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When Are Consultants More Beneficial Than Full-Time Staff?

Editorial Team

While some Owners choose to engage consultants, others prefer to rely on in-house teams to perform much of the technology design and project management for their building programs. Owners may have had negative experiences with consultants in the past and may believe they can ensure quality by hiring their own staff. They may not want to invest time and project experience in another company’s staff. They may consider an in-house team more cost-effective.

All of this is understandable, and some positions should indeed be hired in-house. It is, however, worth questioning some potential assumptions and evaluating when and how engaging a qualified consultant might be more beneficial than relying entirely on an in-house team. We recommend considering the following.

Recruiting and Onboarding

  1. How long will it take to get new staff operational?
  2. What is the total cost of additional full-time staff?
  3. How difficult will it be to find the right people?
  4. What risks might staff changes pose to the program?

It takes a long time to identify high-quality candidates by sifting through all the information on resumes. It takes more time to interview candidates, and even more time to on-board and train new team members. All of this time can mean significant delays to a program that might be very fast-paced, particularly in the data center market.

Salary and benefits are not the only costs involved with full-time staff. The aforementioned recruiting and training process is very costly in itself. The cost of hiring often translates into added delay, as it takes time to get approval for additional headcount. Another cost for technology engineers not often taken into consideration is that of keeping their certifications up to date.

Without subject matter experts in-house, it is difficult to know exactly what positions you need to fill and be able to recognize the best candidates. It is common to hire an IT generalist to handle all the technology systems for a project without fully understanding where the candidate’s real expertise lies. A candidate may excel at one major system (telecom, security, or audiovisual) and lack expertise in the others, or they may lack in-depth expertise in any of the systems.

Data center projects move very fast, often with 10 to 20 projects happening at once. Lessons learned need to be implemented as the project continues, or else millions of dollars of errors can occur. These projects need the right staff in the right roles, understanding exactly what is needed and knowing the full project history.

Depth of Knowledge

  1. Will your team be able to cover the full scope?
  2. Will your team be able to provide thought leadership?
  3. Can your team work in an integrated way?

Whether for an office building, a data center, or a hospital, the scope matrix includes a long list of systems. Beyond the main systems of telecom, security, and AV, it extends to distributed antenna systems (DAS), paging systems, or nurse call systems. A single project manager who lacks in-depth experience in any one of these systems will not be able to efficiently coordinate all of them. Some of these systems are often left to be installed by the integrators without being designed, which results in change orders or loss of functionality. To prevent this, it is critical to fully scope all of the systems and be able to design and coordinate them.

Technology is always changing, and there is often a newer, better, more cost-effective way of accomplishing the same goal. Without subject matter experts or dedicated R&D staff, an in-house team is likely to miss an opportunity for innovation or automation.

Even when in-house teams have engineers across telecom, security, and AV, they do not necessarily work together in an integrated technology design approach. This is because their day-to-day operational connections tend to be stronger with other teams than with the other technology disciplines. This can hamper coordination and eliminate opportunities for new ideas.

Project Lifecycle

  1. Can your team work with other AEC disciplines?
  2. Can your team handle construction administration?
  3. Does your team have the time?

Consulting engineers are used to coordinating technology designs with architects and civil and MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing) engineers in the design-bid-build process. In-house teams often work in more of a design-build model, which leaves a significant gap between the architecture and the technology design (or lack thereof). This can result either in compromising aesthetics to install technology systems or compromising functionality to maintain aesthetics.

Construction administration is critical to ensuring that systems function as designed, from site walks, to submittal reviews, to RFIs (requests for information). Owners may not always be able to send a staff person to do commissioning on site, due to a budgetary travel freeze, for instance. A consultant is also motivated to flag issues and see they are resolved, whereas in-house teams can sometimes be more reticent.

In-house teams are always pulled in multiple directions, and initiatives tend to become stalled as staff simply cannot find the time to work on them, or to attend all the additional or required project coordination meetings. When an external consultant is hired, they are committed to focus on the project and deliver it within a timeline.

Staff Retention

  1. Are you putting too much strain on your team?

Rather than adding full-time staff, some Owners will try to disperse additional work among their existing team. It is common for teams to become overloaded and team members to experience burnout. Much of the work involves documentation and coordination, which are critical to project success but are probably not what your staff is excited to work on. This type of work can be handled by a consultant, enabling your team members to focus on their strengths and to continue learning and growing in their roles. Team members who are not happy are not likely to stay very long.

TEECOM Can Help

We dedicate a project manager who becomes embedded with a client and remains with the program for the long haul. This provides the following advantages:

  • In some cases, TEECOM project managers have been working with our clients for eight years, far longer than any of the client’s in-house team has been there. We maintain knowledge and a culture around serving that client.
  • Our project managers support the client team with our staff as needed, selecting engineers with deep experience in the system or challenge at hand. When the client does not need those staff, they do not pay for those staff.
  • We provide clients with excellent standards and documentation so projects can be implemented consistently around the world in different resource pools.
  • When our clients ramp up programs, they do not have to devote time and resources to recruiting. We add staff to our team, which we can do quickly and effectively with a well-honed recruiting process specializing in technology engineers. We train the new staff, and we keep their certifications up to date.

TEECOM is happy to serve our clients in whatever capacity is most beneficial. We can support Owner teams while they are hiring and training their own staff; we can help train their new staff; or we can take on the work for them. Some of our clients perform design in house and even have their own IT project managers but still find it valuable to use our embedded project managers for their larger programs. TEECOM can enable in-house teams to focus on what they are good at while we address the aspects that can cause change orders and schedule delays.

To have a conversation about how we can complement your team, use the Contact TEECOM form at the bottom of the page.