IT Consultants – prove your worth

By | June 21, 2006

Consulting is a relatively unusual concept. They don’t manufacture anything and they aren’t judged on an end product. Their worth lies in their people and the advice they give. But putting a monetary value on that and proving it to the client can be very difficult.

A consultant’s role should add value to a project – that is, after all, why the client hires them rather than undertaking such jobs internally. Consultants can take an external view into an organisation and give constructive and impartial advice on the processes and procedures within it, advising on how to streamline them to save time and money, as well as produce better results. As part of the service, consultants should also introduce alternative ways of thinking and managing certain tasks on an ongoing basis, as well as providing general information and advice to the client.

Although it is clear to see how a consultancy can add value to a project, it can be a completely different story proving where it has actually achieved this or by how much. Many consultancies have adopted ‘on target’ contracts, where they are paid dependent on the results they have achieved or on the effectiveness of the advice they have given on a particular project. Some use deadlines to prove their value, so if they deliver a job on, or even before, deadline they are seen to be working effectively and to the expected standard.

Another method that consultancies can use to demonstrate their worth is in terms of financial results – if the clients’ turnover is up and there has been a significant positive impact upon the bottom line, then it can be said that the relationship is working. However, finances can be impacted by many things that are outside the consultant’s control, such as industry issues, which can make this difficult to measure. This can also be true for an increase in the number of client prospects.

As the pressure to prove worth increases, it is easy to forget that on the other side of the coin is the issue of over-servicing. A consultancy is paid for its time, so a certain amount of money will cover a specified number of hours to be spent on a particular project. When this time is exceeded, it is known as over-servicing.

This is an issue which is relatively common in consultancy work, and can be the result of a number of different factors. The first can occur right at the beginning of the project, before it has even started. Often the person that sells a particular project to the client will be different to the one who ultimately manages it. If the handover between the two is not managed effectively, it can lead to important information being missed and can result in problems when it comes to allocating resources and keeping to the estimated time and budget. Alternatively, in order to win the business, the seller may over-promise on the job which creates issues for the project manager from the moment the project begins.

These situations are more likely to happen on long-term projects, and may leave the client feeling that the consultancy has not delivered, when actually the reality is that the true timelines and costs were not properly communicated at the start of the job. This risks not only a project being delayed and coming in over budget, but also a disgruntled client who is left feeling negative towards the project manager, and a lot of the time, the consultancy too.

It is key to manage the project at every step to prevent these issues. The client should be as involved as much as possible, especially after the handover to the project manager. Every stage of the job should be explained and demonstrated to the client in order to give them a better understanding of it – and therefore the time and costs involved.

The project manager should also ensure that the correct resources are allocated to the job. The difference between the success and failure of a project can often be as simple as using staff with mismatched skill sets. Project managers may often use personnel that they particularly like or have worked with successfully on previous jobs, when in fact, they may not necessarily be the best person for this particular project. It is important to create a separate and individual approach to each project and client – the ideal would be a new team created for each assignment, dependent upon each person’s particular skills sets, in order to get the job done on time and to budget.

In addition to being of benefit to each individual project, this in-depth knowledge of its employees can be very important to a consultancy. Taking an interest in each individual’s skill set and career aspirations demonstrates to the employee that they are respected by their employer. The feeling of being valued results in a more happy and motivated workforce, which can in turn lead to a much better working environment and service to the client.

Traditionally, consultancies have managed their business with a disparate set of non-automated processes devoid of a shared technology structure and centralised management, which has made addressing these issues difficult, but there are now tools available to combine all the administrative tasks into one, helping both the consultancy, and in the long run, the client. Software can track and monitor every aspect of a project, from planning the timeframes and costs through to recording any significant notes so that anybody working on that job can see immediately what the status is of every element, virtually eliminating any possible areas of confusion or discrepancies. Historical data on previous jobs can also be retrieved which can be referred to in the initial stages of planning a similar project.

If implemented effectively, such tools can help a consultancy a great deal in proving its worth to the client, demonstrating before the job even starts how long it is likely to take and how the correct resources will be allocated – ultimately, adding to the value they can deliver by allowing them to spend more time on the project and less on administration. Research has shown that 65 per cent of companies using such software were able to increase staff utilisation, resulting in a greater number of billable hours.

Consultancies can now use their time and expertise to complete the project for which they are being paid, on time and to budget, instead of having to focus on proving their worth. This directly benefits both the client and the consultancy.

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