The Good, Bad and Ugly of hiring an IT Consultant

The Good, Bad and Ugly of hiring an IT Consultant

Having worked on both sides of the fence, Envisian’s CTO Damien Pedersen provides a healthy dose of reality on the topic of ‘hiring or firing an IT consultant’.

Over the past 25 years, I have worked for multinationals both here in Australia and in North America, in senior service delivery roles in a range of industries from oil and resources to automotive, financial and telecoms. For this post, I’ve drawn on those 25 years of experience in dealing with corporate structure and personalities and the inevitable teams of consultants one encounters in these kinds of roles. I’ve had a lot of vendors and consultants report to me and managed many a project to fruition, dealing with the full gamut of challenges, conflicting agendas and less-than-ideal scenarios along the way.

IT Consultant Horror Stories

We’ve all been in a situation where we are forced to work with people with whom we’d rather not collaborate. This aggravation can be compounded when that person is making four times what you are and has little interest in getting the job done. Why would they? The longer the project continues, the more fees they get to charge. Meanwhile, you’re a company man, on salary and have to report to a few different managers. This can be demoralising, to say the least.

I found myself in this situation while working for a big multinational overseas. The consultants were high-level and highly paid, from sophisticated firms. They seemed more concerned with growing their relationships and spreading their footprint within the organisation than the job at hand, even to the point of undermining credible and competent competitors working in other departments/divisions.

In another situation, at an entirely different company, the consultancy firm’s senior people wined and dined the CEO who hired them for the project. Once the time and materials contract was signed, the more competent senior consultants were soon swapped for junior consultants who didn’t have the skills necessary for the job.  And most annoyingly, all the consultants wanted to do – and this still bugs me – was shoehorn the company into their cloud. They were not independent. Instead it was like the company had hired a bunch of resellers to constantly pitch us their key vendor partners’ products.

The CEO believed he was making a safe bet because the consultancy firm had a recognisable name. We all trust what we recognise and what we’re comfortable with. You know the McDonalds in Dubai will have a Big Mac and it will taste the same as your local one at home. It’s a safe bet, but that does not mean it’s the best choice.

How to Mitigate Consultant Challenges

There is good news. Here are some tried and true strategies I have used to help get me and my team out of bad consultancy relationships.

During the procurement stage:  If you feel the consultancy firm is selling unreasonably high expectations (you can tell because it sounds too good to be true!) then simply state you believe they are the wrong fit. If they persist, to prove your point you can insist the contract be contingent on checks and balances, then note how the consultancy firm responds. They, and your boss, should welcome due diligence as it is in the best interests of the project. If they cry obstruction, then they are definitely not the best fit.

During the implementation:  It can be very tricky to fire a consultant. A consultant or team may have been embedded in your company for years. They have become “trusted” and are considered a “safe bet” but they are still not the right choice. In the past, I have had to go to the C-level and ask for a review. This required me to clearly identify the problem with the big consultancy and ask for an independent assessment.  A small, specialised consultancy is more likely to be genuinely independent, as well as less costly and more effective.

Making the case for review and assessment:  If you’re asking the C-suite to approve hiring a smaller, autonomous consultant to do an evaluation on the processes and people currently involved in the project, you’ll have to make a good case. Here it is: it’s not about spending more money but rather saving money as the independent consultant cuts out inadequate governance and out-of-control management ineffectiveness. This tactic was recently employed by the NSW government to tame its $573 million software project for TAFE and public schools.

What to Look for in an IT Consultant

Because consultants work in diverse environments, they can bring valuable knowledge to your company’s challenges. They have encountered all manner of problems and experienced many different implementations of all sizes and across industries. They will know what works and what doesn’t in various scenarios. The trick is to find the right fit for your company and its project.

A good consultant should:

  • Review business processes at the beginning, rather than throw new technology at an old process.
  • Be experienced with people and process change so they can help your staff through the transition and encourage buy-in.
  • Be able to look at the bigger picture of your business, its needs and objectives, what’s currently working etc., rather than trying to resell you their own or partner products.
  • Be objective and independent.
  • Welcome reviews and questions about their work.
  • Have relevant real-world experience