By Steve Bolland, National Manager – Strategic Consulting, Data#3
IT Consultants can get a bad rap. Everyone has a horror story – the highly paid consultant, the long engagement, the lack of results… But it doesn’t have to be this way. Some simple steps will ensure you get the results you need, without the drama.
Now, some of this will seem obvious, but then – so does simple arithmetic once you understand it. Sometimes the simplest things can get lost in complexity. So let’s look at some ground rules for getting best value from consulting engagements.
1. Know where you are, and what you need.
Again, this seems obvious, but if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. Or as Joe Jackson sang, “You can’t get what you want / Till you know what you want”.
Be focused, then articulate what your problem is. If you can, also note what you need the outcome to be – don’t try to settle on a technological solution, just what success looks like (what can you now do, see etc).
Sometimes, you can’t even see what the solution looks like – in that case, part of the first discussion with potential consultants is to explain your problem and talk through with them what the outcome might look like. (Remember, not all conversations with consultants are billable. Use your existing relationships, or start new relationships, with broad brush discussions about your current state and where you aspire to be, and why.)
2. Know your stakeholders.
Your stakeholders are those who can influence the outcome you’re seeking, or who are relying on the outcome you’re seeking.
The CIO or CFO is almost always a stakeholder for an ICT engagement, so you’ll need them to be on board.
Your end users (the business) are also a stakeholder in the majority of cases – which doesn’t always make it as easy as you’d think. Some end users are hostile to change, and winning them over is part of the challenge. Sometimes an “end user champion” can be promoted as a stakeholder to engage actively with the project. On the other hand if the business is driving the change then support them – show them how ICT can enable the business.
3. Understand how IT adds business value.
More than ever, those in IT departments are conscious that their efforts must be directed firmly towards achieving business outcomes. IT departments are support organisations, not the main game (however much fun that new technology rollout is!).
Keep the business value in mind as you work with stakeholders and your consultant towards a successful outcome.
4. Choose your IT consultant.
This is of course absolutely critical to your success, and warrants a few points of its own (and your focus).
a. Ensure the consultant has the right skillset. You don’t hire a plumber to rewire your house. You wouldn’t hire a database administrator to fix your network problems.
b. Validate that the consultant has the right experience – talk to multiple prospective consultants and consulting organisations, and talk to the clients they’ve helped on previous engagements. Make sure there’s a match before you commit to an engagement.
c. More (dollars) doesn’t equal better. You don’t need a Tier 1 consulting company if you find a consultant with the right skillset and experience outside that environment. Paying more does not guarantee a better outcome.
d. Understand what type of consultant you’re engaging with – all consultants should be independent to a degree, but the independent consultant not backed by an organisation leaves you with the requirement to connect strategy with delivery. If you do not have the in-house team with the time and skillset to do this, a supported consultant with the backing of a broader consulting organisation gives you more flexibility in drawing on additional resources if required to execute the strategy (you don’t realise the benefits of a strategy until you have implemented in!). Other consultants include those providing pre-sales or extended post-sales support, and can certainly offer value for some types of issues, but be conscious of their scope of work to make sure it is strategically aligned and will meet your requirements.
5. Empower your consultant.
Once you’ve selected and engaged the right consultant, empower them! This is the person who, frankly, is going to make you look good and help you get the job done. Let them engage with those in the business they need to engage with to understand your organisation, the requirements, what’s possible and what’s not. Don’t be a gatekeeper, or you’ll hamper their ability to produce results.
If you follow these simple steps you’ll skip the consultant horror stories and go straight to the successful outcome – the right result for business, and an ongoing trusted partnership with your consultant.