The relationship many companies have with consultants brings to mind the old saw often used to describe the most elemental relationship of all: "Men (or women) -- can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em."
While companies often lack the staff resources or simply don't feel comfortable handling tech implementations on their own, some that employ consultants to help ultimately end up regretting it.
And it's easy to become too reliant on outside expertise. That appears to have been the case with the UK government, which saw its spending on consultants rise by a third over the last three years, with a tab of nearly 3 billion (U.S. $5.9 billion). Much of the money was spent on IT, according to a report in The Register.
The UK's Public and Commercial Services Union says the government slashed its own workforce and then hired consultants instead -- paying them up to 10 times more. One example: HM Revenue and Customs, which hoped to save 105 million (U.S. $209 million) by cutting staff, yet spent 106 million (U.S. $211 million) on management consultants.
Says the chairman of Parliament's Public Accounts Committee:
Departments are often on the phone to consultants without first finding out whether their own in-house staff have the skills to do the job. Even worse, departments and the Office of Government Commerce do not know how much is being spent on consultancy.
You know you are in trouble, says a recent CIO Today article, if "you can't afford to let a consultant go because they own all the knowledge of your processes and it would be difficult to run the business without them."
Among the article's tips: Take a "fearless inventory" of your company's needs to determine which services to outsource and which to keep in-house. A boutique or niche consultant may be the best bet for specialized knowledge or providing assistance with a specific application.
We also like this key bit of advice included in an IT Business Edge interview with the president of the Professional and Technical Consultants Association: "Companies get the most value from a consultant when there is a clearly defined and focused problem or need."
Such advice becomes particularly important as companies look to consultants to help them migrate from legacy systems to newer technologies such as service-oriented architecture. IDC, for one, predicts that SOA will mean more business for consultants.
Seems a safe bet. IT Business Edge blogger Loraine Lawson recently wrote about an SOA skills shortage.