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

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