Why use a Consultant?

Below is a transcript of an article that appeared in The Financial Times, issue of November 19, 2007.

A survey by the Management Consultancies Association (MCA) found that the single most important reason why organisations use consultants (70 per cent) is access to specific skills not available internally.

“Our research shows that people want to access specialist skills they need for a short period of time,” says Fiona Czerniawska, director of the MCA’s think tank, “and the management consulting firms have those skills. There are ‘economies of knowledge’ because the client gets the benefit of using a consultant who has worked for different businesses in different places within a particular field.

Hiring a consultancy just for their skills is fine for a short term where the organisation will have no further use of the skills afterwards. However, longer term needs are met at lower cost by hiring an individual, either onto the payroll or on a finite contract.

“There are no lightly loaded people and no slack,” he says. “Most people no longer have time to think or keep-up with the latest trends and changes. In contrast, consultants can devote as much as 30 or 40 per cent of their time to keeping up to speed.” Richard Rawlinson, a partner at Booz Allen Hamilton says that it is often impossible for an organisation to maintain the same range of specialist skills or to provide the broad comparative experience that consultants develop.

Gerald Dunn, a director at Qedis, says that undoubtedly there is the time and the place for bringing in the expert who has done a task many times before. “However, if you are using consultants,” he says, “you are usually looking for smart, pragmatic, organised problem solvers who can adapt to what they find and deliver value.”

David Ketchin, lead practice director at Parson Consulting, points out that skills alone are not enough. Whereas technical skills are required to challenge the status quo, client companies often lack change management expertise. It is the blend of the two that delivers true value to an organisation. “One of the most important and enduring rationales of a consultancy is to bring external insights and experience in different industries from around the world,” says Mr Thomlinson. “These insights are both with regard to the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of change.”

Another reason to use consultants is because they can speed up the process of change. “Often the requirement is for a burst of effort to get something done by people that do not have other obligations or a day job to attend to,” says Mr Dunn. “Consultants can be brought in, set clear deliverables and aggressive timelines and provide the catalyst or momentum to get things done.”

“Consultants often look expensive,” concludes Mr Cochrane, “but their flexibility, dynamism, knowledge and creativity come from their low utilisation. Creativity, problem-solving and solution-engineering take time!”

Above is a transcript of an article that appeared in The Financial Times, issue of November 19, 2007.