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8/6
2015
Terry Slattery

What to Look For in a Network Engineering Partner

There are many network consulting companies, so how do you go about vetting them and deciding which one is right for you? It ultimately comes down to the selection criteria.

The network has become a critical IT resource in virtually every industry, enabling the interconnection of many components of business processes. Sure, the details of each type of business are different, but the fundamental requirements are extremely similar, even between radically different companies. Supporting the business is paramount, so any work that involves the network should result in better support of business functions.

How to Assess Network Consultants

Let’s consider some of the key qualities that a good network consulting partner should have, and how you can assess whether the ones you’re considering possess them.

Staying Current

How current does the prospective partner stay with new technologies? Ask your partner to tell you about some of the key emerging technology trends that are likely to shape how business gets done over the next few years. (And take it as a bad sign if they don’t mention SDN, which is a new way of doing networking that is going to change networking over the next few years.)

Also, ask your prospects how they go about keeping themselves current. What do they expect of their employees, and what do they provide to them when it comes to ongoing learning opportunities? Do they conduct regular technology briefings to share information among their consultants? Do they participate in technical seminars, webinars, or conferences? Are they asked to speak at such events? Do they lead them?

At NetCraftsmen, for example, we hold internal technology briefings on a regular basis, send our staff to conferences like Cisco Live to stay current and to learn new things, host the Cisco Mid Atlantic Users Group for regional networking professionals, and write extensively here and elsewhere on technical and business topics.

Longevity

How long has the prospective partner been in the business? And more important: How long has its senior staff worked in the industry? Experience matters, especially when you are trying to diagnose and solve the kind of difficult technical problems that come up only rarely. And a company that has senior industry leaders on its staff is typically one that is better than most at attracting and retaining top talent, a fact that you’ll come to appreciate if your technology needs ever become more than pedestrian.

Reputation

Reputation speaks a lot about the capabilities of any consulting company. A good reputation is built over many customers, many engagements, and years of effort, so a good way to begin your search is by asking business colleagues whom they have used. Also, when you get to the stage of interviewing prospects, make sure you ask them for references, and check them.

Customer Focus

Make sure you ask networking prospects to cite specific occasions when they’ve put their client’s interest ahead of their own. Have they ever recommended a delay in the introduction of new technology because it doesn’t fit well with that customer? I’ve noticed, for example, that some networking companies will recommend an equipment refresh even for businesses that only recently made a large technology investment. That may not be necessary, and the client may not be ready.

Also, ask your networking partner prospect how it will go about recommending new technologies. Make sure you understand its process – and be sure that process includes plenty of collaboration with you and your internal business and technology teams who will implement and use the technology. The result should be a joint decision, not a decision that is “thrown over the wall.”

Price?

Of course, price comes into the decision at some point. Should you just go with the cheapest bidder? I certainly don’t think so, especially since “price” is a fluid concept when it comes to business technology. It’s best to pick a partner you trust to competently implement solutions that are right for you. Then you begin a conversation about money before you finalize any agreements.

I don’t mind saying that I think NetCraftsmen is a fine choice for all of the above reasons, and we’d be happy to have a conversation about your own organization’s networking needs. Just contact us.

Terry Slattery

Terry Slattery

Principal Architect

Terry Slattery is a Principal Architect at NetCraftsmen, an advanced network consulting firm that specializes in high-profile and challenging network consulting jobs. Terry is currently working on network management, SDN, business strategy consulting, and interesting legal cases. He is the founder of Netcordia, inventor of NetMRI, has been a successful technology innovator in networking during the past 20 years, and is co-inventor on two patents. He has a long history of network consulting and design work, including some of the first Cisco consulting and training. As a consultant to Cisco, he led the development of the current Cisco IOS command line interface. Prior to Netcordia, Terry founded Chesapeake Computer Consultants, which became a Cisco premier training and consulting partner. At Chesapeake, he co-invented and patented the v-LAB system to provide hands-on access to real hardware for the hands-on component of internetwork training classes. Terry co-authored the successful McGraw-Hill text "Advanced IP Routing in Cisco Networks," is the second CCIE (1026) awarded, and is a regular speaker at Enterprise Connect and Interop. He currently blogs at TechTarget, No Jitter and our very own NetCraftsmen.

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