Making the Case for a Consultant
While many companies use consultants, most companies are skeptical about hiring/using consultants, largely due to concerns over cost or justification of need. However, there are times when a consultant can be the best value for your company or organization. So let's look at some ways to justify the need for a consultant.
Some of the more common reasons to look for a consultant include:
- Temporary increase in work
- Need for a specialized skill
- Identifying vendor mistakes and savings opportunities
The last reason, hiring a consultant to address a vendor's mistakes, is particularly vexing. Why should you pay someone to help correct vendor problems?
In a perfect world, mistakes would not be made, or when they do occur, are quickly resolved. However, in the real world, things happen.
Airlines vs. IT/Telecom Vendors
Many years ago, the airlines offered more features (in-flight meals, leg room, seat selection, free checked bags, etc.). However, since the public is very price sensitive, the airlines had to look to cut costs to remain competitive. Thus, over the years, the airlines started to cut back on service and start charging fees.
Your IT/telecom vendors are also in a price sensitive business. In order to reduce their prices, they have cut back on many areas, especially customer service. Thus, you may no longer have a dedicated customer service representative and need to go through the "general" help channels. You are now expected to "self-serve" in your order process. Cutbacks/layoffs of senior personnel means having newer, less experienced personnel. Outsourcing to other countries add other opportunities for problems (cultural, communications), thus leading to more chances for mistakes/errors.
Note, this is not intended to be an excuse, but rather an explanation. While we all lament the passing of the "Good Old Days," we need to set our expectation to the new normal. In this environment, you essentially have 3 options:
- Status quo -- You continue to plod along, hoping that you and/or your staff will have the time to address issues. In the meantime, opportunities are missed (i.e. identifying/implementing credit/savings opportunities, converting over to new services, etc.).
- Change vendors -- If the pain gets high enough, you and your organization will consider firing your existing vendor. However, given that you are already lacking time/resources, how would you pull this conversion off? Doesn't the conversion require more, not less resources?
- Outside help -- Hire a consultant.
Justifying a Consultant
Note, sometimes a decision comes down to unattractive choices. Thus, there is a natural tendency to put off making a choice. Arguably, making no decision, is really the same thing as making the choice to go with the status quo. But ask yourself whether going with the status quo is really the best choice for your organization. If not, and you are not willing to change vendors, how can you justify bringing in a consultant? Here are several recommendations:
- Realize that you need help -- The first step is to realize that your company or organization has a problem. Over time, the status quo is becoming less and less tenable. It may be increasing service-related issues (more problems/outages), increasing costs (vendors charging more for antiquated services), inability to satisfy user requests (faster speeds), or the general sense that you and your company/organization are being left behind.
- Frame your request by using an analogy -- Accounting is a good example to use here. The internal accounting department handles routine accounting work on an ongoing basis. However, there are times when they need outside expertise. Your organization will understand and bring in outside expertise to address a complex tax issue. It is not a matter of spending more time if the internal accounting staff does not have the knowledge or expertise. While, in theory, you can take the time/expense to train a person to become an expert, isn't it simpler to bring in the expert for this project?
The same case can be made for your IT/Telecom project. Does it make sense to re-invent the wheel, where you and your staff will be plodding through the project for the first (and last) time? Or is the smarter solution hiring someone who already has extensive knowledge in this area -- i.e., a consultant? Would a consultant be able to provide perspective? Can they help you avoid making rookie mistakes?
- Start sooner rather than later -- Just as you plan for contingencies (i.e. disaster planning), by identifying and developing alternatives/solutions, who do you turn to when you need outside (consulting) expertise? Is it better to have done your due diligence ahead of time, rather than be "under the gun" when help is needed?
- Retain and enhance your relationship with your consultant -- If your consultant relationship works out well, plan to keep in touch. You can leverage your relationship for the benefit of the company. Your function is no different than how a CFO would keep in touch with a tax consultant to keep abreast of the latest tax issues that will affect your company/organization.
Part of your responsibilities is to ensure the best application of your company/organization's limited resources. This is a classic "Make or Buy" decision, one that your executives face on an ongoing basis. If you frame your request for a consultant along this train of thought, you may be more successful in getting the help you need.
"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.