Confessions of a Former Consultant

By John Taschek  |  Posted 2001-06-04 Print this article Print

A new report has it that it consultants are the first things to go during a downturn in the economy.

A new report has it that it consultants are the first things to go during a downturn in the economy. No wonder all the great projects throughout time have been created during depressions! Seriously, as much as Id like to joke that companies—sans consultants—can finally get something done, dumping consultants is not a strategic move.

There is, however, a report by Morgan Stanley showing that consulting indeed is one of the first things summarily cut during overall IT cutbacks, which is what were seeing right now. According to Computergrams Computerwire newsletter, up to 70 percent of the consulting projects in existence right now could be dropped, leaving companies with extra cash but without whatever projects they deemed strategic less than a year ago.

There are several reasons consultants deserve the bad rep theyve been getting. First, now that theres no galvanization over Y2K fixes, consultants are aimless, trying to fix problems that dont exist and positioning themselves as providing a strategic rather than a tactical vision. Thats a bad move because many consultants can offer no proof of concept. They can tell where the industry is heading, but they dont know how to get there.

Second, because of Y2K and the Internet, consulting organizations grew too fast, resulting in an abundance of unskilled workers. The result is that consulting organizations that once charged enormous rates for marginal efforts are going out of business. Now consultants are being parodied everywhere—even in UPS commercials.

Ive got some experience with consultants—both as a consultant and as a person hiring them. More than 10 years ago, I was marketed as a highly skilled consultant, and, sure, I could whip up a batch file like no other, program a Paradox database or even get SQL Net to work—skills Ive long since forgotten. But my organization was never really integrated into the company, and I never fully understood the larger goal.

Its easy to blame inept consultants for implementation woes. But most of the time, the hiring company lacks leadership in managing the projects in the first place. My advice is simple: There was at one time a reason why companies decided to hire consulting organizations. Figure out that reason, and then start managing the consultants as if they were part of the staff and not some distant outsiders.

As the director of eWEEK Labs, John manages a staff that tests and analyzes a wide range of corporate technology products. He has been instrumental in expanding eWEEK Labs' analyses into actual user environments, and has continually engineered the Labs for accurate portrayal of true enterprise infrastructures. John also writes eWEEK's 'Wide Angle' column, which challenges readers interested in enterprise products and strategies to reconsider old assumptions and think about existing IT problems in new ways. Prior to his tenure at eWEEK, which started in 1994, Taschek headed up the performance testing lab at PC/Computing magazine (now called Smart Business). Taschek got his start in IT in Washington D.C., holding various technical positions at the National Alliance of Business and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. There, he and his colleagues assisted the government office with integrating the Windows desktop operating system with HUD's legacy mainframe and mid-range servers.

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