Calling in external consultants is easier and quicker. You tell them what to do and off they go. Business is happy, IT usually not, but hey, the work needs to be done. Easy peasy. Done and dusted.
Really? I’ve come to realise that, while on the surface, consulting might be an easy option, deep down there’s an interaction with business that you may be missing out on.
As a consultant, typically, the client calls, you deliver to specification (anything beyond that means quotes or approvals) and after a few hours, days, or even months you move on. Next client. Next deliverable. Next billable hour. That’s the nature of consulting. Always on the clock. No added extras. No added value.
So, yes, this might fit some situations or companies but why not invest in internal know-how? Because there’s more to it than just software or technical skills.
Now in a permanent internal position, I’ve come to realise that while consultants might have technically deep know-how (even here there are no guarantees) they lack the business insight. Consultant contact is often limited to a particular area or function where information is divulged on a need-to-know basis. It is also unlikely that the full company strategy will be exposed. Insight is missing. Internally, though, you’ll know what the common goals and fears are and so, which levers to activate. But it goes beyond that. As an “internal service provider” you can afford a touchy-feely interaction with business e.g. gently convince them of buy-in if they’re sceptical or hear out their thoughts. You can support on a more personal level because you have an understanding of their pain points or experienced previous projects or implementations together. Basically, you know which buttons to push (or not to push). How to put colleagues at ease.
And you can take the liberty of delivering a little extra or spend time trying out something new or different. Because there is no dragon blocking diversions and breathing “billable hour” fire down your back. Through this flexibility and exposure to business areas you find yourself in a position to cross-advise and maybe even avoid duplicate efforts. By not being “The Consultant” but rather a colleague you’re able to build up relationships or leverage off of existing ones. Don’t get me wrong. Consultants do build up relationships with clients but generally within a limited area (and takes time because, let’s face it, it doesn’t come from a few ad-hoc consulting days).
Coffee gossip and buzzwords
You’ll find yourself exchanging ideas and information with colleagues thus slowly bridging that “Us vs Them” (“Business vs IT”) divide that exists in many organisations and so find out what they really need. Don’t underestimate that coffee nook or passage gossip. It helps IT keep a critical step ahead as inevitably someone will bring up the latest technology or buzzword. You’re doing two jobs at once: delivering a service but also finding out what colleagues’ thoughts are. At the end of the day, it is business who gives a good indication of where the journey should go and helps figure out what they really need as opposed to what IT thinks they need. Which means you can probably pre-empt their next ideas, and if not, at least be ready for them or inform the relevant enabler.
You might say that at times it is quicker and easier to hire external consultants who come with the technical expertise for the job. I won’t argue that. But I do believe that internally there are different nuances to the professional relationships with business which changes how you engage with each other and results in greater alignment. Or at least gives a starting point to bringing IT and Business closer.
As for the skills gap, well, for that there’s always Google. Oh, and experience from trial and error.