Education is the slowest route to progress and change but it is the only one that solicits a real commitment from those who must endure the change and live with its results. Today, business planners and information managers are faced with a plate so overflowing with business model, product and technology options that it is incredibly difficult to identify the solutions that best fit their organization's goals and objectives. Add to that the requirement that new ventures must be shown to reduce cost and risk and immediately increase profitability. Factor in multiple constituencies suppliers, partners, employees and customers. The interactions of these groups are no longer predictable nor defined.
This is the crisis point and there are no set- formula answers. Every solution must be tailored to the specific needs of each organization. Yet the pace of business leaves little time for extended analysis and requirements definition or to understand the role of culture and empowerment on the organization's ability to embrace change. The desire to change may originate in the mind of the visionary; however, it will not ignite until fueled by real technology and a rational business plan.
Education is needed, but must be delivered in a timely manner. This scenario requires the help of an objective party who can bring unbiased analysis to the problem. The classic consultant/client relationship of protracted analysis, annuity assistance and technology wizardry is not the solution. A new approach is needed one which provides direct, timely and fast knowledge transfer. It is an approach whose ultimate goal is self-sufficiency.
The Client and Consultant Partnership
Ground Rule 1. It is a mistake to abdicate control over your company's destiny to a third party.
When facing an unfamiliar technology, the immediate reaction of many evaluation teams is to hire a consultant or vendor for education, a proposed solution and even a cost justification. This need for direction and education often puts the third party in the position of charting critical business directions for that enterprise. If you are unclear about what you really need, you may find you and your consultant share a common tunnel vision; and your solution will only compound the error.
Ground Rule 2. Organizations are most successful when they (not a vendor or an integrator) have defined their solution.
The key for managers is to perform the up- front business requirements planning and analysis. It is impossible to predict the impact of any technology without a thorough understanding of the existing business model. The true value of the consulting organization is to provide information and options that allow a client to intelligently meet stated objectives in the most cost-effective manner possible. To do this, the consultant must listen, ask questions, cross reference the client's data and assessments with their realistic evaluation of what is going on in the organization and what the technology is required to accomplish, challenge the assumptions and internal diagnoses, and test alternative scenarios. Because there is no vested interest in a set solution, this type of consultant draws on a balanced understanding of technologies and their impact on organizations to present a thorough review of the options available.
Ground Rule 3. Use an established objective methodology to examine the enterprise and establish goals and metrics.
Proven methodologies for organizational analysis are essential. Through these, clients come to realistic expectations for the technology how it will meet their goals, how it will impact the corporate culture and what it will really cost over time. It takes an objective party to poll the organization, get to the basics, determine what is awry and determine what it will take to fix it always working within the goals and objectives set by management. Exposure to the consultant's objective methodologies for this self-examination also prepares the client for managing change after the technology has been implemented so they can evaluate progress at various junctures in the future and retool their program as necessary. In the long run, it is not what the consultant knows that ensures a client's success; it is what the client does with that knowledge.
Ground Rule 4. Educate and communicate.
Education is fundamental to the successful implementation of any new technology. It should take many forms and touch all levels of the enterprise. Users need to understand the benefits of this change and should participate in developing the transition plan. Information technology (IT) staffers must become experts in the technologies, implementation strategies and ongoing support issues. Attendance at industry seminars and training sessions becomes a cost-effective way to see how other organizations are solving problems and stay abreast of current issues.
Ground Rule 5. Ask the right questions.
Have you identified an organizational sponsor with adequate clout to advocate for this technology project? Have you used a sound methodology to determine which processes are best suited for your project and which will act as the pilot? Have you identified a set of organizational metrics for measuring the success of the pilot? Can you construct a comprehensive schematic of your system's infrastructure that identifies the complete process flow for the new technology throughout the enterprise? What are the legal ramifications of this solution on regulatory, evidentiary or records-management requirements?
It is also highly recommended to stop occasionally and consider this process of education: education for the change managers, the sponsors of change and those who will actually have to make the change happen. No amount of insight, vision or fortitude will cause change to take hold without a degree of education and corporate assimilation of the rationale behind it.
Finding the Right Consultant
When you decide you need a consultant to help you through a business-oriented technology quagmire, determine as best you can whether the primary interest of your consultant is to develop an annuity business or to really help you to achieve a sufficient level of knowledge and understanding to craft an intelligent solution. For those enterprises interested in establishing a partnership with their consultant, the following criteria may be useful in identifying a quality business relationship:
- Does the consultant use a specific methodology for the conduct and execution of analysis or recommendations? Ask for specific results of the application of that methodology.
- What is the range of services offered by the consultant? Organizations that offer only consulting can become outdated or overly subjective in their knowledge of the industry. A research- only group may not have the business expertise required to implement solutions. It takes a balance of ongoing research, consulting and educational programs to provide the broad and objective framework required for the analysis of problems and the recommendation of solutions.
- Is the consultant independent of product or vendor business partnerships? There are many instances when consultant organizations with reseller relationships can be valuable and equally many instances where you should be wary of such close affiliations. It is important to choose a partner that understands alternative solutions without financial bias.
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