Are consultants “leeches?” And why would some consultants have reputations as bloodsucking, money-hungry predators?

This perception was brought to light recently by a lively debate in the TechRepublic Discussion Center. The member who began the discussion questioned whether consultants could be trusted, spurring a heated discussion in which some TechRepublic members referred to consultants as “leeches” and “amoral parasites,” and consultants came out of the woodwork to defend their profession.

Do you feel trust is an issue of concern in consulting? Read on to see what some members suggested as ways to smooth the road for consultants and ease the worries of the IT administrator.

A question of power
A member called MOD70 began the discussion by describing a situation in which a friend had built an IT department from the ground up, turning a “rat’s nest comm. closet” into a “multiple-server WAN environment that supports thousands of users.” And although his friend assured his supervisor, the CFO, that the network was well documented and the passwords to the servers were in a secured file, the CFO was leery as to what might happen if the friend got “hit by a bus.” In short, the CFO said the friend had “too much power.”

MOD70 went on to explain that the CFO suggested bringing in a consultant to “look around.”

“My friend is not happy. He’s taken this mechanical, 10-key operation to a modern IT department by himself. He’s thinking they’re going to give him the axe. Is there something that can be implemented to use as reassurance for management that they have the right person for the job?”

Hidden agenda: A warning about consultants
Another member, 214, replied to MOD70 with a warning about consultants, titled “Trust.”

“Tell your friend to watch his back,” 214 wrote. “The perception of trust has been lost; therefore, nobody wins.

“Inviting consultants to ‘look around’ is a bad idea. We all know what kind of amoral parasites they can be. The person bringing up this ludicrous idea should be suspect. There must be a hidden agenda.

“The network is documented, so let THEM go and find a suitable replacement. If your friend did this work alone, he must know what he is doing. He should not have a problem finding another job!”
If you were chosen as the consultant on this case, how would you balance the need for a thorough look at the network without offending its current administrators? Send us your advice to share in a future article, or post your comments below.
A consultant speaks out
A consultant, APARSONS, joined the discussion with a response titled “Don’t be too paranoid!”

“As a consultant,” APARSONS wrote, “I have been called in many times by companies to advise on existing infrastructures, and one of the major themes I am confronted with is indeed the question of resilience. Any responsible company must ask whether or not the loss (by accident or design) of their mainstay IT person will impact the business.

“I appreciate your friend’s worries, but rather than worrying about the reasons behind the question, he should be asking himself if there is any truth in the statement that he has too much power.”

Tale of a “snotty consultant”
CHARLEY suggested that the administrator in question “punch out now” and take his passwords with him.

“There’s an old adage that holds some truth,” CHARLEY wrote. ’Those who can, do. Those who can’t, consult.’”

CHARLEY went on to say that management usually brings in a consultant to find out “What would happen if…” CHARLEY provided a sample scenario: “This person looks down his nose at the resident geek and explains that the existing system is completely wrong. The geek explains that the system does work, there’s complete documentation for it, and there’s no need to replace anything (or anyone). Management, not wanting to look like an idiot for already wasting absurd dollars on the [consultant], agrees to buy even more absurd dollars’ worth of new equipment and pays the consultant to set it up. He can’t, so he co-opts the geek, who is under orders from management, into doing the setup.

“When the new system doesn’t work, the geek gets blamed and is fired because he ‘isn’t a team player.’”

The great debate: Second-guessing or disaster planning?
Many TechRepublic members weighed in on both sides of this discussion. BMILES suggested to MOD70 that a consultant might offer an “occasion to improve the network design. Every network design can be improved somewhere (i.e., security, bandwidth). [Your friend] should also approach management about helping to select this consultant. This is to ensure that the consultant is really an expert and not just a salesperson for some outsourcing IT company. If he helps to qualify the consultant, he may find someone that not only certifies that the present design is good, but puts to rest any fears that management has that they are at the mercy of your friend.”

KEVIN.LOGWOOD gave a different explanation for the situation: “Your friend has bucked the system and probably embarrassed his boss by doing his job too well,” he wrote. “It happens all the time. His boss’s superiors are probably wondering what the CIO was doing all of this time. Bringing in a consultant is only going to [cause management to] constantly second-guess your friend’s upgrades. I would object sternly to this and would draw a line in the sand, even if it meant searching elsewhere. Make them respect you—they’ve obviously never had a reason not to.”

HBETTS3 wrote that MOD70’s friend’s experience is not uncommon and that in the eyes of management, “he does have too much power. He, your friend, now controls the destiny of the company.

“Is there something to implement to assure upper management that they are safe? Sure. Become an upper-management participant. Keep them informed at all times of all things. Inundate them with information. They will keep what they need and discard the rest. And, if they see too much information and begin to ask your friend about it, he might be able to make a case for becoming the CTO.”
Join this discussion about consultants, or start your own. You can always find hot topics in TechRepublic’s Discussion Center.