Pity poor Scient. Two years ago, it was the poster child of hip consultancies. Now it takes a browbeating from the media for its recent missteps.

Yes, a couple of clients did go belly up. And The Wall Street Journal did a guilt-by-association article on an ex-Scient consultant who comes across as—at best—a shallow cad. These and other stories imply that e-consultants are greedy, seedy capitalists. The comedown from last year’s hype is in full motion. So now the rest of the world can cluck its collective tongue at these upstarts.

Of course, 12 months ago everyone was praising the virtues of the I-builders and ignoring the vices. Rewind the consulting industry videotape and you’ll watch this same love-hate cycle repeat itself. Ten years ago, McKinsey & Company tried to acknowledge the future and bought an IT implementer. Folks still pull out the 1991 Fortune article that chronicles that disaster.

Face facts: People love to hate management consultants. The more egregious the displays of arrogance, the more savage the counterpunch. Scient uses doomsday presentations to jolt potential clients into the future. So when the firm stumbles, we gladly look around for the nearest rock.

Does that mean Scient and its e-consulting brethren deserve the pummeling? Some, not all. Consultants need to be challenged, not deified. We’re now in phase two of the Net revolution, where healthy skepticism replaces unbridled optimism. The e-consultants warrant the same scrutiny. Sure, they’ve changed the industry for the better. But their real legacy—and reputations—will be based on how they respond to the bad and the good.

Heard on the street
Business Week’s current issue chronicles another not-so-pleasant consulting trend: consultants getting sued. The rather staid problems outlined in the article (e.g., Big Five consultancies botching a PeopleSoft implementation) could pale in comparison to future scenarios. The Hydra-like relationships consultants now have with clients—VC, incubator, alliance partner, outsourcer—are enough to moisten the eyes of any lawyer. Ask any lawyer who deals with professional services—more clients will be meeting their consultants in the courtroom rather than the boardroom.
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 2000, Consulting Information Services, LLC. Reproduction is prohibited. Quotation with attribution is encouraged.