Why Are Companies Reluctant to Embrace Consultants?

“You’re my competition.”

I sat stunned, but listening earnestly, as the new Vice-President of IT of a long-time client said these words to me. Sometimes, you don’t know exactly how to respond, and this was one of those times.

I asked him to explain and he stated, “You are doing the same thing as me and my IT staff. I view it as you being competition to us, unless there is a lack of resources such as time and hands to get the job done”. This certainly did not bode well for me as I had hoped to expand the relationship into other areas.

However, it was finally out in the open: the reason why some IT departments are reluctant to embrace third-party consultants when we (meaning, the consultants) could not understand why. So I wondered, why do IT Departments think this way? Further, how do I make the IT staff understand that my goal is not to displace them, but rather help?

To begin with, let’s examine the most common types of IT consulting models:

1. Paid Engagement-hired for a specific task or project and paid either hourly or a lump sum. These consultants tend to be specialized, such as providing Network Assessment or Design, Regulatory & Compliance Adherence or Certification, Disaster Recovery Specialization, or Security & Vulnerability testing. They are typically vendor-neutral, hired to help make recommendations for the client and based on ethics, not affiliated with any particular vendor.

2. Vendor Provided -these are solution architects that are sometimes viewed as the “consultant” and not really a “consultant” but sometimes are viewed as that based upon the client-vendor relationship. It is fairly common for companies to hire incumbents for services, such as Dell SecureWorks being asked to provide vulnerability assessments for a managed security client (full disclosure-I am a partner of Dell Secureworks and they do an excellent job). What needs to be remembered is that the ultimate goal of this “consultant” is to gain or keep additional business for their “free intelligence”.

3. Third Party or “Agency”-these solution providers are typically salespeople who are vendor-neutral and client-centric. They provide consultation, often for free, in exchange for the understanding that procurement of service providers will be executed through them.

The advantages of working with consultants are (at least in my admittedly biased opinion) numerous:

-Save time and effort on monotonous tasks, such as procurement. I have never found anyone who enjoyed calling telecom carriers to haggle over the best rate (hint-this is something that I do to keep you from having to do it).

-Focus effort on the core business, such as running a help desk, break-fix repair and maintaining network performance.

-Getting unbiased expert representation from a source whose livelihood is within that new “sourced” environment and can navigate between the corporate sales pitch and reality. I have always felt that this is the single greatest reason to work with a third-party consultant.

-Having representation amongst all providers allows the client to have, on their behalf, price negotiation in a more strategic position. For instance Storage Value-Added Resellers will provide solutions from EMC, DELL, NetApp, HP as well as managed and specialty providers. Security Resellers will provide options from McAfee, Symantec, Juniper, Checkpoint, Cisco, FireEye, Damballa, etc… When the VAR has the ability to bid the solutions against each other, the end result is optimal pricing for the client.

So given these obvious advantages of working with consultants, why would an enterprise be reluctant to do so?

1. Competition. I had often felt that certain IT groups were territorial. It’s the nature of the business when dealing with very intelligent individuals, but it was never actually stated to me until that meeting I reference at the beginning of this article. For an IT staff to feel that the third-party consultant is their competition, they would have to feel threatened.

I can likely speak for 99% of third-party consultants when I say we are not trying to take our IT client’s jobs. We are not looking to displace your jobs through BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) in a third-world country or (typically) trying to get you to buy managed services to displace you. While a lot of that is, in fact, going on with cloud providers, it is not our intent. In fact, we’ll let you get the credit with whomever it is that you report to.

We want our clients to look good. We also want our clients to come back to us the next time we have a problem, get another answer/solution, and take full credit. That’s the value we seek to provide.

2. Ego. A natural defense mechanism in embracing change or ceding control is often the preference for being self-sufficient. In some cases, for the largest companies, there may be enough resources to accomplish what is needed (ie-having a dedicated procurement department in addition to an administrative IT group). In most cases, and having seen from experience in working with numerous large enterprises, most companies do not have this option. The general trend of the last few years has been position elimination with responsibility being divided amongst “survivors”. Thus, it’s a “do more with less” mentality. Given that situation, it’s almost incomprehensible to me that additional (free!) resources would not be taken seriously or even considered.

Another key point regarding the ego issue (we get it, most CIO’s are very smart guys) is that it typically helps anybody to expand their network/resource, particularly those that can offer true value and insight. These sources don’t live in the same world as the CIO and can offer unique perspective into areas not native to the typical enterprise.

3. Trust. It’s typically easier to control what you know. Employees typically have signed Non-Disclosure Agreements, Non-Competition Agreements, and the like. I have a secret that actually is not so secret-we (meaning outside consultants) will gladly sign NDA’s and non-use of your (the enterprise) materials, information, etc… We’re typically willing to go the extra mile to meet the Regulatory and Compliance demands you are under and we’ll (typically) provide solutions geared towards those particular requirements.

4. Lack of Perceived Value. This is where the IT staff needs to seriously assess if they have the capability in terms of expertise in the field, knowledge of present market conditions, and if they have the actual time to commit to and go through the sourcing process. If the answers are “yes” to all of those questions, then it may be a venture that should be taken internally. However, this is where many IT staffs miscalculate and it costs them money, time, productivity and is often frustrating.

There are certainly other reasons, but these are the four that I believe to be most common. Hopefully this article will help to change the mindset of a few people (you IT folks) who might need some guidance in an area for the reasons listed above and will look to a new resource to help. Don’t be afraid to engage if you can learn something. It’s what drives me to seek new answers from sources and clients every day.

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