Management Consulting Meets Deep IT
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Posted by: Gail McCauley
Management consulting and IT consulting are generally considered to be different species, with good reason. The typical forms of management consulting cover a wide range, but by and large involve consultants working directly with key employees, managers, and organizational leaders.
On the other hand, IT consulting often runs through a software development project life cycle.
The work, structures, and priorities are semi-independent, and less involved with the organization's management. Some management consultants specialize in business process improvement, designing and modeling systems to be implemented in software. However, while they work closely with "domain experts” in management, they don't normally develop or deploy the software.
IT consulting generally centers on enterprise software: applications and systems spanning the organization, binding diverse tasks and workers into a collaborative space, or into an articulated business process. Because of their complex topologies, such systems are often custom designed and developed. Integration with existing systems and databases is usually required, along with the migration or loading of organizational data, and connections with various protocols and web interfaces.
Many other types of software used by organizations don't generally require consultants. Small firms have tech savvy people or local service providers, and larger organizations have IT departments. These people handle the more familiar computer and software issues, such as desktop and office software, networking, and communications applications.
In contrast, enterprise software often cuts across departments, groups, sites, and business units. Designing and building an entire enterprise system would generally exceed the capacities of the internal IT department, though it would be an important stakeholder and provide critical support.
The standard delivery model for enterprise software consulting involves a small or large firm that sells its development skills, project management, and implementation services.
Enterprise software systems come with great promise – business transformation, faster and smoother operations, and high ROIs. However, they also have great risks associated with them. They are expensive, time consuming, and they divert key resources from business as usual. The cutover from the old to the new is perilous, and many problems may surface once a new system goes live. Worse, a new system may leave many users feeling disenfranchised for a variety of reasons.
Unfortunately, the processes by which an organization selects applications, platforms, software vendors, and consultants, are quasi-adversarial. Each side holds its cards close to the vest and tries to get the most and give the least. False expectations, nasty surprises, disagreements, time and budget overruns, results that fall short of plans – are all relatively common eventualities, harming the organization and sometimes both sides.
Coupled with this, the organization may lack the expertise to make optimal assessments and decisions in this arena, so it may make seriously wrong choices.
Further, before signing on vendors or consultants, organizations often commit top managers to extended planning sessions. Without expert guidance these may be largely ineffective, producing results of limited value to the team eventually hired. A free exchange of information with experts would help, but the adversarial context and the arm's length policies, such as those associated with RFPs, typically prevent that from happening.
There is a solution for organizations facing these conundrums, and it is a place where management and IT consulting meet: the tech advisor. The tech advisor is our shorthand name for an individual who fits a rather sophisticated profile. The tech advisor is an enterprise software expert whose experience encompasses a variety of software, systems, and industries – and who has a track record of innovative solutions.
He or she chooses to advise organizations in their software planning and technology decisions, as opposed to being the full solutions provider. Not all vendors and consultants are either able or willing to offer such services. The advisor maintains a high level perspective, but relies on a network of experts, and is conscious of crucial details and how they fit into the big picture.
During a relatively short engagement with a tech advisor, the organization can:
· Make the planning efforts by management more concise, focused, and efficient,
· Make better technology and design choices,
· Hire better and more appropriate solutions providers.
The tech advisor is hired by the organization to be its advocate, to represent its interests, and to look for effects and consequences outside the usual purview. Also, this individual rests on high standards of ethics and professionalism. Thus he or she is similar to a good accountant, attorney, doctor, or coach – or a management consultant who exemplifies the standards promulgated by the IMC.
Tech advisor engagements resemble those of many management consultants rather than traditional IT solutions work, as they tend to be shorter and involve more time working directly with the clients.
Patrick Russell is President of the San Diego Chapter of IMC and the author of The Tech Advisor: A Guide to Better Software Selection and Implementation Decisions for Business Managers, now available on Kindle at Amazon.com, and in paperback July 2011.