Do you need Consultants to create a great IT Strategy?

I’ve experienced probably all permutations of answers to the question of whether you need consultants to make a great IT Strategy:

  1. As someone in an organisation responsible for creating IT strategies
  2. As someone in an organisation working with consultants to create an IT strategy
  3. As someone in an organisation watching consultants regurgitate my work to create and IT Strategy
  4. As a consultant working with an IT organisation in a positive way to create an IT Strategy
  5. As a consultant working with a dysfunctional IT leadership team to create an IT Strategy

The reason why the subtitle of this post is “It depends…” is because if you are the person in 1, 2 or 3 the answer really does depend on your own self awareness as to where you are in terms of you maturity in approaching IT Strategy. Scenarios where consultants can be useful in helping create IT Strategy are:

1) When the in-house IT leadership have lost the confidence of the Exec/Board.

IME This scenario rarely pans out well for the incumbents. The best case scenario is the consultants work in a positive, collaborative way with the incumbent and and deliver an IT Strategy that their senior stakeholders are happy with and the incumbent can get on implementing. The risks in this scenario are:

  • Complete disempowerment and demotivation of the incumbent IT Leader
  • The IT Leader sees the consultants as just parroting ‘their’ strategy, getting the plaudits, taking a cheque and going away

I have seen this scenario work positively and help rejuvenate a flailing incumbent, but more commonly i’ve seen this scenario herald an inevitable (and often imminent) exit of the incumbent. Sometimes in this scenario bringing in consultants to work on IT Strategy is a sticking plaster over the fact that the wrong person may be in the IT Leadership role.

2) Bringing outside perspective and expertise

When this works well consultants can bring their experience and skills from previous engagements to help their clients avoid costly pitfalls and mistakes, saving time and money, that is sort of the main value proposition of consultants isn’t it?

When this scenario doesn’t work well is when consultants do a find/replace (sometimes not even that) on slidedecks and ‘assets’ used from previous client and apply them ‘cookie cutter’ style to the new client, I’ve seen several big consultancies (and in my experience it is the bigger consultancies that are more likely to do this, just due to their business model) do this several times and its basically white-collar fraud that is enabled by both weak senior management, weak IT leaders,weak procurement processes and of course the wrong incentives driving the wrong behaviours in the consultancy.

3) Lack of in-house resource

Creating a great IT Strategy takes effort, some IT Leaders simply don’t have the time to spare. Obviously the proper solution is for the IT Leader to have managed their IT Organisation so that there is enough resource for strategy, but sometimes, this just isn’t the case. In this scenario consultants can provide much needed capacity to do the necessary Mobilisation, Discovery, Analysis and Strategy creation.

Honesty

In order for an in-house IT Leader to really answer the question “do you need consultants to make a great IT Strategy” you really need to honest about the following things:

  1. Do you understand the strategic context of your organisation and its place within its market? if not, do you have the capacity to understand it?
  2. Do you have the resources available to you to create a great IT Strategy?
  3. Do you have the confidence of your senior stakeholders?
  4. Do you have a sufficiently mature enough approach to strategy creation?
  5. Have you successfully created and executed a strategy before?

If you answer no to any of these questions, then using external consultants could be an option for you. However i’d caution it is probably not the most effective option and should only be used as a last resort. why? well lets run through those questions again:

  1. If you are an IT Leader and don’t understand the strategic context of your organisation or have capacity to understand it, how are you doing an effective job now? a good option before getting consultants in would be reflect on your workload and priorities and delegate, defer or drop tasks that will provide space to be able to understand your strategic context
  2. Similar to 1) Strategy is not a ‘nice to have’ capability within an IT organisation, lack of resource/time in this area highlights something wrong with the IT organisation’s/IT leadership’s priorities
  3. As mentioned above, a lack of confidence in IT leadership is not likely to be improved by bringing in IT consultants
  4. Well, one way to turn this from a no to a yes is continue reading these newsletters and sign up for my course when its ready :)
  5. I’d suggest this is the least important of the 5 questions, i’ve seen great IT Strategies created by IT Strategy novices, however they definitely all answered yes to the previous 4 questions.

So thats the end of this week’s post, i’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on the question ‘do you need consultants to make a great IT Strategy?’ please let me know your thoughts either in the comments section, or @ me on Twitter

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