Eight Mistakes to Avoid When Hiring a Technology Consultant
Technology is constantly evolving and it affects almost every aspect of today’s businesses. In order for your company to stay on the cutting edge, you must keep up. That means having good IT consultants who can keep your business at the cutting edge of current technology. When it comes to the mission-critical task of hiring a good consultant, you can’t afford to make a mistake. Here are the top eight mistakes to avoid:
Failing to Identify Your Needs
There are numerous reasons for hiring a Technology Consultant from upgrading your current enterprise system (or modules), maintaining or modernizing your legacy systems, updating software and hardware, or just having a qualified resource to help train your staff or work on short term projects. No matter the need, finding the right Tech for the job first requires identifying exactly what you need him/her for.
Too Little Manpower
If the work you need is extensive and you’ve hired an independent contractor, there may not be enough manpower to handle the job. That could either create a situation in which the work goes on far too long with no end in sight or simply does not get done at all. Neither situation is acceptable. It’s important to hire a company that has enough manpower to handle the size of the job.
A consulting contractor can handle the job if it is within their means. Some small companies can also handle some very large jobs as well. Just be certain the size of the company suites the size of the job.
Area of Expertise
It’s important that the person hiring the consultant understands what the company needs well enough to conduct the interview with pointed questions. Does this consultant have the expertise to do your specific job? Technology consultants cover many different areas of expertise. Their resume may not pinpoint your job. Therefore, interview questions must be specific in cases like these. Do you, as the interviewer, have the specific knowledge required to garner whether or not this consultant can do what he or she needs to be able to do for your company? Are you asking the right questions? Is someone else within your company in a better position to be interviewing for this contract?
Get it in writing
Be certain you know exactly what you’re getting for your money. Be certain the entire scope of work and job is outlined within the contract. What will the consultant be providing? Some consultants set up hardware, software, or complicated systems and then leave without training anyone to use it. Be certain that having someone on your team trained is part of the service and that it is specified in writing as part of the contract with the IT consulting firm. This is a critical part of your contract.
Since the IT consultant will have access to some of your most sensitive data, be certain this contract also includes a confidentiality agreement as well as a right to all Intellectual Property created during services rendered.
Make Sure the IT Consultant is Not Trying to Sell You a Product
Your Technology Consultant should be focused on what is best for you and your company – not on selling you a particular product because he/she gets a kickback from that company. Ask them outright if they receive a commission for selling you a particular software. Be certain that your written agreement with the IT consultant specifies that they are not engaged to sell you a particular product, that they do not represent any one software or hardware company. Only in that way can you be certain that the tech has your best interest in mind.
Failing to Speak the Same Language
In addition to making sure someone within your company is trained to continue using the software or hardware or system that the Technology Consultant has put into place, be certain that someone within your company, someone who has been involved in the interview process (see #3) understands exactly what the consultant is doing. They don’t have to understand how the tech is doing what he’s doing, only why he is doing it. If you’re in a role that requires oversight of specific software, hardware or systems, you should understand this information. Anyone within your organization that will have direct involvement working with a particular software or system should be involved in hiring this consultant to be certain communication is open and fluid.
Becoming Dependent on Your Technology Consultant
If you or someone trusted in your organization does not train in what the consultant is putting in place within your system, the consultant can build in complexities that will require you to call on them frequently at their regular hourly rate (which could be astronomical and eternal). Additionally, they could custom-build something into the system. Be certain that your contract gives you full ownership of any Intellectual Property conceived during the project.
An unsavory Technology Consultant can hold your systems hostage as was exhibited with the Colonial Pipeline recently. Ransomware is prevalent. Generally, it’s not as blatant as a consultant who has been inside your business – but it can be. Why take the chance? There have been numerous instances of highjacking associated business bank accounts and draining the funds. It can take months or even years to recover these funds – if ever. And often the perpetrators never get caught. Don’t let this happen to you. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you are working with a reputable company and consultants.
Know your consultant. Looking at this person’s resume is not enough. Your Technology Consultant will have access to some of your most sensitive data. Be certain that he has had this responsibility before. Know that he has completed past projects on time and with exceptional results. You can only be certain of this by having his employer verify this information. You can also so do a separate background check for internal purposes as well.
Hiring a Technology Consultant is a big responsibility. Don’t let it intimidate you. The consultant or consulting company is there to help you. By selecting the right consulting company and avoiding these pitfalls, you can make this a win-win for both parties. Remember, working with the right consultant could make the difference between success or failure for your company.
PMI’s established project management methodology was used to design, plan and implement material handling systems for a new engine assembly line at a large automotive engine assembly plant. It was clear from the outset that this was no ordinary move and would require extensive and complex planning in order to achieve the physical move within the required time frame. PMI’s experience as a material handling systems integrator helped the client achieve their goals through execution of proven solution processes.
The project consisted of designing and relocating the existing parts warehouse, dock analysis, design and implementation of material delivery routes from warehouse to point of assembly, and material presentation at the station. The project also consists of sourcing equipment required at the warehouse, for material delivery, and at the station for better material presentation.
The primary challenge of this project was to achieve all of the project goals and objectives while adhering to the defined constraints. The primary constraints were scope, time, quality and budget. The secondary, and more ambitious, challenge was to optimize the allocation of necessary inputs and integrate them to meet pre-defined objectives.
PMI utilized project management techniques to effectively manage the project including: Initiating Processes, Planning Processes, Executing Processes, Monitoring and Controlling Processes, and Closing Processes. A series of standard templates and reports were created and used to execute and monitor the performance of the tasks throughout the various stages of the project. Some of the tasks/ steps involved in managing the project effectively were:
• Documenting and providing minutes of project status meetings
• Providing and maintaining the Project Plan including coordination and interface with other major
contractors (material handling equipment manufacturers, parts kit box suppliers, etc.)
• Identifying, tracking, managing, and resolving project issues
• Coordinating and interfacing with suppliers and sub-contractors
• Tracking equipment and system design changes
• Working closely with safety, ergonomic, logistics, team leaders, and various other stakeholders
during the design phase and during various stages of the project
The warehouse relocation was successfully completed without interrupting the existing assembly line operation. The overall project was completed in time and within the budget. Effective project management contributed to customer quality, material integrity, asset management and overall compliance. The client was very satisfied in the way the entire project was managed and executed.
The client is a multinational conglomerate that focuses on industrial engineering and steel production. PMI offered a discrete-event simulation model to evaluate the design of a new production line and validate the throughput capacity envisioned by the client. Our utilization of discrete-event simulation techniques allowed the client to test different layout and process configurations in their design phase of their project.
The facility has four operations – two assembling operations, one press area and one assembling/testing process split into various work stations.
One operator replenishes raw components for the first two operations and there is one robotic arm in each of the operations to transfer parts between the work stations.
The press area contains one press that receives assembled parts from previous operations and compress them so one of the three operators, on the last two operations, can pick and transfer the compressed part to the last operation.
The fourth operation has one welder, one conveyor, three work stations and three operators who will finish assembling the parts and perform various tests accordingly.
The current line design was not finalized and had not been tested to see if it was able to meet customer demands in terms of volume, cost, and quality. Hence, there was a need to simulate the different operations to identify any design problems, equipment utilization, headcount and overall throughput capacity.
The data and layout provided by the client was imported to SIMUL8®. The four different operations were included in the model. An Excel® interface was created to input data for the simulation model. This unique technique by PMI allowed the client to have the flexibility of changing most of the inputs for the simulation directly from the Excel® interface, reducing the modeling.
The discrete-event simulation model successfully and accurately determined the overall throughput capacity of the given production line design as well as the utilization of the different operators and equipment. Using the results from the baseline model, process improvements were made to the original production line. These improvements were then tested by running the simulation model for multiple scenarios. The results were used to find the best configuration that would maximize the overall throughput capacity and reduce the headcount.
In addition to the simulation study, an Excel® interface was provided to the client for making changes to the operation times, which will allow them to run what-if scenarios in case the process specifications change. Additionally, by using the simulation model to test different layout and process configurations, the client reduced the headcount by one and the number of tools used on the last operation by two. Furthermore, the client also found the best way to use its resources and maximize the line production capacity. The ROI on this project was 10 times the amount invested on the simulation study.
Simulation is a process of using a computer model that represents an existing or planned system to understand the various interactions and constraints in a production system. Simulation modeling allows proposed changes (what-if scenarios) to be tested, productivity, labor and equipment impact analysis of these changes to be performed and understand and visualize the effects of change and the resulting costs prior to implementation.
Production & assembly lines can be a simple or a complex process depending upon the products, the part routing, and facility layout. We put together a list of some commonly received questions for improving processes of all sizes:
Where are my constraints in the process and how to manage them?
How should I allocate my operators?
Where and how much buffer should be added?
Simulation can help identify maximum production line capacity. If the simulation predicted capacity is less than the target, a Throughput Improvement Road Map (TRIM) as shown in Figure 1 can be developed using Simulation studies to achieve the target capacity. The TRIM will identify the constraints (might be cycle time, station/equipment downtime, changeovers, etc.) that will have the most impact on the production. The Team can then and decide the best way to bust the constraints based on cost, ease of implementation, resources required, etc.
Figure 1 – Throughput Improvement Road Map (TRIM)
Simulation can also be used to validate operator or resource allocations. Initially, line balancing technique can also be used to smooth out the production flow by allocating task to the operators such that the task can be completed within the allocated time. Line balancing data then can be fed into simulation for validating the output. What-if scenarios with different operator allocation or schemes can be run to see impact on throughput and overall operator utilization as shown in Figure 2, thus reducing overall cost.
Figure 2 – Operator Relocation Analysis
There is always a tendency to add more buffer to the production or assembly process. Adding buffer is not cheap, buffer not only increase inventory cost but also require additional capital to buy equipment to store and move the product. Example – A conveyor needs to be extended to accommodate more buffer, additional fixtures required to hold a product in a automated robotic process etc. Simulation can not only help identify location of the buffer but also quantity of buffer required. Buffer sensitivity analysis as shown in Figure 3, can be conducted to identify number of buffers required at a certain location.
Figure 3 – Buffer Sensitivity Analysis
As you can see Simulation can offer various insights in identifying the constraints, use of labor and identifying location and quantity of buffers, thus simulation can not only help increase production but also help in reducing the cost, thus increasing profits!
A large discount retailer was preparing to incorporate a demand-driven scheduling system. A key parameter required for this system was accurate workload content by task for each individual department. This is a classic Industrial Engineering function and the retailer employed PMI to propose a methodology and to execute the study. While collecting this data, it was important to use Lean principles to identify opportunities to reduce waste and suggest process improvements.
Six stores across two states were studied. Within each store, three departments were studied. The departments studied were Lawn and Garden, Stationery, and Toys. The toy department consisted of the retail floor as well as an assembly area for bicycles. There was one common set of tasks which was applicable to all retail departments and a separate list of tasks for the assembly area.
The demand-driven scheduling system is highly desirable for the retail industry because it is crucial to provide customers with the desired service level, while avoiding overstaffing. Lean principles are currently finding their way into industries outside of manufacturing and the retail industry is no different. By identifying waste within a store, processes can be streamlined and process times can be minimized; thus improving the customer’s shopping experience and minimizing the associated costs to the retailer.
PMI utilized random sampling to measure the workload within each store. The study encompassed one business cycle across six different stores. A business cycle was defined as a seven day period, all hours of operation, as well as the opening and closing activities of associates.
Random sampling data was used to develop standard times for tasks. The number of items sold was used as the workload driver for each department. This data was used to develop demand-driven schedules. Several additional analyses were performed using this data including:
Analyzing the impact of government regulations for applying price tags to items versus shelves
Investigating the results of scheduling department managers during peak hours
Comparing task proportions between department managers and retail associates
The work content developed was compared between Old and New store structure
PMI provided the data required to support a demand-driven scheduling system based on workload and performed several detailed analyses on this data. This data can be used to ensure the appropriate service level is achieved, without overstaffing. Several process improvements were suggested based on lean principles which will enable the retailer to improve productivity of staff and to improve the customer’s shopping experience.