Tech consultancy is dead (as we know it)

It is common knowledge that the pandemic has accelerated the roll out of digital transformation strategies and plans, and the need for successful digital transformation is greater now than it has ever been

Technology itself and how businesses implement and use it is rapidly evolving. With everything moving at such a pace and many companies having to undertake and execute huge transformation projects – and quickly – it may be necessary to bring in external consultants to help push through. The problem is, the current approach to tech consultancy has not adapted to adequately respond to this rapidly shifting tech landscape and to businesses’ changing needs.

When it’s time to bring in a consultancy

First things first, it’s important to understand when external technology consultancy is needed and will in fact be helpful. There are a plethora of problems keeping CTOs and the C-suite up at night but there are some key areas where external insight and perspective can bring an enormous amount of value. For example, are you concerned about the effectiveness and success of your tech team? Analysing the performance and outcomes of internal teams is a difficult and potentially sensitive undertaking. A third-party can share a fair, objective view.

Investment in technology is expensive. So it can also make sense to stress test the architectural vision against future business priorities. Companies can find this approach helpful as this type of work can help speed up the learning of the team, build support for the future vision as well as dramatically cut costs and improve time to market. Technology teams also often wrestle with build vs. buy decisions and again, a third party can help the team assess whether building their own technology will result in a strategic advantage in their market.

There may also be situations where internal avenues and processes have been explored but did not render the desired result, such as failure to implement new processes, availability or scalability issues with your current architecture. Or, despite growing the tech team, time-to-market is still slow. It may even be a concern that can’t be quietened about an important, impending digital project. In all these instances, it may be time to bring in the external consultants.

The success of this engagement will then be dependent on the consultancy itself. So, who are the right partners to choose?

The need for true experts

Tech consultancy is quite a different beast compared to the consulting needed for other business areas. It requires deep technical know-how and experience. Many tech consultants, however, are just that, consultants – they are well versed and adept at sharing advice, outlining strategies and plans but they lack the important first-hand experience to truly understand the situation and how to help organisations properly address it. Ideally, the consultants themselves need to have been a CTO, tech ops leader, engineer or architect.

As a consequence of this consulting, rather than technical, experience, too often, traditional consultancies may also try to retrofit the answers and practices they know. Different companies may all be facing the same issue but every company is unique – the cause of that problem could be for completely different reasons. Looking at the wider picture will in fact not grant the insights needed, it requires a deep dive into the technology – even down to a single line of code.

It may seem counterintuitive, but this can also help outline where possible issues amongst or within the tech team may lie. It can show how a company has grown, the focus of priorities to the general strategy and approach, helping to pinpoint the real issue, and to ensure the right models are used.

Offering new approaches, not solutions

Once the issues have been identified, the feedback to solve them also needs to be honest – in some cases, the reins may even need to be passed over to another third party. Certainly, the answer should never be more reports and investigations and the contract rolling on for many more months. The old consultancy model is based on the need to ensure more work comes through from organisations, likely undertaking unnecessary work to carry on their presence. When it comes to technology consultancy, this shouldn’t need to be the case. The aim should be to be in and out as quickly as possible – not to become a permanent fixture. As already mentioned, technology and organisations develop rapidly, they are not standing still, and any consultancy engagements need to replicate this and be short, sharp and most importantly, impactful.

However, there is an important distinction to be made here. No consultancy should simply come in and fix the problem, rather they should be able to help identify the issue and outline the means and path towards fixing it, so that the organisation can fix it for themselves. The analogy often made is giving a hungry person food – they are no longer hungry, but they will become hungry again. Whereas, if you teach them to fish then they shouldn’t go hungry again. This approach should also help towards ensuring the same mistakes are not so easily repeated, or if they are, that the tech team is equipped with the knowledge, tools and training to address the issue before it escalates any further and without needing to pull in (possibly expensive) external help.

Now, the sign of good a consultancy is in fact not being needed. If a job has been done well, the consultancy won’t need to stick around or be called back in the short-term. Tech consultancies that don’t subscribe to these new ways will eventually become extinct.

About the Author

Tanya Cordrey is Partner at AKF Partners. AKF Partners is an advisory services firm specializing in helping companies grow and scale their technology services, processes and organizations. Hyper growth can be both lonely and stressful. Who can you trust for advice and help when there is too much to do and too few people to do it? We’ve been in your shoes as executives, not consultants, and we can help you launch, grow, scale and succeed.

Featured image: ©Bull Run