In an environment of an ever-shrinking IT department and budget, the importance of having reliable external resources and articulating business and user expectations to vendors has increased substantially.
According to Gartner, one-third of Australian systems customers suffer late delivery, 74 per cent of projects fail, are over budget or over-run deadlines, and 28 per cent of projects fail altogether.
Reasons behind these figures lie with businesses not fully understanding what they want from an IT-driven project, engaging vendors too soon, and expectations of projects varying as the project progresses.
John McCarthy, CIO for PBR International said that, in his situation, where his IT department had been reduced from 40 to 11, consultants were useful to help define the requirements of a project.
However, McCarthy said it is rare to find a "truly independent consultant".
"I think consultants are useful provided they are not tied to a vendor. Many tend to be tied to a particular product, even though they proclaim they are neutral."
He said it was important to find a consultant that has specialisation in a particular solution, rather than a generalist, and one who is prepared to spend 20 or 30 hours getting to know the company, without "turning the clock on straight away".
George Vicino, managing director Sypaq Systems, which provide consulting, project management and quality management services, said that, while he thinks the "more astute" [people] inside a company would already do what consultants are normally contracted to do, people are often too busy or too involved in day-to-day issues to look at the broader issues affecting the organisation.
"It's a certain mindset. Organisations need to approach a project from a systems view rather than a technology view. IT managers tend to think about the technology they need delivered. When people look at things from a systems view, they look at the wholistic view on how the requirements of the business can be fulfilled."
Vicino believes companies can save themselves money by getting in a consultant to do an analysis of a company's needs.
"For one of our clients we did a project governance audit and found that the company had thrown away $10 million of preparatory work and essentially had to start again on its $150 million project. Had the company called us in earlier, we could have done an analysis earlier and saved it money."
Whether a consultant is going to provide value depends on the size and complexity of the project rather than the size of the organisation, Vicino said. "If it is a multidisciplinary project with lots of parts than it would be worthwhile to bring in a consultant."
He said the interaction of a consultant would assist CRM projects and projects which determine interfaces and have interoperability issues.
"It is very important for businesses to remove vendor hype and self-interest when planning new systems, and to achieve an objective, unbiased view of how the business runs, how its component parts interact, and how to best serve its systems requirements in the most cost-effective and timely manner."