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Different Views on Consulting

Posted on: 13 June '11

Very rarely have I come across a profession that evokes responses that range from admiration to skepticism. Yes, I am talking about ‘Consulting’! What is it about this profession that makes some people so uncomfortable?

  • Is it an admission of incompetence to have someone else come in and help you better define your own strategy and roadmap?
  • Is it wrong to cooperate with professionals who specialize in an area and bring knowledge of best practices and trends?
  • Are business consultants coming in with a chip on their shoulders and a ‘holier than thou’ attitude?
  • Is there unwanted arrogance in the act?

Over the years of being a consultant, I have seen clients grapple with questions like these and have seen different stances being taken – and the end result has always invariably been a reflection of the viewpoint adopted. While I have my own views (and strong ones at that!) on this, let me start off this series by soliciting your views and we can then build on this to see what emerges. Maybe, this ‘crowd sourcing’ will lead to a very own and unique perspective? Let’s give it a shot and let’s hear what we have to say on –

Is there a need for consulting? If so, when should business consultants be called in and why?

Let’s accept that there are no right answers – there are only points of view! We may agree or disagree but we should be open to hearing diverging view points. In my next post, I’ll share with you what I heard from a bunch of MBA students at the Kellogg School of Management on the same.

Till then, let’s get a dialog going.

Amit Varma

Amit Varma is the Vice President and Global Head of Mindtree's Enterprise Solutions and Consulting Business. AV, as he's better known, is an alumnus of the Kellogg School of Management and is based out of Mindtree's California office. In his own words, "I'm passionate about consulting and have been extremely fortunate to have been able to marry my passion and work - little wonder that I love my work".

  • Joe

    I think you raise (potentially) polarizing views on consulting, Amit.It will be interesting to see what people have to say. Good luck with your new blog section. Readers will be wise to stay engaged in this topic with someone with your experience.

    • Amit Varma

      Thanks Joe. I guess its a sensitive topic and readers may be a little apprehensive in voicing their viewpoints

  • Anand Rao

    Amit, a very debatable topic. Consulting while it may sound all honky dory, comes with ground realities of managing business expectations, the ability to stretch, and majorly building thought leadership in particular domain/function. The most obvious is the fact that all clients who will want to do business with a consultant will do so partly because of his/ her expertise. If one has had a track record of being able to implement workable out-of-the-box ideas, then anyone who hires a consultant will consider that aspect when they call them. Without doubt according to me, soft arrogance is required when dealing with clients, ultimately its about dealing with people, and marrying it with one’s domain/ function capabilities. Consulting is an over abused terminology, but works well when put in right context i.e. being an expert on a subject matter.

    I had put forth a article few months ago, which if read between the lines speaks about capabilities that the consulting firms manage to stay ahead in the game of consulting. Hope it helps in shedding some light on the subject matter. I am taking the liberty to share this link:

    http://experiencesspeak.blogspot.com/2010/11/overview-of-current-strategy-consulting.html

    http://www.consultingnetwork.co.in/strategy-consulting-landscape/2289/

    I am looking forward to read your (strong) views 🙂

    • Amit Varma

      good thoughts, Anand. There really cannot be one right answer here – there’ll be perspectives and more perspectives :-). But you do touch upon a very critical point about learning from what has made some of these marquee names successful in the consulting arena. That should be an area to explore for sure in one of the future blogs.

  • Anand Dorairaj

    The notion of upstream activities (strategy and tactical) being more challenging and value-adding than downstream activities (operations and execution) has led to consultants being perceived as arrogant.

    Whether the notion is right or wrong, is highly contextual and warrants a debate in itself 🙂

  • Amit Varma

    I’m not sure I agree with that, Anand. I don’t believe it has anything to do with upstream/ downstream activities. Operations and execution are equally important (if not more) and those are big areas of consulting focus as well – strategy covers all aspect of business and operations/ execution are very essential parts of the strategy canvas. As a matter of fact, if you read about the spend on consulting, you’ll find that operations consulting is a very large part of the consulting spend pie.

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  • Avishek

    Broadly IT industry engages with three types of consultants

    Segment 1- Pricey, high-end pure-play strategy consultants who carry an enormous reputation and an army of highly qualified professionals. They bring with them a large number of proprietary frameworks, business models, scorecards which have been developed over years of experience across varied industries. These consulting firms usually act as independent third party assessors and bring out a report outlining a proposed road-map which leans more towards business solutions rather than IT. Their engagement model is primarily transactional with a minor bit of relational component.

    Segment 2- These consultants come in with a mindset of long-term engagement i.e. they have a clear intention of performing downstream work along with the consulting assignment at hand. Apart from consulting skills, their strength lies in partnerships which they have built with leading software product and/or infrastructure vendors. More often than not they pitch for going with a particular product line. They are able to offer services at a strong discount consequent to their partnership with product vendors.

    Segment 3- Consultants falling in this category do not have either a huge reputation or strength of partnerships but they compensate for that by bringing in excellent relationship skills. They are more of relationship managers in the garb of consultants. They principally work on partnership-based models and their output is more often than not a consensus between all leading parties involved. They are also very good at acting as liaisons between customer parties who fail to reach an agreement. In most cases they have an excellent working relationship with key client stakeholders.

    Segment 1 is a different breed altogether but if a consulting led IT organization dons the hat of segment 2 and segment 3 at the same time they will certainly turn out to be leaders in their space.

  • Venu

    My views – though limited to strategy consulting

    “Is there a need for consulting?” – Yes. I believe so (and I’d say that anyway because I’m one)

    “If so, when should business consultants be called in and why?” – I think the answer to this is a combination of one or more

    a) Need genuine help in an unfamiliar area (e.g. considering expanding into a new geography/product area / post-merger integration) – not every line manager and his/her team knows how to do these

    b) Need quick, temporary, immediate help to analyze an issue and move forward without having to hire a team (“come and tell me which competitors we should be worried about and why?”) – not every manager has time or the team to analyze every situation they confront

    c) Validate a personal gut feel / high level hypothesis on an action (“I should invest $100M on this new business unit…”) with an external, data driven perspective – especially crucial with high level/expensive decisions

    About people’s opinions on consultants? Well, like every other profession out there, there are those who see no value in it and there are those that do. And like every other type of consulting out there – many projects deliver value and some do not. I’ve got no arguments with that.

  • Daniel Pacheco

    Consultants are needed when everyone knows what is to be done but needs some one else to take the blame if things go wrong.
    They can always say we did what the consultants told us to do not it is time to replace the consultants and get some other consultant.
    If things go well they can take the credit and say we did it but if things go wrong a consultant scapegoat is needed.