Modern Middle Manager
Primarily my musings on the practical application of technology and management principles at a financial services company.
Adversarial Relationships

Wednesday, June 16, 2004  

In my last post, Rayne comments that when "the client and consultant view each other not as partners...but as hostile adversaries, it's all over." Absolutely true. So what is it that put me in such an unforgiving, hostile mood towards the consultancy I mentioned in my last post? Well, let me tell you...

It all started back in the day when we bid out our last third-party IT exam that the Feds tell us we need every other year. Another Well-Known Consultancy actually won on price, but then the corporate parent called down* and made sure their Pretty Well-known Consultancy won the bid. I'm too lazy to fact-check this, but rumor has it that there is a bit of a revolving door between the Pretty Well-known Consultancy and our corporate parent. In any case, there was a great sound and fury and suddenly the Pretty Well-known Consultancy matched the best offer and they came in.

The interviews lasted for a week. Of the three people brought in to review my department, two of them didn't know what they were doing and refused to actually review material I provided them because it wasn't in the format they requested. I started to get peeved. When I saw a draft of their results I went from peeved to pissed. I called up the project manager, whom I thought was reasonably savvy, and asked her how her group came up with their recommendations. She said the magic words, "Best Practices." I then explained that we are a small firm with less than 100 people and $12 million in revenue, did these practices make sense? Wouldn't it be better to actually review our sector of the industry and recommend practices that wouldn't increase our relatively healthy IT budget by 50%? She said she'd consider it and then published the exact same results as the draft that I saw initially. I spent about two hours in front of our audit committee challenging their results and getting a favorable response. For what we paid and the time it took, the results were appalling simple-minded and showed a complete lack of appropriate cost-benefit and risk management tradeoffs.

The second time the Pretty Well-known Consultancy came along, it was for our SAS70 exam. Similar group of people, similar results -- best practices that might be appropriate in a $100 million company, probably excellent in a $1 billion company, but ridiculously expensive and counterproductive in a (now) $25 million company. I asked the same question, "Are these the best practices for a company of our size in this sector" and received the same non-response. Once again I spent about two hours in the audit committee explaining to them why there was a divergence between our practice and their recommendations. I applaud myself for the fact that I never used the term "horses**t" even once. I am also beginning to accept that this farce will be played out every year until we reach a size that is appropriate for the recommendations.

Why is it that we aren't acting as partners? Because there is no reason for the consultancy to alter their standard cookie-cutter pattern. They know they have our contract every year. There is no additional incentive to provide us useful information that would require them to actually understand the SMB banking & wealth management sector. Why align with our actual needs if they can just do a quick job and publish a report that, quite frankly, they have a monopoly on?

Corporate ass, er, backscratching at its finest.

* This is what is known as uncorroborated but probably true, considering the source.

posted by Henry Jenkins | 6/16/2004 04:52:00 PM

Comments: Post a Comment
the author
open source