More than once in my computer consulting career I’ve heard clients ask questions similar to the following: Why didn’t you know about that? Or, you’re the expert with this software, so how was this problem allowed to happen? These types of questions surface out of a sense of real frustration resulting from real difficulties and problems. But they also come from a slight misunderstanding about the reason consultants play a vital role in the business world.
Myth: Software consultants have learned everything about a particular discipline and know all there is to know about the computing space in which they operate. This is an impossibly high bar to be measured against. Many computer systems are very complex and contain thousands of factors of operation. Even software engineers who have built software programs don’t always know how it will operate given a specific set of data and conditions. In addition, every scenario and environment is different. The same piece of software running in two different organizations will have hundreds of differences. In reality, it is impossible for consultants to know everything; how could they?
So if consultants don’t know everything, why hire them?
Organizations sometimes need to leverage knowledge they don’t have.
It is not about hiring consultants that are all-knowledgeable about everything; it’s really about hiring a consultant that has more knowledge and experience than the organization.
By the very nature of their jobs, consultants work with many different organizations in their chosen field. They have hundreds, even thousands, of hours of hands-on experience installing, configuring, building, enhancing, troubleshooting; in short, implementing computer systems. This vast experience, gathered from multiple organizations and situations, gives them a depth and breadth of understanding that many organizations will never have. Nor should they, because after all, they have their own businesses to run.
The consultant’s knowledge is valuable because it can provide insights. Because consultants have seen a computer system operate in many different environments and conditions, they can offer recommendations on best practices. Because consultants have inevitably run into very specific and complex problems and have found solutions to those problems, they know how to avoid those specific problems in the future. It isn’t omniscience that makes consultants valuable. It is because they know more than the organization.
In some cases, organizations do know as much or more than consultants. In these scenarios, consultants are hired for a different reason.
Organizations sometimes need to augment their staff to meet a deadline.
Let’s face it; there’s never enough time to get things done. But when deadlines are looming, additional projects are added to the “must get done now” pile, or staff is lost due to attrition, organizations sometimes need additional help. Consultants provide the perfect solution.
When hiring consultants for this reason, staff is again selected based on experience. This means the organization does not have to spend time and money training the staff person in the technical discipline. Because a consultant only has to learn corporate culture and process, they can be productive quickly. After all, they still have tons of experience with the technology. This allows organizations to staff up quickly to fill temporary gap in man power.
These two reasons are why consultants are hired. Logically, if an organization has the staff (time) and knowledge (expertise) to complete a task, why would they hire someone else to do their work for them? They don’t; they do the work in house. In summary, if you find yourself lacking in expertise or time, look up a consultant; you’ll be glad you did.