For IT consultants, each of the five factors above represents a significant change in their way of working: indeed, to a large extent, IT consulting has had to reinvent itself since the late 1990s. Internet technology made it possible to link people in different organizations, using different hardware and software. Concerns about the speed with which the market was moving meant that companies wanted the implementation of new systems to take months, rather than years. The continuing failure of a large proportion of new systems to deliver the expected benefits depressed demand for them, and encouraged managers to find ways of using their existing technology more effectively. More attention was paid to the obstacles that prevent systems from being used effectively.
As these cases demonstrate, the new model IT consultant is very different from his or her predecessor. Instead of staffing complete projects, from project managers to junior programmers, the consulting firms involved here worked side by side with their clients. Deloitte's role in London's congestion charging scheme was to provide overall management and coordination of the 16,000 separate tasks and 20 separate organizations involved. In fact, Deloitte maintained only a relatively small number of consultants on the project full-time, choosing rather to bring in expert consultants only when they were needed. The firm also supplemented its use of consultants with a formal programme aimed at transferring skills from its consultants to TfL's own staff. PA's team worked with people from the Justice Gap Action Team and the other justice agencies, they did not supplant them. Similarly, at the Bradford Teaching Hospitals Trust, Atos Origin was there to facilitate the process of reconciling the potentially conflicting needs of users, not just to develop a wireless procurement system. Even at Wimbledon, where IBM fielded by far the biggest team (of the projects described here) in order to support the systems during the annual Championships, the main development team was only half a dozen people who worked closely with the All England Lawn Tennis Club.
The acid test for consulting though is whether it can help a client organization do what the client cannot do for itself. So where did the consultants add most value?
Part of the value they added was unquestionably technical knowledge. Given the speed with which new products come to market, it is hard for a client organization to stay abreast of developments, and even harder to maintain some understanding of how those developments may be being exploited in practice. For IT consulting firms, this knowledge is a critical activity, and one that is increasingly fostered by joint product development programmes and training initiatives between hardware and software manufacturers, and consulting firms. Consulting firms can achieve better ‘economies of knowledge' than their clients. Because the cost of the investment a firm makes in technical knowledge is effectively spread across many clients, clients can access up-to-date skills more cheaply than if they had to build these skills themselves.
Another area where the help of consultants can be invaluable is where they are asked to act as honest brokers, arbitrating between the needs of different groups without having any self-interested axe to grind. It is often hard for organizations that are in the early stages of specifying complex systems to be able to step back and see the situation objectively.
However, perhaps the consultants' most important contribution here was momentum. With multiple stakeholders to consult, different technology platforms to integrate and significant cultural barriers to acceptance, the stage was undoubtedly set - in all three projects - for constant delay. While the congestion charging scheme had the advantage of being a completely new project, both JTrack and the procurement system at the Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust were developed alongside existing operations. Most of those involved in specifying the systems - the end-users - had busy day jobs: getting and keeping their attention was always going to be an uphill struggle when there were so many other, more immediate calls on their time. In each case, the consultants were able to provide the momentum and critical mass to keep the projects going. ‘We could not have done this project without consultants,' said Derek Turner, the Managing Director of Street Management at TfL. ‘Our confidence in Deloitte was well placed. Their passion and drive for this project helped it stay on track and deliver benefits to London.'