With more than 30 years in technology consulting, I feel I can safely make a few observations about the field. The first is, alas, I'm growing old with the industry. The second is that I've had quite a lot of experience with customer/consulting relationships over the years, both good and bad, from my early days in statistical consulting to my current position in professional services management at OpenBI.
As such, I hope I have a bit of wisdom to share with InfoWorld readers regarding the recent article, "7 dirty consultant tricks (and how to avoid them)."
[ Read the original InfoWorld article 7 dirty consultant tricks (and how to avoid them) and see what the buzz is about. | Learn how to avoid IT's biggest money wasters -- and how to assemble your crackerjack A-Team for IT special ops. ]
The article takes on the consulting profession, especially IT consultants, for tricks often deployed to "extract money from their clients." Among the shady practices identified: bidding low and billing high; misleading customers about the makeup of the consulting team; dragging out projects to rack up more billable hours; and selling the latest "solutions" to customers, regardless of whether they're pertinent for customer needs. These four, along with the three other tricks identified, provide the foundation for what reads like a broad indictment of IT consulting.
As a practicing consultant who's proud of my profession, I don't feel dirty tricks are nearly as prevalent as the article suggests. Moreover, I don't see our industry as a necessary evil, but instead as a fundamental contributor to the IT ecosystem. Few companies choose to maintain a permanent IT staff with the broad range of tech expertise and bandwidth to meet unexpected user demands and new development initiatives. Consultants are essential contributors to the well-being of IT.
That said, during my career, I've seen six of the seven tricks "successfully" executed by services firms. Of course, there are some less than reputable consultancies, just as there are less than reputable customers. The biggest problem for consumers of consulting, though, derives from lack of oversight of the consulting relationship -- from the sales process to contract negotiations to project delivery and sign-off. The good news is that most of the problems are avoidable. With proper negotiation, contracting, and oversight, most dirty tricks simply go away.
Indeed, the risks of tricks two through seven can be effectively neutralized by a combination of tight contract specifications and capable project governance. No way should a savvy buying team be tripped up by consultancies that push the latest and greatest or lack the expertise they purport to have. Simple (but detailed) reference checks would expose the puffery.