New Tech? How to Choose Between an Employee and Consultant

Choosing to add new technology — whether that’s a particular type of software or hardware — often means bringing in either a new employee or a consultant.

Implementing new technology usually requires a high level of expertise and that means it’s often rare to find someone on the existing team who has all the skills needed to get the new system up and running optimally. But how can a hiring manager decide which is a better fit for their company and their team?

And how can HR help guide them through that decision?

Start With Knowledge: What Skills Do You Need?

The first thing to think about is the type of knowledge you’re missing in your current team. Do you need a specialist or a generalist?

If you have no one on your team that’s even remotely familiar with the new system you’re setting up, you may want to bring in someone full time.

However, if what you really need is a specialist to make sure you get off on the right foot, you’ll wind up paying a higher salary — but you’re a lot less likely to have enough work to truly keep them busy doing work that costs that rate. Sure, you might have other tasks they can do — but someone else might be able to do that same work for much less.

Evaluate the Role: How Much Work is There?

That leads us naturally to the next thing you’ll want to consider: How much work is there, really?

The truth is that most companies do not have enough work to keep a true specialist busy… make sure your company is the exception before the hiring manager brings on a FTE.

While it often requires specific skills to get a new technology solution up and running, some technology is “set it and forget it,” some requires simple or occasional upkeep that your current team may be able to handle the bulk of, and some requires ongoing expertise.

If the hiring manager only need a few hours upfront, or a few hours occasionally, you probably want to suggest they consider a consultant. If it’s going to be an ongoing project with 40+ hours a week, then it probably makes sense to bring on a full time employee.

Look at Costs: What Will Each Option Cost?

Once you understand the amount of work that’s needed, the next consideration is cost.

This is an area where many hiring managers make a big mistake. They take the salary of a full time employee and break it down into an hourly cost. Then they compare that to the consultant’s hourly rate.

Often, they’ll do this before even evaluating how much work the project will require. They look at hourly costs instead of comparing total cost.

And, as any HR professional knows, a full time employee’s salary is only part of the cost of bringing them on board; you also have to factor in the cost of benefits, a new computer, and all of the other pieces that come with a FTE (do they need further convincing? Point them to’s Real Employee Cost Calculator).

Make the Call: FTE or Contractor?

After carefully considering each of the questions above, it’s time to make a decision. Which option is a better choice for your company?

You probably want to hire a full time employee if…

  • The manager believes there are 40+ hours a week of work for the foreseeable future
  • The expert will need to deeply understand our team dynamics and our specific company in order to do the job
  • This role will be critical to our regular business processes

However, you probably want to hire a consultant if…

  • The expert needs to have a deep understanding of the new technology solution you’re implementing.
  • The manager believes there are less than 40 hours of work a week, or there will only be 40 hours of work for a limited period of time.
  • There’s a hard deadline for setting up the new tool and the current team can’t meet that deadline.

Many managers overlook the option of bringing in a consultant; but as an HR professional you can help them make the right choice for their team and your company.'

Author: Melissa Breau

Melissa Breau has spent the last 5+ years at the intersection of business and technology. Today she is the Digital Marketing Specialist at Surety Systems, which provides Enterprise Resource Planning Consulting Services for companies using JD Edwards, Lawson, and Kronos.

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