T.A. Wallace & Associates, Inc.

Telecommunications & Networking Consultants


Member: Society of
 Telecommunications Consultants

Choosing A Telecom Consultant
By Richard Longview 

Do some legwork to avoid getting burned by the consulting company you keep.

From negotiating the next telecom contract to selecting the new VoIP platform, many IT executives turn to outside consultants for help. Not every engagement is successful, though many of the problems that occur can be avoided if more time is spent choosing and managing consultants.

Whether you're considering using a telecom consultant with little experience or a veteran firm, what follows are some guidelines to getting the services you need.

The title of consultant is used somewhat generically in the industry, so know what type you're seeking. The biggest risk is bringing in someone who acts as a representative for a carrier or hardware provider when you want an unbiased professional working solely in the best interest of your business. This poses a conflict of interest between the consultant getting the best deal on your behalf and earning the highest commission.

There are three types of consultants in the telecom industry: captive, biased and unbiased.

A captive consultant is one who usually recommends or works with one "preferred" vendor for client projects. For example, IBM has a global alliance with AT&T and generally quotes AT&T network services on projects. Another potential concern is that IT consulting firms moving into telephony projects also act as Cisco authorized resellers.

A caution sign should light up if you hear a consulting firm announce a joint marketing or business relationship with a vendor or carrier. Peruse the consultancy's Web site and press releases to see if there are arrangements that could affect the consultant's ability to be independent.

A biased consultant is one who generally steers the client to a handful of vendors or carriers with whom the consultant has a business relationship. Not surprisingly these consultants often factor the best commission rate for the deal into their selection methodology.A warning bell should go off anytime you hear phases such as, "we get paid by the carriers" or "our consulting is free to you." When a vendor or carrier Web site lists authorized consultants or marketing partners, this is a tip-off that the consultant has a biased agenda.

Unbiased consultants don't have financial relationships with any vendor or conflicts of interest that affect their recommendations. If you want an independent consultant who will work strictly in the best interest of your business, build clauses pertaining to conflicts of interest and ethics into the contract. Organizations such as the Society of Telecommunications Consultants and the Institute of Management Consultants can be good starting points for finding unbiased consultants.

All three types of telecom consultants have a role in the marketplace. Some IT executives use a captive or biased consultant because they feel someone with a vested interest will work harder to make sure customers remain satisfied with a product or service. As carrier support staffs get smaller, having another knowledgeable person in the fight with you can be valuable. At other times, certain projects call for an unbiased resource.

Once you decide what type of consultant you need, don't get caught by the classic bait-and-switch method some consulting firms use to sell their services. This is when the "A" team sells you on the company and closes the deal and then the junior "B" team shows up to do the work.

Worse yet is the practice of sending consultants fresh out of school to work on a project. This can result in a lot of frustration and wasted time on the clients' part when they realize they are paying, sometimes hundreds of dollars per hour, to train new consultants.

This happened to one of our clients when a new consultant with a big firm saw the telecom manager's AT&T phone bills and suggested moving to a VoIP system. After asking the consultant how he arrived at this recommendation, the frustrated client ended up having to explain that his AT&T OneNet bill was for several services that were bundled in one invoice. The consultant lacked the experience to know that these charges were not for on-net usage between the clients sites and that moving to VoIP would not make all those expenses go away.

If you're impressed with the knowledge and experiences of specific consultants during the sales process, consider putting it in writing that those particular people are required to work on the project.

Another "gotcha" is to get sucked into a long-term contingency-based telecom bill auditing agreement. With staffs so lean, some businesses have gotten good results. However, be sure you know what you're getting into. A telecom auditing firm in Newport Beach, Calif., uses a consulting service agreement that requires clients to give the firm half of any savings produced for the next five years.

This agreement is so one-sided in favor of the consultant that if the client conducts its own contract negotiations with carriers during the five-year period, the consulting firm gets 50% of any savings or cost reductions for work it wasn't even part of.

Most companies today can get a good consultant to agree to a contingency-based auditing deal that lasts for 12 months and gives you the final rights to approve or reject any savings items or ideas the consultants present without penalty.

Finally, taking the time upfront and working with your consultant to write out a detailed scope of work can be critical to your project's success. The scope of work defines each of the project deliverables you're expecting, what form the deliverables will be in and a timeline for achievement of milestones. A good description of the scope of work ensures that both the client and consultant know what to expect.

A few years ago, I worked with several consultants on a large nationwide network services RFP. A larger company acquired the client and canceled the project after about 70% of the work was done. The consulting scope-of-work agreement had linked several project milestones to progress payments along the way minimizing what could have been a heated debate on how to terminate the work.

Copyright Network World Inc. Mar 29, 2004


T.A.Wallace & Associates, Inc. is an independent consulting firm. We do not have financial relationships with any vendor or conflicts of interest that affect our recommendations. Our Consultants and Project Managers have over 150 years of combined experience in the industry. If you want an independent consultant who will work strictly in the best interest of your business, Call us on 508-758-9217 or visit us at http://tawallaceassociates.com