Some known knowns, advice, trust – and what consultants are really for

I am not quite sure what to make of a claim that IT leaders in larger firms can’t get enough advice – and just as equally love to ignore it.

The datum comes from an analysis based on market research of 100 CIOs of large enterprises by a data centre operator called Sentrum. And to be specific, is supposed to be advice on that company’s specific area: thus we hear that when these CIOs went to firms like Sentrum for data centre design and build advice, 97% of the UK businesses ‘admitted’ that they had in fact ignored some or all of the wisdom they had received.

To which one is tempted to recall that the definition – for some people, at least – of a consultant is someone who gets you to sell them your watch… then charges you for telling you the time.

In other words, hurrah for the CIO who has the independence of mind to sift through the recommendations in the report in the nice binder then chuck it in the bin – as, insanely, we now hear Donald Rumsfeld did with the 900 page careful analysis of what to do in Iraq post-War from his best policy advisers. The rest is sadly, all too not-unknown known.

Yeah – quite. Actually, expert advice is, er, hello, often quite good. And indeed in this particular survey we do find under the eye-catching headlines that CIOs know this. We see that 88% of IT managers say they would turn to independent data centre consultants for advice on designing a data centre, that 35% have no problem ‘fessing up that they lack the detailed knowledge required to complete data centre projects in-house – and 2% of companies say that they never changed the specification suggested by such consultants.

Yes, that does still mean that 9% will almost certainly extensively change the plans provided and 58% say that will happen "quite often". But is that, as this supplier is trying to suggest, a problem of trust? To whit: "Any specialist consultancy offered should be a logical and cost effective business investment, but the research shows that this just isn’t the case. Advice is commonly rejected, which suggests that consultants are either not doing their homework or that they are not gaining the trust and understanding of their client… If this lack of trust continues to be apparent many businesses will simply fail to reap the savings that quality consultancy should, and could, deliver."

I don’t see that as a valid argument. I think what this data suggests is that CIOs know their limitations, go to market quite legitimately to fill that gap, take what they have paid for and then adapt/change/spindle/mutilate as their specific organisational and business needs dictate.

The issue here is not trust, it’s flexibility. Consultants – from defence to chronology to data centre design, if you will – are there to make suggestions, not dictate actions. That is and must always be the responsibility and indeed privilege of the primary actor, the client who paid for it.

Therefore the action here for the consulting industry isn’t to get smarmier or more emollient to make us believe them more, it’s to present the ‘what would happen if you don’t want to do x, y and z’ in as useful a manner as they can.

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