The Perils and Perks
of Outside Consultants
by Jim Heiney, Web/Exchange Administrator
at Lock Haven University
on May 20, 2015
Let's talk consultants. Once upon a time, we were the poster university for Bad Web Decisions. You name it and we did it wrong. One of these decisions included selecting an outside design consultant that lacked the necessary skills to get the job done right.
A few years ago, we finally got university-wide acknowledgment of the idea that "this whole web thing" was kind of important. We're a small shop here, so they contacted a consultant to create a nicer website. Near the end of this project, I got a meeting request to go over how we would do the cutover to the new site. Up until this point, IT had not even known we were redesigning the site.
Clouds loomed on the horizon...
At the time, I was mainly a server guy, but I could tell from one call with OmniUpdate that our consultant was perhaps not the right fit. We ended up with a site that was not responsive, hard to navigate, and didn't even have keywords that mentioned we were, in fact, a university. I don't know how many potential students we lost when they landed on our "navigation light" page.
Don't let our experience discourage you, though. A quality consultant can be a boon. The time savings alone can be well worth the investment. Learning the skills for our inevitable redesign ate a lot of my time—even though I'm glad to know them now. Also, design itself is a talent that seems to lie slightly beyond my ability to comprehend adequately. It was much easier for me to cruise sites and think "I like that one, I'll steal that look."
Once you've decided a consultant is in your school’s best interests, you should start the process by gathering your people. Marketing knows how they want the site to look and IT knows the technologies behind everything. Toss some of the school’s administrative staff in the mix for buy-in and funding, and development should be much smoother in the long run.
Before you contract with a consultant:
- Make sure the consultant has experience with education. Our industry has some vastly different needs than a standard business.
- Make sure the consultant has design skills. Look at their past sites. I looked at our consultant's after the fact and wouldn't have recommended them to a local knitting circle desperate for their first site.
- Look at the code behind those sites or ask for a page and code samples. Make sure it's clean and responsive.
- Ideally, the consultant should have some knowledge of OU Campus or at least some form of a content management system.
During development, make sure the consultant works with both OmniUpdate and whoever will be working on the site. It's good for your in-house people to know where all the pieces go once the site is ready.
Honestly, the way we did things, it would have been quicker for me to pick up the skills I needed and do the redesign in-house. But, if you follow my tips (and maybe even save yourself some more time and use the OmniUpdate Concierge Program to find a knowledgeable consultant), you can save yourself time and extra work.
About the Blogger
Jim Heiney is the web/exchange administrator for Lock Haven University (LHU). He’s been at LHU for more than 15 years and is still amazed at how much more there is to learn (and he willingly accepts that fact) for those who work with technology. His philosophy of “never stop learning” has led him from English teacher to IT guy with a few other odd stops along the way. When not at work, he can usually be found at home with his family. In his spare time, he can be found writing, drawing, or playing the occasional computer game.