The value of independence in consulting

Introduction

All too often one hears the question; where do I get the right advice? The answer is never simple, especially in today’s fast changing .com  (.confusion) world where there is a new flavour, buzzword or problem every day.

The need for expert opinion

It is clear that an expert opinion is required in most technology conundrums, but where is the sage to be found? Technology is becoming more and more product specific and the advice one is likely to get is more probably going to come from the product expert selling a particular product in the first place.

A simple rule is: don’t simply follow your neighbour because he (or she) is advertising the acquisition of the latest bit of technology that is founded in an unsound business case.

It was probably implemented because some senior AME (Airline Magazine Expert) read about it on the latest trip abroad and decided this was the way to go.

So where is this discussion leading to you may ask? The issue is how to make safe and unbiased technology decisions, given the number of advisers one has to choose from.

Conflicts of interest

There is a strong case to be made for the use of an independent consultant (or consulting firm) who has also signed and abides by a code of ethical conduct. Such a code of conduct prevents or discourages conflicts of interest between activities or services provided from the same source.

Conflicts may arise when a vendor also advises the client as to the best technology option. They may also arise when some multi-disciplinary firm audits, consults and potentially sells products to the same customer. Such practices are now being vigorously discouraged in European and American countries, resulting in the disposal of portions of such firms and the re-aligning of core business.

The value of traditional consulting principles

Many clients tend to disregard the value of segregating the production of a statement of requirements from the provision of the actual solution. Segregation of responsibilities and decision-making in complex processes is a basic management principle that is often ignored at the peril of the client organisation.

Who is best positioned to adjudicate the responses and even the performance of the solution providers? The answer lies in analysing a number of related issues:

  •   The expertise within the client organisation
  •   The complexity of the assignment
  •   The need for project or programme management
  •   The number of options available to the client
  •   The desirability or necessity of performance level monitoring
  •   The availability of an independent third party with the required skills
  •   The cost factors
  •   Who is finally accountable for the success of the intervention or exercise?

Effective decision making and performance measurement

It is the writer’s contention that should an evaluation of options and or performance measurement be required, an independent expert party is best positioned to perform this task.

The traditional view of a consulting engagement requires that a project (or programme) be structured in such a way that sound evaluation of options and independent measurement of progress can take place at key points (milestones) in the process.

By ignoring these basic principles, the client exposes himself to the risk that the consultant, service provider and performance measurer could be one and the same. How then are disputes resolved and who supplies the metrics?

Outsourcing

Outsourcing of non-core (or core) functions has had a chequered history for exactly these reasons. The crux of the matter has been:

  •   Who determines the options available?
  •   Who recommends the best option?
  •   Which parties are involved in the legal documentation and signing?
  •   Who highlights the risks and the exit clauses?

In many cases, the parties involved in each step of the process have been the same throughout and objectivity may become an issue at some stage in what could be a lengthy and complex process.

The independent consultant

It should give the astute client some semblance of comfort that there are still independent and ethically bound specialists who are in a position to provide product independent services in areas such as:

  •   The definition of requirements and selection criteria
  •   The short-listing of service providers
  •   The assistance with the final decision process
  •   The provision of programme or vendor management services on behalf of the client.
  •   The monitoring of service level agreements

 Conclusion

Whilst it is true that there are no longer a multitude of professional consultants and service providers who can truly call themselves product or solution independent, the Institute of Management Consultants and Master Coaches of South Africa (IMCSA) maintains a list of certified practitioners (CMCs and MCs) who provide independent consulting and coaching services. These services are in the areas listed above and in addition cover mediation, arbitration or simply facilitation in complex situations, where clients and service providers require a fresh perspective or have reached an impasse.

Independent service providers not yet registered with the IMCSA may contact the secretariat at www.imcsa.org.za

Clients wishing to know more about the services provided by the IMCSA can contact the president or the secretariat at the same numbers. All enquiries will be treated confidentially.

 

Written by Angelo Kehayas (FCMC) 2016