Adam Deane on BPM Consulting

Scott Francis
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Adam Deane’s blog post put me in a commenting mood, but I thought I’d share on our own blog as well.  Apologies for muddling the terms Adam used – I used “independent” to reference an individual contractor, and “pureplay BPM” to represent a vendor focused only on BPM services.  He does a great job of calling out the challenges and pros cons of different types of consultants, but I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t write an essay-length comment in response… content follows: Interesting post. I’ve put my thoughts on this subject together previously here: http://www.bp-3.com/blogs/2010/03/why-we-need-pure-play-bpm-consulting-firms/ The problem with one-man-band – if you find a great one, they’re a big help to a project and bring specialization to the table. But they’re not a team. They don’t have other experts with a range of skills to fall back on. When they get out in the deep end, they’re (usually) on their own. Yes there are google groups and wikis and the like – but there’s no one else in the boat with them. The problem for the consultants themselves is that they have to be working and selling at the same time. And if they sell work, but the timing doesn’t work for their current project, they have conflicts. And if they wait to sell until the previous project is finished they can end up with significant bench time. Added to that, they often get held over the barrel on rates because customers assume they can’t afford to sit out the market and wait for a better deal. Vendor-consultancies, when done right, are a big value-add to the ecosystem. They do have an inherent conflict, in that they can’t really blame a product short-coming for their having to do extra work on a project. Often, when there is a product shortcoming, they’re asked to do work gratis to make up for it. The temptation to “camp out” is much less when the vendor is small – the vendor wants those consultants freed up to redeploy at new-sales customers. So actually the problem is the opposite- the problem is trying to retain consultants long enough on your project to make a difference. Independent consultants- I call them pure play BPM consultancies – are actually more valuable in the implementation phase than the selection phase. Too many independents will suddenly fail to have an opinion about the “right answer” during an eval – they want to be part of the implementation regardless of what product is selected. I’ve always thought that that was a bit of a cop-out. You need to form an opinion during the eval and present your findings and opinion and why. Otherwise, what is the customer paying you for? Also, a good pureplay consultancy will have a better balance between the twin evils of running away too soon and staying too long. Why? Because their mission in life isn’t to sell more customers, it is to sell more value. More value to one customer is easier than more value to 1000 customers. or 10. But also, they’re not likely to be big enough to back up a bus and unload 100+ consultants at your door. And because their exposure is smaller, it is easier for them to walk away and go to another customer opportunity when the time is right for the current customer – without laying off the team or having them sit on the bench for months, as might happen at a really large firm. I don’t see the trend toward more independent consultancies however – at least, as related to credit crunch – the credit crunch simply isn’t easing for small businesses. At all. They want 3 years of history. But also, there are really good job opportunities for these folks – they can capture much of the value of being independent with much less risk. And, if they join a small consultancy (like, say, BP3), they have a chance to build something bigger than themselves – contribute to a team and a mission. There may be a trend toward more independent consultancies, but I think the causes are independent of credit. For what its worth, I hope my comments don’t come across as knocking vendor consultants nor independents. I’m just aware of the shortcomings (and strengths) of both situations, having done both myself  Now, as part of an “pure BPM consultancy” I feel good about the tradeoffs we’ve made and the kind of company we are. But so much of “what is right” for a consultant depends on their own individual situation – and I’ve seen dramatic exceptions to the downsides I’ve mentioned (people who get great rates, and have a “team” of supporters despite not having a literal team, etc.). I’ve also seen vendor consultants do a great job (as Chris Sanchez says – the mission is successful product launch for the customer – that’s not a bad mission! ) In fact, I think there’s a very symbiotic relationship between the three “outside” consulting groups we’ve been talking the most about- individual contractors, vendor consultants, and pureplay consultancies. individuals can augment the skills or geographic coverage of the other two organizations, and tend to be people with a lot of industry experience. Vendors are very focused on that initial successful deploy – but paired up with a pureplay consultancy that is more long-term focused, you often get a good blend, presuming their is a good working relationship. Sanooj brings up a great point about “internal” consultants. I haven’t played that role personally, so I’m less qualified to comment. But I think it has its own challenges  I do know that when we’ve been able to partner with a good internal consultant, we often get very good results.
  • I concur with your views: Customers may not prefer the
    one-man-band (if at all they exist!) because it increases the risk on projects.
    The challenge with vendor-consultancies other than what you mentioned is, often
    the solutions to the design or implementation problems are boxed by the
    features and/or shortcomings of the product; at times thinking outside the box
    may get you more desirable solutions (remember: the prime objective of the
    project is not to see how best can we utilize the tools & technologies, but
    to achieve a business goal).

    I am not sure if you want to classify the BPM groups /
    practices / capacities (it’s funny that each organization likes to name it
    differently!) within the large IT services firms like IBM, Accenture, Wipro,
    Infosys, as (independent?) pure play BPM consultancies. IMHO, such small groups
    within these giant organizations bring the same value to customers; or may be
    more in certain cases.

    Usually such groups have the expertise on varieties of BPM
    platforms (at least the leading ones, if not all), so their inputs to production
    evaluation and selection process can be the most appropriate.

    Again, the same advantage as opposed to the individual
    contributor: the air force can be called upon, if the troops on the ground need
    more help!

    The biggest advantage I see with such BPM practices is they
    offer a spectrum of expertise on a given BPM platform: they can depute the
    consultants who can match the expertise of the vendor-consultants. And, if the customer
    wants a truck load of engineers to implement the solution, they will be happy
    to serve. :)

    An important point to note here is the synergy between the
    product experts (consultants) who understand the problem domain & design
    the solution and the engineers who will execute the actual implementation
    phase; the project ownership lies with the IT firm.

    – Neo.

    • “I am not sure if you want to classify the BPM groups /
      practices / capacities (it’s funny that each organization likes to name it differently!) within the large IT services firms like IBM, Accenture, Wipro, Infosys, as (independent?) pure play BPM consultancies. IMHO, such small groups within these giant organizations bring the same value to customers; or may be
      more in certain cases.”

      That’s not been my experience – usually those “BPM groups” are allegedly 500-2500 people.  Not a small well-knit team that has grown organically.  A focused team within these behemoths brings more value than NOT having that team, but not as much value for the dollar as having a pure play firm, IMHO.

      “Usually such groups have the expertise on varieties of BPM
      platforms (at least the leading ones, if not all), so their inputs to production evaluation and selection process can be the most appropriate.”
      You would think it would work this way, but my experience is the opposite. They want the implementation business regardless, so they’re reluctant to come out for or against any solution, at the risk of the customer choosing differently and then picking a different implementation partner. 

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