Since the recession of the early ’90s, consultancies have worked hard exclusive survey from the NOP Research Group presents some surprising results. on their own brand and recruitment policies to attract blue chip clients which are expanding their global reach. Consultancies’ goals have been to employ the right kind of people with high calibre skills to provide clients with the best services. But are their policies paying off?
In The Role and Influence of Management Consultants, NOP Research interviewed over 400 consultants and clients in order to gauge the impact that the consultants are making on-site. The consultants canvassed were drawn from both large and small companies and the clients included IT managers, IT directors and finance managers.
The buying process
While clients do not want to give consultants all the credit for their role in buying decisions, they do admit that their influence in this area is great. What the survey highlights is the big gap in perception between clients and consultants in terms of how much responsibility in choosing products consultants really have.
In the implementation process, quality assurance, training and ongoing support areas, consultants believed they had complete responsibility in 40 percent of cases. Clients’ views were that consultants had responsibility for projects 20 percent of the time. In fact, in terms of choosing suppliers, purchasing products and services, and setting a budget, clients reject the idea that consultants have complete responsibility.
But clients interviewed conceded that consultants “play a major role” – well over 50 percent – in developing a solution, developing the spec, recommending suppliers, implementing the solution and training people. The training task is usually undertaken by smaller consultancy firms that specialise in IT, management training and other specialist areas.
The gap closes somewhat when clients were asked how often consultants have at least a major responsibility in choosing the supplier. In fact, consultants are then identified as key players in recommending suppliers.
Where consultants were involved in the project, in 50 percent or more of cases clients said that consultants do determine the final supplier.
Around 75 percent of clients, the survey says, believe that consultants had major responsibility in recommending suppliers.
According to the clients, in around 40 percent of the projects mentioned, the implementation of an IT solution was involved. Consultants see the IT solution as taking up less than 40 percent of projects, but this means that they nevertheless play a big part in helping their clients to decide which product is best. The areas where consultants are regularly asked to implement an IT solution are in change management and business reengineering projects; distribution, warehousing and logistics, business finance, treasury, and investment projects.
Of all the projects undertaken last year by this sample, a high 64 per cent of consultants managed to complete their projects within the set budget and the timescale, with only 17 per cent achieving neither of the two. Over 80 percent of consultants believed that they would work with their clients again. Consultants less likely to work with a client again believed that the client had entered the relationship with unrealistic expectations, poor management structures and a propensity to move the goal-posts.
The research indicates that the consultant/client relationship has become more of a partnership as consultants have become more in-tune with management’s ideas, and developed a true understanding of what clients really want to achieve in their businesses. The survey found that 60 percent of the clients interviewed said they would re-employ all the external consultants who had worked for them.
Of the remainder, 24 percent said they would only use some of the consultants again, and only 3 percent would not employ any again. Clients unlikely to re-employ consultants believed that they lacked integrity, had poor interpersonal skills, and had little empathy with their staff. Clients voiced concern that senior consultants had over-sold their teams’ capabilities.
Clients expressed a need for consultants to be more direct. While the trick, in consultancy, is providing a balanced argument that will not upset any of the warring factions within business – no mean feat and a reason many consultancies are brought in in the first place – it can lead to consultants hiding the facts. This is mainly the view of managers who were dissatisfied with consultants’ work: “They (consultants) did not come forward with strong enough views and they did not report what they really believed.”
Despite this small proportion of negative feedback, the overall view of the role of consultants is positive. In fact, 50 percent of managers admitted that they could not have undertaken last year’s projects without consultants. A third of managers, however, believed that they could have carried out the projects without bringing in consultants; surprisingly that proportion rose to 50 percent among IT managers.
Clients seem to have learnt the most important lessons about why to employ consultants and on which projects they would be most effective. Many of the reasons both cite for getting the most out of the consultancy/client relationship converge.
Nearly 60 percent of clients believe that the most important reason for employing an external consultant is for the technical expertise that they cannot find in-house. Clients ranked the need for consultants’ business expertise and knowledge quite low in comparison to the need for technical expertise: under 20 percent. But consultants believe that the skills they need to work on any consulting project, and those which will be most useful to their clients are: project management skills and business expertise.
In fact, 40 per cent of the consultants surveyed believed business expertise was an essential component.
At the bottom of the agenda was the need for consultants to have global capabilities: 20 percent of clients said that having global capabilities was the least important factor for employing an external consultant.
Nearly 30 percent of the consultants agreed with business managers about this.
What is apparent is that clients do not necessarily understand that being technically skilled is not enough to ensure that a project is successful.
Being able to combine business expertise with technical knowledge and project management are the ingredients of a successful consultancy project.
From this survey it would appear that clients have a slightly narrow view of the role of consultants, or maybe they just do not want to admit how much influence consultants really have on their business.
Copies of the full report, NOP survey on the role and influence of management consultants, are available from VNU Business Publications.
Contact Emma Ross, marketing executive on 0171 316 9554 or e-mail emma_ross@ vnu.co.uk or write to her at VNU House, 32-34 Broadwick Street, London W1A 1HG. The survey costs #249 include p&p (UK only).
WHERE’S THE MONEY?:
There is much agreement as to the major growth areas among clients. BPR, systems design, and Year 2000 services lead the field. It is surprising that the financial sector predicts such a weight of Y2K work only 12 months away from the deadline.
Customer satisfaction with consultants was good throughout the survey. Responding to the question posed in the graph above, general business clients gave the pictured result. When IT managers were quizzed the ‘Yes’ figure rose to 50 percent.
THE CONSULTANTS’ HOPES:
BPR will remain a growth area with consultants of all sizes. Sales and marketing services will remain bread and butter for smaller firms but become almost negligible for the heavyweights. Small consultancies see little opportunities in Europe.
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