Taken at face value, the question isn’t as rhetorical as it sounds. I mean, why wouldn’t companies just solve their own problems themselves? Surely, there’s somebody in the office whose opinion is sensible enough to merit conformity.
But before we answer the question let’s first define the role of an IT consultant. This website defines an IT consultant as “somebody who works in partnership with clients, advising them how to use information technology in order to meet their business objectives or overcome problems. They work to improve the structure and efficiency of IT systems in various organizations.”
It’s still vague, but here’s a little history.
According to an article from Entrepreneur, it was in the 1950s that consultants began to emerge in the business world. Until then, consultants could be found mainly in the legal, finance and employment fields. Then in the early 1960s, the U.S. economy changed from production- to service-oriented, which proved to be the perfect incubator for a new comprehensive consulting industry. Happily, by positioning themselves as experts in their particular fields, consultants found themselves in great demand by companies that needed help but couldn’t justify increasing their payroll to get it.
So in simple and easy to understand terms, here’s why companies need IT consultants.
A Consultant Serves as an “Outside Eye”
Sometimes employees are too close to a problem inside an organization to recognize it. Psychology even supports this: there’s actually this side of us we cannot see but others can.
You know how sometimes when you’re dealing with an issue in your life, you turn to friends and family for their opinions? Companies often need this, too, especially when making tough decisions. Often times, clients have a perspective on how to solve the problem they are facing but want to make sure that what they’re thinking is correct. So, they turn to consultants to come in and provide their opinion.
Besides seeing problems from a different perspective than internal staff does, a good consultant provides a fresh, objective viewpoint based on what they’ve seen work (or not) before. And given this experience, they can often bring new and innovative ideas or possible challenges to the table that clients probably wouldn’t have been able to see on their own.
They Bring in Extra Manpower (or Horsepower)
Sometimes the problems companies need solving are really important, but they don’t necessarily have the manpower to focus on them. Companies still have to focus on their day-to-day operations, after all, and new projects typically require that employees’ main job responsibilities are prioritized. But hiring new employees to fill these gaps doesn’t always make sense either. Sometimes business executives discover they can save thousands of dollars a week by hiring consultants when needed rather than hiring full-time employees. They also can save additional money because consultants don’t need benefits. So even though a consultant’s fees are generally higher than an employee’s salary, over the long haul, a consultant tends to be a less expensive option.
Whether it’s a cost reduction program requiring a dedicated team of six for a year or even a post-merger integration that requires a team of 100 for a month, clients might struggle to get the teams in place to do this critical work.
In instances like this, consultants basically serve as temporary, highly skilled employees. They’re not full-time employees of the company, so it is often cheaper to them than hire someone new. Because they switch around companies often, they’re used to the fast learning curve, too.
They Have Specialized Skills
While business people typically have a broad range of skills, with perhaps some specialties, changes within the business, in the broader economic climate, or other unforeseen circumstances, can create a need that can’t be met with the existing skills within the business. When that occurs, employing a specialist consultant can provide the skills necessary to deal with the situation as well as an objective viewpoint that can help to effectively focus the team.
By engaging a consulting firm, you get access to a group of professionals that have a wide range of skills. These highly specialized people would not only be expensive to hire for, but the company might not have enough work to keep said employees busy year round. But, thanks to consultants, companies can bring in that skill set on demand when they need it.
They Can Do a Company’s “Dirty Work.”
Let’s face it: No one wants to be the person who has to make staff or program cuts. An impartial outside consultant is the perfect person to handle such unpleasant tasks.
Sometimes, when companies are working on a challenging problem or a controversial project, it can be hard for them to make decisions or take the necessary actions without getting wrapped up in emotions or politics. So, they bring in consultants to provide an unbiased eye and do some of the dirty work for them.
As you can see, consultants really support companies in a lot of ways. It’s not easy work, of course. It’s collaborative – meaning, team effort is needed. The success of the project or the company as a whole depends on how much cooperation the consultant is given.
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