As a follow-up to a previous article called How to Evaluate Enterprise Staffing & Recruiting Technology, I wanted to discuss something that I feel can be the remedy for this problem: third-party consulting firms. Hiring a consultant to help sort out and evaluate technology can be a very smart way to eliminate a lot of the risks I presented in the above article.
There are many types of consulting firms and while most offer various ranges of services, know what the firm you are looking at does well. Some will say they are a systems integrator or ‘SI,’ some might say they are a management consulting firm, others might focus on staff augmentation and many provide some or all of these services. What you are looking for is a firm that has depth of experience in your industry, has worked with the technologies important to you and has a methodology to evaluate the system in scope and clearly help you understand not only the pros and cons of the systems under consideration but also the fit to your organization.
The first major advantage the right technology consultant has is that they bring to the table their experience helping companies like yours evaluate technology every day. Your company might only review the available technology once every few years or, in many cases, less often than that, so through pure repetition alone the consultant has a major advantage. In addition, their backgrounds are in mapping business processes and finding realistic solutions to solve problems. These are not skills that every organization has readily available!
Assuming we’re all aware of the inherent biases we all carry around, we know that in matters such as these decisions we tend to err on the side of making decisions that benefit ourselves and can subconsciously concoct clever ways to bring people to our side. Even consultants can tend to bring their biases to an evaluation but their goals are generally aligned with the best decision for the company because it will help them be more successful in the future since happy clients tend to be the best references. To put it simply, the better job they do, the more success they will have in the future. Internal employees all have their own biases and it can be extremely difficult to not let those biases get in the way of making the right decision.
I have seen this happen due to a relationship an employee previously had with a vendor, a personal agenda they are trying to make successful, a desire to learn a particular technology for their own career progression, and many other reasons. With decisions of this magnitude, it is best to eliminate biases and preconceived notions as much as possible. It may even be worth considering someone with no prior experience in the staffing industry to further eliminate bias and challenge the status quo.
On the other hand, someone that already understands your business and the staffing technology landscape can be invaluable as well so both options are worth strong consideration.
Another important consideration when using third party consultants is that they can often expand the project (and therefore the budget) either during the implementation or afterwards to retain their consultants and fees for longer. This can often be with beneficial consequences overall (the additions are usually worthwhile) but this factor needs to be considered and managed throughout to avoid scope creep and ensure financial forecasting is realistic.
When I refer to “global perspective,” I mean within an organization. CEOs, COOs and heads of technology in most cases make it their business to know what’s going on in each corner of their organization so they can identify current or future roadblocks and find ways around them.
Unfortunately, these people are rarely going to be heavily involved in the criteria creation for a systems evaluation or the day-to-day meetings that are required to get a full picture of what system is best. This usually means that they are relying on a manager or director level operations, technology or recruiting leader to be their eyes and ears and run the day-to-day evaluation. Unfortunately, employees in these roles don’t always operate with the same level of information about the company or cache to get that information or command people’s time when needed.
Good consultants with the right access can help you bridge these gaps and they should use that access to each part of the organization as they build out requirements, building a global viewpoint of current needs. If they are good at what they do, they should also start to understand potential future needs and blind spots as well so you’re not outgrowing a system too quickly, using their industry and outside perspectives. Their experiences should help you make sure the decision is best for the entire organization, not just one portion that has a louder voice. They should also be able to seamlessly blend corporate objectives with operational realities, and find solutions that benefit these often-conflicting drivers.
Professional consultants tend to be very process-oriented and one of these processes that can really take the bias out of a decision is creating an evaluation criteria document and scoring each criteria item based on level of importance and when evaluating solutions against one another a score for fit. That way you can determine a weighted score of which system is better, where level of importance score * fit score = weighted score. Consultancies should have a method for doing this comparison, so ask and understand what they use and why they use it.
A mistake that is often made here though is what that score range is since that has to carry the actual importance of difference from the least important item to the most important. As an example, 1-5 might not work because you might have items on the matrix that are 20x more important than the least important item. The best way to create the weight range (1-5, 1-10, 1-100, etc.) is to take the least important item (i.e. can I choose the color of the buttons here or can I slightly change this layout) and compare them with something that might be the most important criteria (i.e. what is the company’s reputation or what type of downtime does the system experience) and ask yourself how much more important is the latter than the former. If it is 5x more important than use the 1-5 scale. If it is 20x more important then use the 1-20 scale, and so on and so on.
If you don’t do it this way, things will disproportionately impact the weight up or down and skew your results. This exercise in itself takes a lot of time and energy to execute and may be difficult for someone to do so without injecting their agenda or bias.
Enterprise software evaluations are much more involved than people expect and coming to a pragmatic, unbiased answer for the right technology solution to run your business with can be an extremely daunting process that can really knock an organization off its axis and take their eye off what is most important, continued growth and profitability. External technology consultants may seem costly, but when you look at the cost of getting your decision wrong, especially more than once in a short period, it can make justifying the cost seem like an easy decision.