Vicki Tambellini is the CEO and founder of Tambellini Group, an independent higher education research and advisory firm.
There’s an inevitable truth that applies to every significant technology investment decision any company makes: it will be a complex, expensive endeavor. With a vast array of cloud-based platforms and software available to help streamline operations, executive leaders face intense pressure to ensure the tools they choose provide a tangible return on investment and align with their organization’s strategic priorities. But finding the best-fit technology can be challenging in a market crowded with competitive vendors who regularly make bold claims about the power of their solutions.
Companies often lack the internal resources and time to conduct a detailed review and properly vet their viable options, so they may choose to rely on information technology analyst and consulting firms. Each partner can help them separate sales hype from actual value and maximize every dollar spent.
3 Key Points To Consider When Partnering With IT Analysts Or Consultants
Corporate spending on both analyst and consulting services has accelerated in the past few years, reaching new heights despite a volatile economy. IBISWorld estimates the IT consulting market size at $623 billion for 2022. Organizations of all types and sizes see value from analyst and consulting services, driving strong growth projections for both markets in the coming years.
Before any business embarks on a partnership, however, executive leaders can significantly benefit from taking the time to understand what analysts and consulting services provide. Here are some key distinctions to keep in mind and rules of thumb to follow that apply across every industry.
1. Start with an analyst’s services.
The resources that analysts and consulting firms provide can be complementary to one another, depending on when and how you use their services. So, I recommend starting with an analyst firm before signing a contract with an IT consulting firm.
By design, research analyst firms provide the broadest, unbiased understanding of the market. They work independently, regularly attending briefings from vendor product teams and interviewing their clients to determine their solutions’ strengths and weaknesses. Analyst firms then produce research on market-wide trends and thorough assessments of how various vendors are faring, including detailed analyses of their product features. By virtue of being vendor-agnostic, analyst firms are great resources for vetting the IT consulting companies you may hire.
2. Consider the firm’s size and fee structures.
Depending on your organization’s objectives, consider whether it makes sense to work with a large or small firm. Large firms are best suited to serve a diverse set of issues across very large technology teams, while niche firms provide research at scale in context for decision-making in a specific industry.
When it comes to pricing, large analyst firms’ annual fees are based on the membership type, the number of seats and access to services. Niche firms’ rates are usually more affordable, but their membership packages vary widely. Be sure to look for ones that offer high-touch services.
Here are two questions to ask when evaluating your options:
• Do they have a proactive customer service model? The best analyst firms will take the time to understand your goals and provide personalized research recommendations and strategic guidance. Having access to thousands of reports isn’t very helpful unless you can easily find the most relevant ones and speak to experts who can advise you on how the findings apply to your company’s goals.
• Do their fees include access to research analysts and expert advisors? A one-on-one meeting with an industry analyst can provide valuable insights. But inquire about availability first: How far in advance are meetings set? How many people can attend the meetings? Which services will trigger additional fees? Does the membership allow for flexibility?
3. Leverage consulting firm relationships.
Consulting firms typically have partnership agreements with a limited group of technology vendors, which can be a major advantage for your business. Because they work with the same vendors on multiple clients engagements, IT consultants have specialized expertise in their solutions. Their experience supporting other organizations that have made similar investments can benefit your company when deploying new technology to ensure the process is efficiently and strategically implemented.
Similar to the IT analyst market, there are large marquee companies and smaller specialized ones. Here are two questions to ask any prospective consulting partners:
• Does your assigned consulting support team include specialists in your industry vertical? While consulting firms have groups focused on a wide array of industries, don’t assume this means your implementation support team will include the ones focused on your company’s industry. Make sure this stipulation is written into your contract.
• Does your designated support team include experts in your chosen vendor? The same caveat applies here. Just because the IT consulting firm has expertise in the vendor solution you’ve chosen, it doesn’t mean your assigned consultants will include those vendor experts. Be clear on how your team is structured to best leverage your engagement.
With the imperative for all businesses to modernize their operations, the need to partner with IT analyst and consulting firms will likely rise in the coming years. Choosing the right ones can boost your organization’s success and ROI. When leaders are intentional and thorough in weighing their options for the right knowledge, experience and skills to match their needs, they’re one step closer to improving their operational systems.