Nowadays, most IT staff are generalists and don’t have the time to spend on a single subject the way consultants can. Therefore, the Value Added Reseller (VAR) is the hired gun often brought in to configure, remediate, tune or install components in an infrastructure. One of the key benefits to engaging a VAR is the knowledge transfer between the VAR and the client’s IT professionals that occurs during the course of the project. The information imparted from the consultant via the design, implementation and inevitable niggling details before project completion are a critical component of the project’s success after the consultant’s departure. The degree and success of this knowledge transfer is very difficult to evaluate prior to engaging the VAR. This is why the knowledge transfer process – the unused metric – is a critical component towards the success of the project and maintenance of a smoothly running operation.
During the selection process to determine the VAR, I suggest asking them the following question. What role does mentoring play in the role of the VAR’s own company? There are a couple of reasons why the role of mentoring within the VAR will provide information to the client. First, if the VAR already uses formalized mentoring programs then the consultant will be accustomed to knowledge transfer and will have a preexisting framework to deliver that information smoothly and systemically. Second, focusing on the type of individuals that the VAR uses as mentors will reveal how the VAR views the project and is a helpful tool in determining how the VAR views its role as the “Consultative Partner”. It’s a sad truism that very technical people often lack good interpersonal skills. If the proposed VAR places emphasis on mentoring, then they will focus on technical people with good communication skills. This in turn will allow the customer to pull more knowledge more quickly from the consultant to the support staff. This emphasis on hiring and encouraging development of both technical and interpersonal skills in their consultants shows that the VAR has invested internally in those skills most useful for long term successful engagement with the customer.
There is a current “Do More with Less” mantra causing most managers to layer multiple projects and extra work on their staff. Enlisting a VAR to help out with specific items is a tactic that allows deep expertise to be brought to bear on a project without having to worry about long term staffing requirements for that resource. When the expert leaves, the lights still have to be on and the wheel has to keep spinning. This makes the dissemination of knowledge from the expert to the support staff critically important to successful resolution of the inevitable issues that arise after the VAR’s role has left. Asking about mentoring grants the customer a peek behind the curtain of the VAR, and thus a greater probability of satisfaction upon project completion.