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Mick James looks at readers' views on the integration of IT and consultancy and poses some probing questions about what the ideal consultancy firm might look like, especially from the client side.
IT and business - is consultancy between a rock and a hard place?
 
 
   My feature on IBM
last month prompted a
lively postbag,
indicating that the
issue of the integration
of IT and consultancy is
going to exercise the
industry for a long time
to come.
   One consultant
wondered if the whole
issue couldn’t be
resolved at the branding
level, noting “I haven’t
seen a distinction in
the way clients
approach/look upon us
(business consultants)
vis-à-vis the
IT/hardware people”.
   Could IBM services
even now be flying high
under the “Monday” brand
which they presumably
inherited along with
PwC? I suspect that even
if they’d come up with
something a bit more
workable we’d be having
discussions along the
lines of: “When we talk
to clients they don’t
understand that we can
draw on the whole IBM
organisation – isn’t it
time IBM put its brand
behind its consultants?”
Which is exactly what
BT has done, after all.
   A lot of comments
came from people with IT
backgrounds. One weighed
in from a Chicago
airport, where “everyone
is going Wi-Fi”, adding
“it seems to me that the
real markets (our day to
day culture and people
needs), seem to be more
 
  
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
    IT and business look
more and more like the
irresistible force and
the immovable object,
with consultancy
positioned precisely and
painfully between the
oncoming rock and the
unyielding hard place.
   I'm not sure I know
what the answer is but I
do have a few questions.
Such as, is it better to
integrate the value
chain externally, and
deal with the cultural
gaps and clashes as they
occur, or have a
one-stop shop and
internalise all those
problems? Or should
businesses simply expel
the IT cuckoo from the
nest, and deal with
everything through
outsourcing or
“through-the-wall”
services like
salesforce.com. Should
your CIO be a driving
force in the business,
or just an underling in
the procurement
department? And if your
IT department is
ultimately subservient
to finance, are you
going to get the best
technologies or the
cheapest? Another
correspondent noted that
recent IT failures in
the NHS could be traced
pretty squarely back to
the failure to commit
resources. (A
digression, but given
that Government computer
projects are so
controversial and so
 
 expensive, isn’t it time
they had their own
minister. Or is that a
recipe for disaster?)
   One answer that
strikes me as blindingly
obvious is that it’s
both necessary and
urgent for consultants –
all consultants – to
stop being prisoners of
their past. Any
consultancy firm needs
to answer the question:
Why are you in business?
By this I don’t mean the
bit on the mission
statement which says “To
give the bestest
excellence to our
super-lovely clients”
but the personal history
bit which goes “I fell
out with Frank over the
Munich fiasco and I
heard that Roger had
been let go by XYZ and
Beryl was unhappy at ABC
and so...” Or “then we
acquired So-and-So for
their supply chain
practice but they had a
little interim
management side and
so...”
   If consultancies are
going to wander up and
down the value chains
like rampaging mastodons
then they need to make a
good case for it.
Equally, if they’re not,
they need to explain
that their lack of
capability doesn’t
matter. Otherwise, the
suspicion from the
client side is that
whatever a big systems
integrator or a Big Four
 
 firm says, they’re
simply playing the cards
they are dealt.
   I’ve said before that
there’s a very powerful
argument to be made for
the integrated firm if
it can be shown that
consultancy experience
is actually feeding back
into product and service
design – but so far
there’s little evidence
that this is happening.
Equally, there’s a great
case to be made for
independence and
objectivity, but not
much so far in the way
of results to back this
up.
   It might be
interesting now to hear
from clients, to see
what their ideal
consultancy firm looks
like. I’ve noticed that
GP practices have begun
to orient themselves
more around patient
expectations, with some
pretty good results at
ground level. I’ll
redesign your business,
you redesign my
consultancy. What would
that look like?
   My thanks to all my
correspondents for their
stimulating feedback –
I’ve mentioned no names
(unless letters are
marked “for
publication”, I respect
anonymity) but I’m very
grateful and hope the
flow of comment
continues.
 
 ahead of the game than
the professional firms
that try to create IT
solutions for
corporations”. A lot of
people complained of the
“lack of rigour” they
found when working with
consultants: “None of
them have shown the
slightest interest in
adopting a
process-oriented
approach to service
delivery”.
   All this suggests to
me that we’re at a
fundamental crunch point
when it comes to our
relationship between
technology and business.
Look at television –
we’re now apparently all
going to buy plasma and
high definition
televisions, to watch
programming which gets
worse each year.
Computers get better and
better – my new printer
has near God-like
abilities – yet IT
frustrates us more and
more.
 
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