Outsourcing

Defending consulting's honor

The moniker "business advisor" has become rather pervasive these days. But columnist Tom Rodenhauser says that until the consulting industry melds IT advisors with traditional consultants, the term is an empty vessel.

Almost three years ago, Computer Associates (CA) tried and failed to swallow up Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC). It was a dash of cold water in the face of most traditional consulting firms.

At the time, CA president Charles Wang boldly proclaimed that buying a monster like CSC would provide a front-end sales machine for his company’s back-room software development. CSC’s Van Honeycutt testily pointed out that his company had enjoyed healthy growth over the years because it didn’t push one software solution.

In a memo that immortalized Honeycutt to millions of traditionalists, he postulated that becoming a Willy Loman to CA’s burgeoning empire would have a severe impact on CSC’s organization and the morale of his consultants. He predicted wholesale departures and a gutting of what we, in the consulting industry, like to call “intellectual assets” (or seasoned consultants to most everyone else).

My, how the world has changed.

The term “business advisor” has become truly ubiquitous these days. Fifty years ago, accountants and lawyers provided the type of advice that often defined companies and their corporate strategies. Then came the emergence of professional management advisors like McKinsey & Company, A.T. Kearney, and BCG—microeconomists excellent at analyzing business problems and eager to provide ideas for solutions.

The defining characteristic of yesterday’s counselors—pet management theories notwithstanding—was a level of neutrality that, for the most part, kept them out of skirmishes over most predefined solutions.

From the roots of those detached advisors has grown quite a consulting family tree. CSC and its counterparts (Accenture, et. al.) represent one of the more highly evolved branches—companies that provide everything from strategy development to systems outsourcing. CA and the software builders are a mutation from the same tree. Their products are directly linked to the likes of CSC and dozens of other IT advisors.

When you start melding information technology advisors with traditional consultants, the results are interesting enough. Consultants from the old school eschewed specific tools in favor of sweeping analysis when determining the solution. The emergence of e-business has proven that the tools and solutions are becoming one.

So now there is a sizable crotch in consulting’s trunk. Any company that follows the e-biz branch can’t claim the impartiality of yore. Nor can you call yourself an advisor if you’re selling a predetermined set of solutions.

At some point in the near future, the consulting industry will have to face the hypocritical ivy that is choking the family tree. If you directly link the builders of the software with those who are ostensibly providing perspective on a multitude of similar products, any claim to fairness is laughable at best.

Heard on the street
DiamondCluster chief Mel Bergstein told us in December that e-consulting survivors will be measured by “how they manage through the down cycles.” Bergstein will test that theory given the company’s recent earnings warning. DiamondCluster is an old-fashioned partnership that just happens to be publicly owned. That’s the reason the company kept the layoff knife sheathed even though it will miss quarterly revenues by $20 million. Partnerships don’t cut people, even though Wall Street expects otherwise. Bergstein has exactly one quarter to prove if his management theory works.
Inside Consulting is written by Tom Rodenhauser as a free weekly supplement to The Rodenhauser Report. The report informs senior advisors and business executives of consulting trends and best practices. Subscription cost is $295 per year for 10 issues. Copyright 2001, Consulting Information Services, LLC. Reproduction is prohibited. Quotation with attribution is encouraged.