Confessions of a Former Consultant

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.