As the technology industry accelerates—with new innovations appearing almost daily—businesses of all sizes can struggle to keep up. In some cases, enterprises look for outside help from consultants.
Companies can hire consulting services from firms like McKinsey, BCG, Bain and Accenture, using them to do everything from organizational work, strategy, outsourcing or internal operations assessments.
Consulting services can come in many different forms and depending on a company’s situation, contracting out work can prove advantageous for an enterprise.
Where consultants can help
Consultants operate in a variety of areas, and can be particularly useful during mergers and acquisitions. Many large tech companies have acquired a firm (or two) in the last year and such deals require due-diligence and expertise not always readily available in an organization.
Beyond smoothing out M&As, consulting firms can also help with staff augmentation. For a variety of reasons, businesses frequently have short to medium-term staffing needs. Rather than bringing on a new hire, consultants can fill the role of a full-time employee, without the cost of both a salary and benefits. Consultants can also come in handy when a business needs help solving technical issues and executing strategies in areas where other employee’s skillsets and bases of knowledge are deficient.
Consultants work for many clients across multiple sectors and can bring best practices with them, recognizing common attributes of effective solutions and applicable lessons for an enterprise.
"Outside firms need much less guidance as they already know how to scope, propose, plan, execute and maintain a major technology undertaking," said Dustin McBride, partner sales director at EventBoard. "Oftentimes they are coordinating multiple vendors that they have worked with in the past, and if something doesn't perform as expected, there is a single point of contact to ensure any issues are resolved quickly."
Consultants also add value by offering fresh insights. Someone working at a company day in and day out can sometimes lack a critical eye towards analysis and improvement.
Companies can also task consultants with providing training and skill set augmentation. The best recommendations are useless if clients can’t implement and maintain suggested changes.
While there are several advantages to hiring a consultant, there can also be downsides. For one thing, consultants can be very expensive.
"One major concern may be cost, as specialist contractors can be rather expensive," said McBride. "As such, always ensure you are not overlooking staff with bandwidth as smaller scale projects can sometimes be easily managed in-house without incurring additional costs."
If a company does need to hire a consultant, working with a reputable firm that has experience in installing the desired type of technology or service can be helpful.
"Ask to do a site visit of a similar install or ask for references to contact. If these can’t be provided, probably best to move on," said McBride.
Suresh Katta, CEO and founder at Saama Technologies, suggests companies avoid consultants that promote a one size fits all strategy.
"Many firms tout that their big data solution can work for any company, but these cookie cutter solutions simply don’t go deep enough," said Katta. "Look for firms and providers that have industry-specific assets. Specificity is key for successful implementations."
"At the end of the day the only solution that will work for you is tailored to your industry and your unique business need, not something that is meant to span every business case," Katta said.
Once a consultant is hired, companies need to have a strong sense of a project’s end goal and the plan to get there.
"Like any project, make sure there is a clear definition of the scope," said McBride. "In your proposal there should be a clear explanation from the contractor on what they are promising the system/service/tech will do."
"Start with the business questions or desired outcomes, iterate quickly, and spend significant time on discovery," said Katta. "Make sure they can bring high levels of speed and specific business relevance to the table that get you to your desired business outcomes."
Businesses should also be wary of "rip and replace," Katta said.
"Some vendors will try to convince customers that they need new, shiny systems or platforms to replace their existing systems and infrastructure," he said. "But rip and replace isn’t the best way to pull value out of a big data project. Find a firm that can work with your existing infrastructure and expose the value from your data to the surface."