Posted by: Adam Deane | 15/06/2011

BPM Consultants

BPM ConsultantsIt seems that BPM consultants are a rare breed.

There are some “one-man band” BPM consultants.
There are some IT consultancy companies that “also do BPM”.
But there are not a lot of pure BPM consultancy companies.
Expertise in business process management is hard to find.
Why?

ROI? If proving ROI in BPM is hard enough, proving ROI in BPM consulting is nearly impossible.
Hindsight is not an exact science. It’s easy to say (when a project goes pear-shape):
If the customer had been better prepared – the problems wouldn’t have happened.
If only someone had set the customer’s expectations correctly.
If only the project had been designed tops-down, instead of bottoms-up.
If only we had simplified the solution, used an agile approach.
Unfortunately, hindsight is a hard ROI to prove.

BPM vendor consultants? Most BPM vendors have their own BPM consultants.
The title “consultant” might be a bit misleading. It’s usually a developer or a business analyst from the professional service team.

Although the consultant will bend over backwards for the customer, there will always be a conflict of interest.
It would be suicidal for a vendor consultant to say that they don’t have X functionality.
It would be very hard for a vendor consultant to minimise quoted days for changes.
It would be very presumptuous to think that a vendor consultant doesn’t think of additional revenue when talking about broadening the implementation into other parts of the organisation.
It would be naive to think that a vendor doesn’t allocate their best consultants to the projects with the highest revenue, and newbies to smaller projects.

Now it might sound as if I’m dismissing the vendor consultant role. Quite the opposite.
BPM vendor consultants provide excellent value to customers. (I should know – I was one…) They cannot be replaced.
But there are limits to their abilities. They are not independent. They don’t always see the broader picture. Their scope and time is limited.
The vendor consultant needs to deal with project delays due the customer dragging their feet on decisions and agreed actions, convincing the customer to go-live.
Roadmap, user acceptance, best practices and methodology – are usually secondary.
And this is where the independent consultant’s advantage comes in.

Independent Consultants? Independent consultancy companies provide value for money in specific areas and specific programme types.
Vendor POCs are a great place for an independent consultant. They know the market, know the products and limitations, know what the customer really needs.
As long as the independent consultant can show an unbiased approach in a POC – the vendors will play ball with them.
Roadmap, user acceptance, best practices and methodologies are other areas independent consultants excel in.
Change Management programmes, Business Transformation programmes, business process programmes around company acquisitions and mergers – pure consulting.
Independent consultants have two main assets: their experience and the trust of the customer.

The future? I can only guess that as we exit the credit crunch, more employees will decide to open up their own independent BPM consultancy companies.
Another trend that I’m expecting to see is the creation of consultancy companies around “change management” and “business transformation”.
This is where I believe independent BPM consultancy companies can deliver real value and have an edge on the vendors.


Responses

  1. Adam –
    Interesting post. I’ve put my thoughts on this subject together previously here:
    http://www.bp-3.com/blogs/2010/03/why-we-need-pure-play-bpm-consulting-firms/

    The problem with one-man-band – if you find a great one, they’re a big help to a project and bring specialization to the table. But they’re not a team. They don’t have other experts with a range of skills to fall back on. When they get out in the deep end, they’re (usually) on their own. Yes there are google groups and wikis and the like – but there’s no one else in the boat with them. The problem for the consultants themselves is that they have to be working and selling at the same time. And if they sell work, but the timing doesn’t work for their current project, they have conflicts. And if they wait to sell until the previous project is finished they can end up with significant bench time. Added to that, they often get held over the barrel on rates because customers assume they can’t afford to sit out the market and wait for a better deal.

    Vendor-consultancies, when done right, are a big value-add to the ecosystem. They do have an inherent conflict, in that they can’t really blame a product short-coming for their having to do extra work on a project. Often, when there is a product shortcoming, they’re asked to do work gratis to make up for it. The temptation to “camp out” is much less when the vendor is small – the vendor wants those consultants freed up to redeploy at new-sales customers. So actually the problem is the opposite- the problem is trying to retain consultants long enough on your project to make a difference.

    Independent consultants- I call them pure play BPM consultancies – are actually more valuable in the implementation phase than the selection phase. Too many independents will suddenly fail to have an opinion about the “right answer” during an eval – they want to be part of the implementation regardless of what product is selected. I’ve always thought that that was a bit of a cop-out. You need to form an opinion during the eval and present your findings and opinion and why. Otherwise, what is the customer paying you for?

    Also, a good pureplay consultancy will have a better balance between the twin evils of running away too soon and staying too long. Why? Because their mission in life isn’t to sell more customers, it is to sell more value. More value to one customer is easier than more value to 1000 customers. or 10. But also, they’re not likely to be big enough to back up a bus and unload 100+ consultants at your door. And because their exposure is smaller, it is easier for them to walk away and go to another customer opportunity when the time is right for the current customer – without laying off the team or having them sit on the bench for months, as might happen at a really large firm.

    I don’t see the trend toward more independent consultancies however – at least, as related to credit crunch – the credit crunch simply isn’t easing for small businesses. At all. They want 3 years of history. But also, there are really good job opportunities for these folks – they can capture much of the value of being independent with much less risk. And, if they join a small consultancy (like, say, BP3), they have a chance to build something bigger than themselves – contribute to a team and a mission.

    There may be a trend toward more independent consultancies, but I think the causes are independent of credit.

  2. Adam and Scott – Good points to 2 sides of the same coin or were they the same side? 🙂 However, I believe you missed out on Clients employing their own BPM Consultants to head their program. The challenge of being internal is that you tend to become more vulnerable to internal politics and can get sucked in. I am one who let go of leading the BPM program realising that the problem lie in fundamental Information Management failures. I am now trying to get the foundations in place for the same objective by bringing in BPM practices in stealth under the guise of IT Project and Change Managem
    ent.

  3. Good discussion and some very good points on both types of consultancies. I wanted to add my perspective on the Vendor Consultant. Vendor Consultants, through their road rash and battle scars, bring real life customer deployment experience (including product gaps and challenges) back to the Product Development teams. This critical feedback loop is critical for Development to understand how customers are really trying to use the product. There are typically more formal processes in the Vendor consultant practices that force this feedback loop. This isn’t always the case when you go outside of the organization. Vendor Consultants also tend to have a mission of ensuring a vital ecosystem for the product which includes enabling Independent Vendors and Customer organizations too. Much of the early adopter content, training, best practices, methods, toolkits, and other IP are developed by Vendor Consultants and shared with the rest of the world.

    In my view Vendor Consultants aren’t supposed to be independent – their mission is to create success for the product through deep technical skills and a strong ecosystem which the product will thrive. For whatever reason they come (brand affinity, industry leadership), the expectation when engaging a Vendor for a BPM solution should be that “we’re probably going to get a vendor solution.”

    The trend in growth of Independent Consultancies has less to do about the credit crunch and more to do about the vitality of the Product’s ecosystem.

  4. for what its worth, i hope my comments didn’t come across as knocking vendor consultants nor independents. I’m just aware of the shortcomings (and strengths) of both situations, having done both myself 🙂 Now, as part of an “pure bpm consultancy” I feel good about the tradeoffs we’ve made and the kind of company we are. But so much of “what is right” for a consultant depends on their own individual situation – and I’ve seen dramatic exceptions to the downsides I’ve mentioned (people who get great rates, and have a “team” of supporters despite not having a literal team, etc.). I’ve also seen vendor consultants do a great job (as chris says – the mission is successful product launch for the customer – that’s not a bad mission! ).

    In fact, I think there’s a very symbiotic relationship between the three “outside” consulting groups we’ve been talking the most about- individual contractors, vendor consultants, and pureplay consultancies. individuals can augment the skills or geographic coverage of the other two organizations, and tend to be people with a lot of industry experience. Vendors are very focused on that initial successful deploy – but paired up with a pureplay consultancy that is more long-term focused, you often get a good blend, presuming their is a good working relationship.

    Sanooj brings up a great point about “internal” consultants. I haven’t played that role personally, so I’m less qualified to comment. But I think it has its own challenges 🙂 I do know that when we’ve been able to partner with a good internal consultant, we often get very good results.

    • Now this is what I’m talkin’ about >>> “In fact, I think there’s a very symbiotic relationship between the three “outside” consulting groups we’ve been talking the most about- individual contractors, vendor consultants, and pureplay consultancies”

      • Now that we have found a place for all 3 “external” consulting groups. I reckon that a competent internal group would be as important to making a BPM venture successful. Remember, having an man on the inside always helps 🙂

        In a nutshell, a client may need all 3 or any 2 of 3 of the external groups in its BPM program and the choice is something that they must make judiciously.

  5. […] Adam Deane’s blog post put me in a commenting mood, but I thought I’d share on our own blog as well.  Apologies for muddling the terms Adam used – I used “independent” to reference an individual contractor, and “pureplay BPM” to represent a vendor focused only on BPM services.  He does a great job of calling out the challenges and pros cons of different types of consultants, but I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t write an essay-length comment in response… content follows: […]

  6. Adam-

    Great post. I believe what you are ultimately saying, as Scott has said in his previous post, is that BPM consulting is not a commodity skill. That fact is often difficult to convey to a customer/prospect as there are firms willing to back up the bus and claim to have hundreds of resources who are “experts.” Most organizations who go this route quickly find out the term “expert” in that context is used extremely loosely. Within Avio, we have a saying that we are the Navy Seals not the Navy. We have a specialist focus in ensuring the success of BPM based initiatives by leveraging our decade of BPM implementation experience to ensure projects are structured and executed in the correct manner.

    To Scott’s point on independent contractors, they may have a significant amount of experience, but being a one man band it is often difficult to have a network large and responsive enough to support them in difficult situations. Within a BPM consultancy, there is a team of resources who have additional experiences which can be leveraged when things get difficult and complicated. For example, we have an internal knowledge base we continuously update so resources on other projects can leverage other’s experience and minimize the “road rash” as mentioned above.

    As for the vendor services, my perspective is that vendor consultants tend to be primarily interested in the implementation details and expanding the license footprint within the client. An additional challenge is with the dwindling of Pure Play BPM providers, the consultants of the vendor firms are now expected to learn and implement multiple different technologies instead of focusing their efforts on BPM. This will continue to lead to more generalists instead of specialists within the non pure play firms in the BPM space.

  7. Good points, Brandon – I tend to agree (obviously ; )


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