mandag 28. februar 2011

CIPA part 3: Reasons for hiring consultants

Consultants in Public Administration: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5

The department lists a few "official reasons" why consultants are so widely used in the public sector. However, I read these reasons as the typical excuses, not the underlying reasons. As seen from the ground floor, the underlying reasons are usually:
  • Lack of in-house knowledge and skills.
    Surely, the public sector can not compete with the private sector in terms of salaries. Therefore, a lot of local government agencies struggle to hire well educated IT personell.

  • Lack of in-house overview and organization
    The in-house systems can get quite elaborated, as there is pressure to expand at a high rate, install new software and offer support, usually with only half of the work force needed to accomplish it all. Without good procedures for documentation, the overview is effectively lost.

  • Ability to skew blame if something goes wrong
    Let's face it. The IT department is the first to get the blame for anything, even if proven otherwise. If everything was outsourced, you can just point at the consulting agency. "They did it, I haven't touched it at all," is a good strategy to keep your job safe. In the job world, this is known as "office politics", and only leads to more and more outsourcing. I have seen an employer officially declaring that the responsibility for an in-house work conflict had been outsourced.

  • A wide spread belief that consultants are experts, while in-house experts are considered incompetent (thus the expression, "Noone becomes a prophet in their own country"). So in order to leverage anything, keep in mind that management is more likely to listen to the consultant than their own employee. And the consultant is also more likely to leverage their own sales than anything that gains the organization.

  • A wide spread belief that the use of consultants will reduce the work load of the in-house IT-department. Experience shows, however, that anything done by an external company must be double checked and often fixed. This is because the consultant is hired for one specific job and they don't have the full overview of how things are or should be put together.

  • A wide spread belief that outsourcing is a magic bullet to bring down costs. After all, you don't have to hire so many people full time. Then again, as each consultant knows only their own part, you end up with nobody having the overview, and the one person you have on staff is completely unable to do technical support on their own.
Truth is, in order to make good use of consultants, one must possess a good overview of the situation. In fact, to do anything good, you must have a good overview of the situation and proper documentation of the details. This overview must exist in-house and preferably not just in the head of a single person.

When consultants are not used properly, the overview is the first thing to go out the door. First of all, a whole bunch of details tend to never be documented. Outsourcing technical support means that a lot of the user feedback never comes back to you, so you don't really know what the situation is like. Outsourcing the daily administration means you don't see the warnings and errors produced by servers, you don't see the statistics and the details of the systems, and just have to accept anything that the consultant tells you. And guess what. The consultant wants your money.

Consultants in Public Administration: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5

fredag 25. februar 2011

CIPA part 2: Welcome to mount meta

Consultants in Public Administration: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5

As I mentioned in my previous article, DRAC is requesting a method for performing a study with the purpose of reducing spending on Consultants In Public Administration (CIPA). This is basically a meta-meta-request to enable work on meta-information on public work processes. Indeed, anything that begins at a meta-meta-level tends to continue downhill in a meta-meta-meta fashion.

I have actually been in a meeting discussing how some people are dissatisfied with the fashion in which we make plans for meetings that discuss how to conduct the meeting that are supposed to bring order to the meetings discussing the actual work flow of the project.

Hard to follow? Here it is in reverse and in layers:
  1. We had actual work. This work had meetings-on-demand, discussing hands-on issues.
  2. So administration set up regular meetings to discuss how the work meetings should progress with least impact on individual work flow.
  3. The layer-2 regular meetings were interrupting work flow, so in order to fix this, they set up meetings to discuss how the layer-2 regular meetings should be organized.
  4. Quite a few people were dissatisfied with how the layer-3 meetings were interrupting work flow and seen as an unnecessary neusance. So new meetings were set up to discuss how the layer-3 meetings were to be organized.
The meetings containing actual work flow information (layer 1) were pretty much unaffected by this, other than the fact that all the meeting activities took a whole lot of time away from actual work.

Of course, layered meta-meetings is a hallmark of public administration, and is probably a good place to start changing things. Turn it into something more lean. The most meta you should get is discussing the actual work flow and how to eliminate trash observed in the processes. Hence, I believe this particular request is to begin work at the wrong end.

This should not come as a surprise. Sitting at the top of the administration, you can only observe the statistic trend in accounting, and rely on accurate reporting from those who spent the money. The questions posed show a will to reduce spending on this specific account, which is not really addressing the real issues at hand.

Consultants in Public Administration: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5

onsdag 23. februar 2011

Motivation in the trash

How do you make people recycle more?

This question has been asked by the local waste disposal company SSR. What they have been trying for the last couple of years is this: Reduce the monthly fee, and add a harsher fee per kg waste. Recycling paper and plastic is free.

The total amount of waste was greatly reduced - though not due to the production of waste. Albeit some got really good at recycling, which was the intention of this new policy, people just can't help the fact that they do produce waste. And does fee avoidance make up for the time spent separating plastic from paper from trash?

Indeed, it seemed that a lot of people just found new ways to get rid of trash. Among other things, more bonfires were seen in the villages - possibly burning toxic waste, not just twigs and leaves.

When the company finally threw in the towel, still owing millions for the scaling system now attached to every waste disposal truck, non-recyclable waste to dispose grew by 5 metric tonnes for january alone.

Monkey business

Motivational expermients with monkeys trying to see if human hazard gaming is genetic or cultural, show that monkeys/humans approach danger in different manners, depending on how it is presented. As do humans, causing collapses of financial markets.

Customers were given a choice of loosing some money, with the option of being punished by loosing even more money if they produce more non-recyclable waste. So the game was: how do I avoid the additional fees? Answer: Reduce the amount of waste any way I can.

A better approach would be to pay a full fee to start, and reduce the fee by the amount of recyclables delivered. Then the game would be: How do I reduce my existing fee? By recycling more.

Want to make it more fun? Put in a lottery, where the number of tickets you get depends on the amount of recyclables delivered.

søndag 20. februar 2011

CIPA: Consultants in Public Administration

Consultants in Public Administration: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5

The Norwegian Department of Renewal, Administration and Church (probably the weirdest combination for a department - hereafter know as "DRAC") has an article addressing the effective use of consultants in the publics sector - or rather, lack of efficient use. Consultants are used all over the place. Particularly, one is concerned with the use of IT consultants.

The typical excuses to use consultants are:
  • Access to increased capacity in periods when capacity is exceeded
  • Access to skills and knowledge that the organization doesn't have
  • Obtain legitimacy through external experts before decisions are made
  • It is more economical to buy services from consultants than using your own employees
  • Buying consulting services is seen as a requirement to follow national guidelines
DRAC is beginning a study to answer the following questions:
  1. Is there a potential for more efficient use of consultants and/or reduce expenses on consultants, and how much is possible?
  2. What measurements can be done to secure better use of consultants?
  3. What measurements can be done to reduce the use of consultants in the state, and what are the consequences of such measurements?
And their first request is: "What is a good way to perform such a study?"

In the next few articles, I intend to go into the depths of the request as well as address the use of consultants in public administration, answer all three questions and recommend the remedy as proven by the Swedish police force.

Consultants in Public Administration: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5