Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The price of dubious advice - £100bn a year

Just seen a piece that appeared in the Observer this weekend, "The price of dubious advice - £100bn a year".

I'm once again incensed by the reporting of our industry as one built on false promises and deception. Take a read of the article and do post your thoughts on the following forum thread which I've created to allow us to discuss and rubbish this. For what it's worth, here's the reply I've sent to Simon at the Observer - though not holding my breath to see them publish it...


Congratulations on an interesting piece in the Observer this weekend. However consultant-bashing articles do tend to miss one key argument when pointing the finger of blame at consulting firms – and you have overlooked it too. The trade body (MCA) figures show that 66% of each consulting firm’s cost base is the cost of its staff. So allowing for some profit margin, it would still cost Britain plc at least 50% of the current spend on consulting services to just kill off the consulting industry and employ these people in the corporate and public sectors instead.

More often than not, cost over-runs and project failures result from senior management bringing in consultants on a flawed brief. The outcomes are not properly defined; key milestones not established (or constantly revised as the brief is allowed to evolve mid-way through a project); internal resources not dedicated to the project such that the consultants’ meters are ticking but the required access to client staff is being denied. All these management failings would be exacerbated considerably if the pain of a significant bill and ongoing public scrutiny were not ever-present to concentrate the mind.

The current NHS IT investments are a case in point. Richard Granger was able to negotiate with consulting firms a series of risk-reward contracts that saw the firms face severe financial penalties if key milestones and objectives were not met. These financial penalties have now been triggered and at least some of the spend on this ambitious project has now been recouped. Are we really to believe that thousands of extra employees hired by the NHS could have achieved a more favourable outcome than that achieved by the consulting firms? That if employed by the NHS these consultants would suddenly have developed project management skills and capabilities that they were lacking from years spent working in the private sector?

No – the project would have had none of the public scrutiny and been able to recoup not a penny of the costs incurred if the consultancy route had been avoided. The consultants just make a convenient scapegoat and the headline figures of monies spent are always portrayed as an expense that would otherwise not have been incurred.


Interested to read your thoughts and hope this turns into an interesting forum thread

Tony Restell