This post is all about whether recent Accenture/Hertz drama proves anything (or is it just an unlucky incident), why did I join consulting company back in 2000s & what has (IMHO) changed since then, are there any valid reasons to hire Enterprise Tech Consultants & why they will prevail (anyway).
Disclaimer: I've worked for an international top tier consulting company for over ten years (until 2017) ranking up to the level of a Senior Manager. This job gave me an advantage of experiencing with my very own eyes how this industry (Enterprise Technology Consulting) had been evolving & what kind of challenges still lie ahead of it.
Last week, a grand drama rolled over the Internet. Car rental mogul Hertz has sued a consulting behemoth Accenture for 32M$+ for "never delivering a functional site or mobile app" (the subject of the project consultants were supposed to conduct for Hertz). Source: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2019/04/23/hertz_accenture_lawsuit/.
The details of the legal claim have been published as well (https://regmedia.co.uk/2019/04/23/hertz-accenture-website.pdf) & damn, it's super-meaty (get some popcorn & fasten your belts before reading!). Anything you can imagine (as the worst anti-pattern, taken straight from Dilbert's depiction of weasel consultants) is there :)
- consultants were acting as ... Product Owners (!)
- outdated technology + very poor quality deliverables
- missed deadlines (actually: never-met ones)
- charging for every "change" (even if it's a legit expectation not met)
- up-selling "products" that can't even be used ("RAPID" thingie)
- unexpected personnel switch-overs (bringing less experienced consultants as replacements)
- and many more
My point here is not to break down the claim to emphasize how deeply Accenture screwed up - the Internet did that for me, veeeeery thoroughly and in depth. I don't want to focus on Accenture itself either. This company has its flaws, but IMHO it doesn't stand out negatively in the ranks of similar Enterprise Consulting brands - probably the opposite.
I was wondering about something more general: putting the typical hate aside, ...
Does the world (enterprises) REALLY need so-called Enterprise Consulting anymore? Especially when it comes to Technology Consulting? (so-called Management Consulting is a different kind of story, so let's put it out of the consideration for now)
When consulting made some sense
When I was starting in this business (early 2000s) world was very different. I've deliberately chosen a career in a Big Consulting Company & it wasn't w/o a reason - big players (with even bigger wallets) loved to work with such brands & kept "awarding" them with grand projects because of ...
- unique knowledge ("big vendor"-specific knowledge was not public but limited to "official partners" those days)
- consultants were quickly becoming experts due to accelerated learning - they were jumping from project to project to tackle only the hardest & the most challenging work
- virtually unlimited resources (getting real access to them was a different story ...)
- project orientation - no long-term costs, fixed fee contract with documented requirements & a clear time-frame
- global standards & internal, battle-proven methods/toolsets, (theoretically) shared across whole company internally - to reduce cost & risk of delivery
- effectiveness - big Consulting brands just could NOT afford themselves a luxury of failure - it would have been an global brand image issue; over-time, working weekends, constant performing under pressure - all was in game to get shit done
All of those pros were coming for a hefty price, but these were the times where non-IT-driven companies (like banks, insurance companies, telcos, huge retailers or production companies) were just learning basics of modern IT. Some of them were still not considering serious investment in that area - they've preferred to pepper consultants with money to lease their skills.
But times have changed
All this (above) is prehistory.
The world is totally different these days. It's hard to do any serious business w/o IT capabilities (frequently described as "digital" ones to differentiate them from servicing office computer equipment ...). But it's not just that.
- Economy of scale doesn't work in IT - the bigger (Consulting company) doesn't mean the better; actually - the scale increases inertia, makes knowledge exchange complicated & full "standardization" nearly impossible
- (Almost) all knowledge in the IT world is open (& free). Because of OSS (primarily) & because big vendors have learned that the best marketing is free education (secondarily) - big consulting brands have no advantage here anymore
- Project-orientation is dying - the world has learned that "missionaries" build better products than "mercenaries", having skin in the game is a game changer & building intrapreneurial mindset is a key to unleash true motivation & creativity; classic project approach pretty much kills the option of a Win-Win scenario where all the parties fairly benefit under all circumstances
- Big consulting brands have failed to build any recognizable assets/products - their mercenary "causative power" is not even a fraction of The Community's potential; yes - it's Open Source Software that has changed the world and proved that proprietary rarely means "better"
- Clients think twice before deciding to assign the most critical work (for their companies' future) to external consultants - they want the knowledge, capabilities & ownership to remain internal and they prefer not to share their secrets-of-trade with someone who'll work with the competition next month ...
- Actually clients tend to bring consultants on-board to take care of ... the most shitty work (that has to be done) - why to risk detrimenting motivation of your own people?
- In consulting, every project is different - because clients differ a lot: their technology, challenges, expectations; that's why Consulting companies usually staff teams per project, using people they have available "on the bench" (yes, that's kinda ... random) - that kinda kills a majority of positive synergy in team building (not mentioning that an individual who has just became an expert in X may in a month work on something completely different ...)
- Massive attrition (15%+ per year) which doesn't help building sustainable expertise - very few people look for long-term career in consulting; majority want to either get useful contacts (at big Clients) or learn basics of craft (usually: project management) & move further (e.g. towards entrepreneurship)
Seriously, check all the recent innovations you can come up with (last 5, 10, even 15 years). Or ground-breaking new technologies. Successful technology-based breakthroughs. Can you recall any Big Enterprise Consulting brands involved? Yeah, I thought so. And believe me - these are the guys who know how to appear in the 1st row if given the slightest opportunity for a spotlight (been there, done that ;P).
Wait, but maybe there's still a point?
But let's be fair - maybe there are actually some valid reasons to pay Big Consulting brand(s) for Technology Consulting work these days?
- What about outsourcing risk? True, you can do that. But ... in 2019 ... in a serious company ... isn't the point to SUCCEED instead of being able to blame someone else for failure (if it happens)?
- What about this legendary effectiveness ("if there's a need for crunch, we crunch!")? True, they probably do that these days as well, but ... who pays for the consequences of poorly planned, rushed work AFTER the project is done (signed off)? Project is closed & done, the real life endures.
- Maybe you're fine with paying for their (assumed) top notch PM skills? These skills may still be there, but restricting their offering just to body-leasing PMs only wouldn't be a good business for companies like Accenture (they blend in higher cost of experts with raised costs of juniors). And how would junior PMs learn there? (who would pay for their practical education)
- Looking for a one-stop shop to cover big IT "transformation" programme that involves several different specialties & a lot of coordination? In such a case Big Technology Consulting makes a lot of sense ... as long as you really understand all the risks & deficiencies of ditching everything the raise of Agile, Lean, Evolutionary Architectures & Continuous Learning has taught us about in last 20 years ...
Big Tech Consulting brands will prevail.
As long as there are companies (like Hertz) eager to pay for their own incompetence in areas that are in fact (most likely) very critical to their competitiveness on the market, Enterprise Tech Consultants will have their cut. Because for some paying outrageous consulting rates is still easier to swallow than finding correct people to do the job. Or building internal capabilities. Or even finding out what they really need.
One last remark, just to emphasize that I don't have any intention to lump all the consultants together:
In the end it's people who deliver the effects (not brands) & there are still many truly bright people in Enterprise Technology Consulting who enjoy the thrill & intensity of such work. But there are fewer & fewer of them each year - there are many more compelling career options available these days.