I have been a consultant for the Internet Service Provider (ISP) space for the better part of my working life. I have dealt with the technical side of the field and some of the business and back end. I have been an owner/operator/stakeholder in several ISPs since 2000. Some of these ventures have been self-funded, while partners funded others. This history has given me a unique perspective many others have not been able to experience.
Most of the ISP operators I have worked with boil down two one of three types
The Businessperson. These operators usually have little technical knowledge but see a business need and require technical and operational personnel to help them. An outside technical consultant helps to supplement any technical expertise.
The Techie. These are folks who know the technical side of operations. They may not necessarily have Service Provider experience. Still, they can configure gear, understand spec sheets, and follow the lingo on message boards and groups.
The Operator. They may need a consultant for a few reasons. The first is that they are racing and need outside talent on demand. Second, they may need someone to supplement higher-end tasks such as BGP, CBRS implementations, or LTE help. This person is a professional who can pick up on both the business and technical sides.
Each of the above types needs different things from a consultant and should approach a consultant differently. One of the best things to do before hiring a consultant is put a list together of what you need help with. This need can be a long wishlist or a specific task. Either way, having a defined Scope of Work (SOW) is beneficial.
From my experience, the more focused the task, the easier it is for me to get up to speed. This ease is especially true of an established network. It is much easier for me to give a time estimate when someone says, “OSPF is broken between router ten and router eleven. Can you look at that?” than it is for someone to say, “My OSPF is broken. can you look at it”. As a general topic of investigation, I will try and get more specific, so I am not spending hours looking at unaffected network segments.
One of the things I think any owner should do with a potential client is to have a general call before any work starts. If you are looking for someone to fix a specific issue, this is probably a quick call. I have jumped into a client’s screen share before within a few minutes of them calling and worked through an issue without much prep work. Suppose the operator is looking to have a consultant work on several projects and work on a medium to long-term basis. In that case, the conversation needs to be longer.
Suppose you are an operator looking to hire a consultant to be with you for a while. In that case, the initial conversation I mentioned above is more like a two-way interview process. This type of conversation tends to happen with new or startup WISPs a lot. They need direction and someone to answer many questions that are not answered outside of an ISP. In an earlier article, I go over the differences between an ISP network and an Enterprise network.
In Part two we will look at more things to ask and look for from the operator’s perspective. In Part Three we will look at some of the rationale and options from the consultant’s perspective.