When Manage.com, an e-management firm for companies doing business over the Internet, needed to jump-start its Management Portal project earlier this year, it turned to ATS for staff augmentation. While the 60-person company uses contract workers in its engineering department, it was Manage.com's director of product marketing, Ping Hao's, first experience using contract help on her IT staff of eight. The project lasted one month and the temporary hire provided Manage.com with the senior project management and Internet architecture experience needed. The professional ATS provided had 15 years IT experience with plenty of firsthand knowledge building e-commerce solutions, most recently an Internet shopping network. "He was absolutely a terrific fit for us," says Hao.
Rules of the road
Anyone with experience in staff augmentation, contractor or client, probably agrees that striking up the right balance for a successful relationship might be more art than science. Hiring managers must deal with cost/budget, personnel, and management issues.
As every IT manager knows, hired guns aren't cheap. Pricing varies depending on the required skill set, level of experience, and geographic location. From Ruhl's July 1999 Real Rate Survey, rates for all contractors ranged from $15 to $195 per hour with the highest concentration in the $40 to $93 per hour range. Architects, managers, database administrators, and team leaders earned the highest median rates. People who defined their jobs as "Y2K" earned rates slightly less than the group as a whole and lower than those calling themselves senior programmers (see chart, "The price you'll pay").
According to ATS' Black, what hiring managers need to know about highly skilled specialty contractors is that it's a sellers' market. "Clients must be prepared to pay top dollar and provide interesting work and an environment to keep the contractor motivated," he says.
Top dollar is exactly what Manage.Com's Hao had to pay. Since she is in San Jose, one of the most costly markets for IT talent, and was looking for a high-degree of experience in a cutting edge technology, she paid over two hundred dollars per hour for her contractor. "It was very expensive, but I had to look at the cost-benefit proposition," she says. Despite the fact that she experienced sticker shock regarding the cost of the contractor, Hao says she probably saved herself money by clearly predefining the project, various parties' roles in the project, and accountability.
For those companies that need an individual with a precise set of advanced skills, employment agencies agree that clients will pay a premium. Ruhl suggests that hiring managers can save themselves money and find a good match if they can afford to spend a little time training the temporary staffer. "I've seen companies who are very successful hiring people that needed a little preliminary training versus bringing in someone with a narrowly defined skill set," she says.
Another significant issue companies face when bringing in temporary IT staff is keeping everybody happy when it comes to internal vs. contract pay scales. Salaried full-time staff, who often have no idea exactly what their firm is paying temp workers, get jealous or demoralized knowing that their own salaries are probably being exceeded by two to three times.
"[When] dealing with multiple work relationships it's important that everyone understand the need for contractors versus full-time employees, understand the rules of the road, and why there's a good reason to be one versus the other," says Bob Cohen, senior vice president at ITAA, in Arlington, Va.
Industry participants agree that staff augmentation works well when companies manage the process. Given the fact that a lot of staff augmentation is project driven by IT, business units, or customers and trading partners, corporations need centralized resource management to make it work. "Companies have to be proactive. They wouldn't let their own employees run amok," says Bace.
As more companies hire temporary workers to meet IT project deadlines, IT managers will realize that staff augmentation is a task to be taken as seriously as hiring full-time staff. The bottom line is the more knowledge IT managers have about the process, the more success they'll have. //
Lynn Haber is a Boston-based freelance writer focusing on data communications and telecommunications. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.