Here at Digital Primates, we refer to ourselves as consultants, which occasionally begs the question: What is the difference between a contractor and a consultant, and which do I need? We agree that the definitions overlap at times; here are 3 questions to guide the discussion.
How defined is the plan?
In our view, clients hire contractors to execute tactical elements of a well-defined plan. Contractors work from strict marching orders and strive to be the ideal cog that is missing from your machine to ensure your plan comes together. The critical element is that contractors work best when the project is well defined and ready to be executed.
As consultants, our job is first understanding the needs and then establishing the plan. We deliver the most value when consulting with you on projects with ambiguity, unknown factors, or requiring a balance between undesirable extremes. This distinction is especially crucial for non-technical business managers because consultants will serve as the translator between business domain language and technical concepts. In contrast, contractors require detailed technical specifications to work efficiently.
How broad is the domain?
Contractors have a high degree of tactical skill in a specific technical domain. Consider contractors to be deep, but narrow in skills. For example, if you hired contractors to develop a React app, they are likely quite good at React application development. However, software applications in large enterprises rarely live in a vacuum. Enterprise Applications have integration points with Single Sign-On, internal legacy systems, on and off-premise data stores, services buses, and other information technology systems Contractors may not be in a position to offer sound advice on all the integration points and elements that your application requires.
As consultants, we have our technical specialties as well. We also work broadly as a group across enterprise technologies often enough to be competent generalists. Further, we maintain relationships with specialists in each of these areas to ensure we can bring the right mix of people and specialties to match project requirements. Consultants can bridge gaps across the many tactical, technical project team members to head off potential problems, cost overruns, or delays.
How long will it live?
Software applications usually end up in service much longer than initially planned. The cost of development is tiny compared to the cost of maintenance. As consultants, we actively advise, guide, and nudge based on anticipating the total cost of ownership, the ability to pivot if future changes require it, and the need to bracket unknowns during the development process.
A consultant must look beyond the technical execution elements to ensure the client gets the right solution for their particular circumstances.
Choose a contractor when:
- you have a well-defined, rock-solid plan and need more hands
- your software won’t intersect with your larger organization now or the foreseeable future
Choose a consultant when:
- you need help with project definition and execution
- you aren’t sure how external threats and opportunities will influence your choices
- the software may live longer than anticipated
- you want to manage the total cost of ownership directly
Still not sure?
We’ll help you decide whether consultants, contractors, or a blend of the two are the right choice for your project. Get in touch, and one of our consultants will help you work through the nuances.