SmartAdvice: Enterprise Information Portals Are Easy To Justify, Hard To Build

As budget restrictions ease, an enterprise information portal to centralize IT access functions is going to be on the short list for many companies, The Advisory Council says. Also, WiMax and best-management practices to evaluate consultants.
Question B: What is WiMax? What, if anything, should a midsize-company IT department do about it?

Our advice: WiMax, or Wireless Interoperability Microwave Access, is the latest entry in the burgeoning wireless networking technology pantheon. Also known in the trade as 802.16, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers 802.16 Air Interface Standard is designed specifically to enable the delivery of secure carrier-grade wireless data transmissions in a wide-area network environment. Unlike 802.11, which is primarily designed for local-area network deployments, WiMax is intended to address the widely known wireless security issues by using an authentication scheme targeted for the carrier market. Since it needs to be able to transmit the signals over much longer distances (up to 30 miles is possible depending on the frequency), the WiMax forum also has worked with the Federal Communications Commission and other government agencies to reserve radio bandwidth frequencies to minimize radio-interference problems.

Related Links

WiMAX Forum

IEEE Wireless Standards

Small, rural telecomm carriers, universities, and office-park developers are looking seriously at this technology to solve their "last mile" data-communications problems. Like 802.11 before it, the potential for drastic reductions in infrastructure costs will ultimately benefit everyone and translate into slashed telecomm expenses.

Although many companies are working feverishly to bring products to market, given that the standards were finally established only in July 2003, WiMax-based products won't be widely available for at least another year or two. If you have any thoughts of deploying campus wireless, stick with the existing 802.11g technology for now.

Consequently, the short answer is that from the perspective of a midsize company, unless you're actually in the short-haul data-communications business, this technology is unlikely to have any direct short-term effect on your IT department or corporate infrastructure. In the future, the technology has the potential to cut your data-communications costs drastically, but for now WiMax is still just over the horizon.

--Beth Cohen

Question C: How should we evaluate and manage our current consultants' (not outsourcing) performance?

Our advice: The simple answer is you should measure the performance of your consultants against the agreed-upon objectives and deliverables. To do that, you need to have followed best-management practices to:

  • Define and agree upon the problem and solution;
  • Set expectations of both parties;
  • Review progress reports, verbal and documented, on a regular basis;
  • Identify and negotiate changes in direction and scope; and
  • Communicate, communicate, and communicate!

The types of consultants vary, as do the reasons for hiring them and, therefore, so does how you should measure their performance. In summary, these factors look like:

Consultant Types
Purpose Of Hiring
Management consultant Objectivity and experience Clarity of problem definition

Reasonableness of plan/proposal

Transfer of knowledge
Technical specialist Unusual, rare skills and one-time needs Deliverables*

Transfer of knowledge
Contractor Temporary labor for peak loads or one-time needs Deliverables*

Service-level agreements

Same metrics used for regular employees
Vendor support Support new installations Deliverables*

Transfer of knowledge

Service-level agreements
*Deliverables--Products and services within schedule and budget

Overall, good consultants are:

  • Professional in their modus operandi;
  • Excellent communicators;
  • Objective in viewpoints;
  • A value-add to their clients; and
  • Aware of when to leave.

--Bart Bolton

Steve Garone, TAC Expert, has more than 25 years of experience as a professional in the IT industry in software and hardware systems, as well as the semiconductor industry. His recent experience includes his current role as managing partner of The AlignIT Group, chief technical strategist for Sun Microsystems' Software Marketing organization, and program VP at IDC. Steve brings his strong analytical skills to his extensive coverage of software infrastructure, Web services, utility computing, business-process management, software development, operating environments, and hardware platforms.

Beth Cohen, TAC Thought Leader, has more than 20 years of experience building strong IT-delivery organizations from both user and vendor perspectives. Having worked as a technologist for BBN, the company that literally invented the Internet, she not only knows where technology is today but where it's heading in the future.

Bart Bolton, TAC Thought Leader, has been developing and facilitating leadership-development programs, with more than 400 graduates, for various clients for the past 10 years. He is a multifaceted information-systems executive with more than 35 years' experience in the field of information-systems management.

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