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Are consultants exerting too much power over IT departments?

By Why Me Worry? ·
At my last job, the IT manager hired outside contractors to spearhead and manage a conversion project from Novell Netware 6/GroupWise 6.5 to Windows Server 2003 and Exchange Server 2003. I understand that these consultants were brought in for their expertise and experience in this subject matter, but it seems to me that management listened to their views and concerns more than they did to the concerns and views of employees who have been with the company for many years. To add insult to injury, us permenant IT employees were not sent to any formal training and were expected to become overnight experts by reading books. Management got our dept some online CBTs', but come on, these things are useless and will never replace real classroom and hands on learning. Many of us were not involved in the conversion meetings and were kept in the dark about things. Was this a plot by management to purposely push us permanent guys out and replace more and more of us with consultants? Since I left, 3 more IT employees have left the company because they had suspicians that their jobs would be outsourced to consultants. Was this an early warning from management that they are going to replace permanent IT staff with consultants because they gave them more respect than permanent employees? When I approached these consultants for questions and help about things, they came off sounding very arrogant and rude, as if I had no right to ask them anything. Is such behavior warranted from temp workers who have no direct affiliation with the company? What do you guys think is the situation here and have you experienced it in your careers?

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Paranoia

by amcol In reply to Are consultants exerting ...

It's easy to believe management is engaged in some grand plot to replace permanent staff with consultants, or use the consultants in some other nefarious way, and I won't say that doesn't happen but in my experience it's pretty rare.

The situation you describe is more one of poor management practice in the form of bad communication. Management should recognize that bringing in consultants inevitably leads to a lot of water cooler gossip. It's easy to head this off by clearly communicating what's going on and why.

There are generally two and only two reasons to bring on consultants. One, management is trying to fill a resource gap...work needs to be done and there's not enough people to do it. Rather than take on additional full time help for what may be a temporary uptick in the workload, you bring in hired guns who can go away when the work's complete. Two, to fill a knowledge gap...you need to do something and you don't know how. In that case you as an employee should reasonably expect knowledge transfer...when the hired guns ride out of town you're left with the job of keeping the corral clean, and you can't do that if they don't train you.

It's always a good idea to keep your eyes open when management brings in outsiders, especially when it's done in the absence of any formal communication program. In that event, go ask. We'd all like to work for enlightened management that always does everything right, but in the real world when something seems amiss you go ask. If that overture is rebuffed or if you feel you're getting a story that doesn't make sense, then the hair on the back of your neck should probably go up. In most cases this isn't what's going on.

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A consultant's perspective...

by Matthew Moran In reply to Are consultants exerting ...

Well, all staff IT folks are stupid!

Okay, just kidding and not my perspective at all. In fact, one of the very first tasks I have - and one that I make very clear to management - is a strategy to instruct their internal staff on the work that I am doing. I explain that my job is not to become a drug they cannot replace but a resource that is so valuable that they do not want to replace me.

When I raise their internal staff's abilities - rather than working myself out of a job, they want me on additional projects as a resource to that staff.

Internal IT staff is a great resource for understanding the environment and knowledge. I never want to be in the role of polarizing my relationship with them.

However, that is not the case with all consultants. There are some who have little to offer and therefore protect their knowledge for fear of being made obsolte. But this situation is true of IT staff as well - often small kingdoms exist and the IT pro - whether staff of consultant - believes they must protect their knowledge to remain valuable.

The most valuable IT pro is the one who can learn new skills and help transfer them. Instead of becoming less valuable, they adverse is true.

Matthew Moran
The IT Career Builder's Toolkit
http://www.cbtoolkit.com

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Been there too!

by MirrorMirror In reply to Are consultants exerting ...

I have experienced the exact same thing. When I was hired at my current job, I was asked to do an evaluation and come up with a list of things that needed to be fixed. When I did, I was immediately second guessed by managers who had no experience in what I do. They had done a large software implementation excusively using consultants. I guess they did not want to believe that consultants could make such a mess of things.

Later on as performance in the app got worse and worse, they brought in more consultants to tell them what was wrong. The consultants basically came up with the same list that I did. These consultants were supposed to help us fix everything. After the project went waaayyyy longer than it was supposed to and the consultants left. App performance was not much better than before.

A while later as the app still performed badly, another employee and I were finally asked to try to help fix things. We have done more to help performance than any of the high priced consultants. The good thing is that we did get a little recognition for what we did and the consulting firms are in trouble. Hopefully, my management has realized that just because someone is a consultant does not mean that they always know what they are doing.

The only thing that I know to do in these situations is to document and communicate your needs and concerns in a very "non-finger pointing" way. Then all you have to do is to sit back and wait for management to come to their senses.

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Been there

by Jeffrdc In reply to Are consultants exerting ...

News flash: Some consultants are good and some aren't.

There are multiple problems mingled here. First and probably worst, your management has done a miserable job of change management. Some managers abdicate their resonsibilities with the attitude that they will throw consultants at a problem and things will just take care of themselves.

Your experience with arrogance of consultants is unfortunate; that may be a matter of the corporate culture of the consulting firm.

I have had a couple of aggravating experiences with consulting firms (you know all the big names) where they were charging huge rates for junior people. Really was a source of tension for the townies.

One thing to remember, though. *Good* consultants listen to what your employees have to say to get insight as to what will work for *your* company. They have also seen lots of environments, successes, and failures, and you should listen to them, too. "Employees who have been with the company for many years" may know everything about your company but not have much insight as how to get out of the ruts. Einstein said, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

Your management definitely missed the boat on training. I have fought this battle a couple of times, too.

On balance, I would say that the consultants for the most part are just trying to do their job and your management decided to just go play golf.

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"High Profile" vs. maintenance

by Beoweolf In reply to Been there

As mentioned, most of this problem can be laid at the feet of senior level management, sometimes with the assistance, willing or unwilling, of direct management that either haven't taken time to correctly access the full qualifications of in-house staff or haven't learned how to challenge incorrect assumptions by their department heads.

Most of these contractor based solutions would have a much better reception, if managers got the prior consent and acceptance of in-house staff. Both can be accomplished by communication. If your in-house staff is stretched so thin that your best people can't participate in formatting the solution, when will they have time to be trained in maintaining the resulting install? With the current hiring profile of requiring multiple certifications, extensive hands-on experience, and cross discipline expertise...why make a presumptive decision to ignore these thoroughbreds, not even involve them the process? Seems like a waste of time and talent.

I whole heartedly agree that some consultant solutions are better able to see the overall picture when implementing large scale solutions. But you place the cohesiveness of the IT team in severe jeopardy when automatically dole out the "Glamour" jobs to consultants and relegate them to primarily maintenance only projects. You don't get better by resetting passwords and hand-holding. Ever wonder why so many bright people leave Operations for consulting? Could it be that the bright, inspired, confident ones aren't getting challenged enough, allowed a chance to enhance as well as maintain the systems they work on?

How can you expect dedication and excellence from employees, without proper evaluation of their skills and establishing a culture of inclusion in decisions that affect their jobs?

Consultants are great, in proper doses, for the right reasons; when they are held accountable, measured against the Project timeline they presented when given the contract. Otherwise, what you are expecting (a magic bullet to solve all your problems, kill your demons) is certain to lead to more, not less problems down the road. You disregard the value of in-house staff at great peril. I say this with the multiple voices of a person that has been in varied positions; as staff working with consultants, as a ?corporate wiener? bring new companies into the fold (establising controls, procedures..order to what were intially "stamping out fires", catch-as-catch- can installations) and as a freelance consultant?either cleaning up a staff induced messes, preventing them and as hired gun installing projects that staff could't, wouldn't or didn't have time expertise to implement.

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Similar situation...

by jgarcia102066 In reply to Are consultants exerting ...

I was involved in a similar situation where management put more faith in a consultants view than in their own internal technical staff. We are extremely good at what we do from a technical standpoint but we are not very good sales people. One of the attributes of a successful consultant is the ability to sell their services. We were at a great disadvantage.

We have since learned to sell ourselves and our capabilities to our own company. As a result, managment comes to us first. We still bring in consultants on occassion when our technical staff doesn't know the answer but we have a say as to when that happens. We have been extremely successful at determining when we need to bring in consultants and have earned the respect of all of the top players in the company.

As a result of my experience, I believe that every IT department needs to learn how to sell itself to the company. The challenge is convincing the entire IT team (from IT management, down) to do it.

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Agreed!

by maelorin In reply to Similar situation...

Too often, organisations and the people who 'run' them think that _building a team_ can be achieved by merely (1) putting a bunch of people together in a room, (2) giving them something to work on together.

For teams to function effectively, they need good communication internally and externally. Selling yourselves to your own management (communicating what you can and perhaps cannot do) is part of the team building process - both your own, and the bigger corporate team.

Unfortunately, too many organisations fail to talk across invisible 'organisational lines'. Consequently, they become a collection of competing fiefdoms instead of coherent organisations. I generally find much of my work involves bridging and dismantling those artifical barriers (Which is one reason why I find the TechRepublic classification scheme a little awkward :)

Many a project has been redesigned once the gates have been opened. And the long term implications of learning how to communicate, and having your 'audience' become more prepared to listen, cannot be underestimated. [The said, while regular meetings might be part of such a process, if they are not supported _culturally_ by the whole organisation, they fail. Quickly.]

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malice, or incompetence?

by maelorin In reply to Are consultants exerting ...

Sounds to me like another example of poor communication - both from management and the consultants. And unfortunately it's not uncommon in this kind of situation.

Management may not have done the preparation required for them to be able to clearly articulate _why_ then change was happening. This may have then compounded the consultant's inability to properly explain _how_ they proposed to make it happen.

Let's not forget that many consultants charge or are offered a lot of money. Budget constraints may have flowed into constraints on creative thinking. Online 'training' considered a 'cost-effective' alternative to more substantial education. It may have been decided that having the online package + books would supplement hands-on with 'the real thing' that was happening around you.

The consultants may have been under a time and budget consraint of their own and not realised the gravity of your exclusion from the process. Consulting firms can be just as driven and just as hungry for turnover and profit as other corporations.

Unfortunately, since no one was _*really*_ communicating, you guys were left out of the loop, and left to try to figure out what was going on by yourselves. Leaving for another job with management that actually _communicates_ and _involves_ their staff in decisions and processes makes sense.

I do not attribute to malice what I can attribute to incompetence. Makes my life less stressful, and is generally spot on the money.

As for me, I *consult* in the full meaning of the word. I work as a catalyst for change, not a visiting general from an old movie. I consult with at least represenatives of every part of an organisation. I bring technical skills and knowledge to the table, sure. But most importantly, I manage the process of change, and I do it through transparency and integration.

More than a few times I have walked in the 'the big boys', asked to help repair the fabric of the organisation after they have changed the tools.

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