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3 Key Considerations for selecting an RPG Development Partner

Ellie Hoyt Reinker
August 17, 2022 | 1:39 PM

There's More to Choosing your IBM i Consultant than Ice Cream

It is all about choice today. Blog Featured Image - IBM i StaffingSometimes we have so many choices that the choice itself becomes overwhelming. As most of the world melts in an epic heatwave, I think of ice cream and my childhood. Then it was invariably simple: vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. And for those who liked all the above, Neapolitan. Now the choices cannot even begin to be listed, we have sorbet, gelato, and vegan gourmet choices cramming the frozen food aisles of our grocery stores. Yum! 

And so it is with hiring an IBM i consultant. Even in our shrinking IBM i (or AS/400, if you choose) world, there are numerous firms jockeying for your IBM i development business. Of course, who would have guessed this would be a problem, after all? “Wasn’t the “Mighty I” supposed to be dead by now?

Its prevalence and power have defied the experts, and the ever-present green screen is still found in every state and around the world. But what about the developers who speak the base programming language of the IBM i - RPG? Those employees or contractors who are tucked away in a cold, dark room and fondly known as “IT Rick” or “IT John” or even worse, that “Green Screen Guy” with no name.  

While the RPG development workforce is shrinking, whether through retirement or promotion or maybe “winning the lottery,” developers may become available as companies migrate to other platforms. Those companies who have no plans to migrate away from their beloved IBM i are turning to hired guns: outside vendors, consultants, or partners – whatever term suits your fancy. It is just a term, right? Well maybe not. I suppose it depends on the level of your desperation. If it were me, I think I would set some standards.  Others tend to agree. 

According to an article in Entrepreneur magazine, The 5 Essentials of Choosing a Consultant (entrepreneur.com) There are 5 important considerations when hiring a consultant: 

  • Unimpeachable Character 
  • Solid Experience 
  • Creative Problem-solving Skills 
  • Outstanding Communication Skills 
  • Excellent Interpersonal Skills 

Forbes magazine provides a similar list in The Four C's Companies Consider When Choosing A Vendor (forbes.com)

  • Cost 
  • Capability 
  • Communication 
  • Character 

All these considerations are spot-on. In addition, cost or price is always part of the equation. However, when choosing a consultant, I would challenge the importance of cost and instead propose that the better term to use is value.  There is a cost for everything in business... a budgetary number to be considered and a decision to be made based on the options presented and the resources available. In the short term, a decision might be made based solely on cost. And in the end, the overall value of the project may suffer if other principles are not considered.

A good example is a contractor whose rate may be lower than another, yet his delivery may take much longer due to a lack of experience and/or his inability to effectively provide the necessary development solution. A higher-rate contractor with more expertise may be able to deliver better-end products and make recommendations in less time. This is cost vs. value and value will usually win when using long-range vision. This makes you the HERO! 

This brings us to the examination of the 3 common items both agree are critical to consider when hiring an IT consultant. Let's take a deeper dive. 

Three Critical Considerations for Choosing your IBM i Consultant: Character, Communication, & Capability 

Why Character is important when choosing your IBM i Consultant 

Character is all about building TRUST in the relationship. In Entrepreneur’s article the authors point out that  

The consultant must be willing to put the best interest of the client ahead of their own. For example, the consultant must be willing to tell clients things that they need to hear,  but may not want to -- even if doing so means that the consultant loses business. 

At Briteskies, our first Core Value is Customer Compassion. We empathize with our customers and use our expertise and enthusiasm to deliver the solution that is right for them.  Character is also about how you treat people, whether your customers or your employees. This is also an area that is an especially important part of our culture. Our annual customer and employee surveys consistently show that we deliver the best experience for both our clients and our fellow team members.  

Communication

Have you ever purchased something from a vendor and then could never contact them again? Or you had a wonderful experience at the front-end with the sales team, but the delivery team was not all it was cracked up to be and then you were stuck dealing with customer service to resolve the issue. Worse yet, were there time zone differences or language barriers preventing you from obtaining a solution? Forbes points out two important communications factors in its Four C’s” article: 

Does the vendor communicate clearly, regularly and honestly? A good rule to practice company-wide is to respond to all communications within 24 hours or less. Clients will know that rain or shine, they can rely on you to communicate what is going on — good, bad or indifferent — on a consistent basis.

These are both essential. The first points back to building a relationship on TRUST. The second points to building a relationship on reliability, which still points back to the first essential – character, or will you do what you say you will do? 

At Briteskies, one of the ways we address this is to have multiple points of contact and resources built-in for our clients. This way the client is covered. This does not guarantee 24/7 coverage for all clients, but this does provide a very responsive line of communication and happy clients. Even better, is our Team approach. When we engage with our clients, a client does not just get access to one resource. The client has access to every member of our team. This is like hiring an entire IT Department. 

Capability

 This is a tricky subject. Why? Well, everyone is an expert these days. Of all the subjects covered here, this is the most difficult for a client to decipher from an interview. There are several factors to consider, and it is important to prioritize. So, what is a prospective client to do?

Here are some suggested areas to consider helping you make your decision: 

  • Industry Experience: Are you able to vet the consultant firm in your area of need? Do they willingly provide references and/or specific examples of projects they have worked on which are like your project needs? While unusual, we have seen interviews include detailed skills checks. 
  • Corporate Culture:  How does the consultant firm interact with you and your Team? Is there a positive vibe? Has communication been easy, or does it need improvement? What is the firm’s Mission Statement or Core Values? Do you see evidence of these? 
  • Thought Leader: Does the consultant firm lead the pack or follow? Check social media to see activity or whether the firm is simply buying advertising space. 
  • Resource Availability: How will they prioritize your project? Do they have the ability to offer you premium tiered services if desired? Will you have a designated project contact or is the project run by a committee? 
  • Solution-Oriented: Will the consultant just do the job that was assigned, or will they see step outside the box and speak up if they see other problems, options, or opportunities?  

What Does "Out of the Box Thinking" Really Mean?

HuffPost Impact defined it well: 

The box is a frame, the traditional way of thinking about a problem…It's a break/fix model, and it's not known for generating radically new or interesting solutions to vexing problems.   

We see this all the time. A prospect calls and has a break/fix problem.  And then we find out it is happening monthly, and nobody ever bothered to dig deeper. The author goes on to say: “The procedures are all written down somewhere or stored in the minds of the company managers, and it's your job to find the policy or the manager who has the info and do whatever the book or the manager tell you to do.”  

In our IBM i world, herein lies the problem. Many of those company managers are no longer around or there is only one person left who really knows the system and they are getting ready to retire. So, what do you do then?  

This is where Briteskies can really SHINE and work with you to provide a helping hand in filling your IBM i/PRG development needs. Want to learn more? We would love to share more about our philosophy and how we help make our clients happy. 

Ready to shine? Contact us!

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