectively in the interest of the final customer, without having to think about how to accommodate consulting toward one particular manufacturer’s product or solution.

Having the objective services of a specialized and disinterested consultant for computer center projects rather than simply accepting the “free” services of a systems integrator in the market, in reality not only offers greater assurance of achieving the objectives and interests of the final customer, but even savings that can reach up to 30% of the total cost of the computer center projects developed by SMBs.

By: Juan Carlos Londoño Z. – Senior Consultant Engineer – INGENIUM