I've worked both sides of the equation-as a coonsultant and as someone who evaluates (and occasionally hires) consultants.
First of all, I look at consultants from two perspectives - as outsurce providers of IT services, or as specialists that enhance my requirements. Yes, in one sense, all consulting work is outsourcing, however, I am refering to the situation we have here in San Diego County. The county "outsourced" all their IT to a consulting group, and the county supervisors just love to crow about how much money it saved the county. To THAT type of attitude, I say "Bull". If you really evaluate outsourcing, you find that not all dollars saved are truly dollars retained. A "typical" outsourcing contract involves assuming ownership and control of an existing IT infrastructure, and if the consulting firm is on top of their game, there's a cushion included to cover future growth and expansion. However, reality sets in when new projects, new applications, or anything else "new" (and of a significant scale), enters the picture. These new projects normally fall outside the scope of the outsourcing contract, andincur added costs and fees. There's also the potential creation of the infamous "islands of information technology" that spring up-the finance department that doesn't want to deal with the outsourced IT vendor for some reason and creates a mini-IT system. Contrary to waht many consultants claim, the islands do rise up and quite often.
On the other hand, with the increased sophistication and complexity of IT nowadays, you really cannot afford to keep a CCIE or dedicated C# programmer on staff at all times (unless your enterprise or business is of a size that would permit such), and going outside to a consultant can be valuable. I'm more of a generalist in IT-I can do a lot, but when it comes time to dig deep, I prefer to call in someone with more expertise than myself. You might compare that with the person who can change their oil and perform simple auto repairs at home, but when it comes time to perfrom a major engine and transmission overhaul-call the repair shop.
With ANY consultant, the real key is defining the scope of the problem and then MANAGING the scope in conjunction with the consultant. Many consultants try and approach projects with a cookie cutter style of solution, however, the better ones will take the time to understand what the problem is and evaluate options in "consultation" with the client.
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