I have talked about the use of consultants in many articles over the years. I have also discussed the pros and cons of using them for government projects. It is a fact that the current practice is to use consultants widely.
Being a consultant working for government, I still feel that consultants should be used wisely. A municipality should draw on them for expertise, when required.
In my view consultancy should always be viewed as a short-term arrangement for any government organization. If the consultant is intended to fill a long-term need, either a new hire should be considered or the consultant should work with existing staff to develop in-house expertise. In this way the municipality can avoid over reliance on outside consultants.
One of the issues I have is the way RFPs are issued when hiring consultants. It is very important to write consultant RFPs that are clear as to what you are asking of the consultant.
Most government bodies are far too subjective in the way they evaluate the scoring process for consultant projects. In some cases it would appear that the way the documents are written would allow the municipality to pick whoever they wanted regardless of the answers to the questions asked, or the price portion of the scoring matrix.
As a consultant myself, I find it difficult to listen to the reasoning behind some of the stock answers given by government buyers during debriefs for my consultant clients.
I also feel selecting the right consultant for the project set out in the RFP is another point of concern. Some consulting firms bid on every consultant project that is issued. If they win they go out and subcontract the people they require to do the work. Even when consultants are necessary to do the work that staff cannot perform, and carry out that work at a reasonable cost, the consultant solution is only optimal if the right experience is retained.
Consultants are of different types and can be hired to serve a multitude of needs.
Category one consultants bring knowledge and experience that the municipality does not have with respect to some technical field or professional area of expertise: lawyers or engineers are good examples of this category.
Category one also covers people who supply a critical network of connections within an industry. Consultants of this kind are often encountered in international trade, where they can facilitate entry into a new market for business, but they are more difficult to justify in the case of a municipality that is hiring a contractor.
Category two consultants do not offer any special expertise, but they offer qualified technical or professional people who can provide a client with "cover" during periods of peak demand. They are essentially a source of casual but properly trained personnel.
Generally, arrangements of this kind are easier to justify than other consulting arrangements, since obviously every large organization will have an occasional need for additional staff.
Category three consultants offer higher level business experience, rather than technical or professional expertise. Many category three consultants have spent years working in the accounting or banking industry or the field of procurement. In theory, by virtue of this experience, they offer a superior understanding of "business process."
This includes the estimation of cost and the projection of revenue, the identification and development of best practices tools and techniques, and the proper use of problem solving skills that allow a client to work with complex problems beyond the normal capacity or range of experience of the client's staff. However, the added value of the expertise that such consultants bring to the table is always a matter of debate when a review is done towards a "Value For Money" evaluation.
Stephen Bauld is a government procurement expert and can be reached at email@example.com. Some of his columns may contain excerpts from The Municipal Procurement Handbook published by Butterworths.