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7 dirty consultant tricks (and how to avoid them)

Dan Tynan | April 12, 2011
Scope change, empty suits, kickbacks -- beware IT consultants looking to turn your IT project into their cash cow.

Eberstein points to a large international bank that hired consultants to create a content creation workflow for its country reports. The consultants said it would take six months to build an automated system. Using Microsoft SharePoint, the bank developed and rolled out its own system in two days.

Because many IT shops are paid by the applications and licenses they sell, their goal is to activate as many applications as possible, says Chris Stephenson, co-founder of ARRYVE.

"In a recent RFP meeting for our client, I asked the consultant's IT sales rep if we could automatically send quotes to clients from a central email," says Stephenson. "His response was to highlight a more expensive application in the CRM software that allowed chatter with clients, centralized all communications into one portal, used Twitter (really), and did a whole bunch of other great things. When he finished, I repeated my questions, and after a pause, he said, 'No, it is unable to do that'."

The fix: Be wary if the sales team is pitching great applications rather than focusing on your business requirements, says Stephenson. The applications often cost more than the feature you're requesting and sometimes miss the business problem completely.


Dirty consultant trick No. 7: Empty suits and vampires

No matter what problem you have, the consultant knows the solution. And if they don't know the solution, they'll pretend they do anyway. Faux expertise has brought down more than a few IT projects, usually after megabucks have been spent.

One of the worst dirty tricks is when consultants take on projects they're unqualified to handle, says Innovator LLC's Steven Lowe. Unfortunately this is often exacerbated by clients that assign committees of people with no understanding of the problem to oversee the consultant.

"When this situation occurs by accident, I call it the 'empty suit' problem," says Lowe. "When it occurs on purpose, I call it the 'vampire' problem. When the consultant is an empty suit, success cannot be delivered. Instead, the consultant attempts to prolong the project until the budget and participants are exhausted, or the consultant magically acquires the necessary expertise. If the consultant goes into the commitment knowing that success is impossible, the empty suit problem becomes the vampire problem."

But having empty suits on the client side can cause projects to grind to a halt due to the inability to make the right decisions, adds Lowe.

"Huge sums of money can be wasted before the project is killed," he says. "When both sides are empty suits, the project can go on so long that it drains the life out of the company."


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