IMHO John Cook's blog about why programmers are not paid in proportion to their productivity sums up the major problem in the IT consulting industry. The problem (restated) is that IT consumers have no easy way of determining the productivity of their incumbent Business Partner. Here's an example:
Last month I was called into a customer site to help fix their Domino cluster. Their previous Business Partner (who had also been providing PC support services plus new hardware plus anything else they could sell the customer) had been unsuccessful in setting up the Domino cluster and that had been the last straw for the client who showed them the door and then set about getting new service providers for Notes and networking and everything else. I was one of the Partners recommended to him by a Big Blue friend and so I got the Notes work.
Now reinstalling a Domino server and setting up a Domino cluster isn't rocket science. I'm sure 90% of the readers of this blog could have done the same job without any fuss, but this job was clearly beyond the skill set of their previous supplier. So why do customers continue to pay good money to incompetent Business Partners?
My guess is that customers have no easy metric to measure IT tasks. You can tell a Postal workers that s/he must deliver xxx letters per day or a brickie that they must lay yyy bricks per day but how do you measure the productivity of IT workers? In old-style programming you could ask for zzz lines of code per day, but how do you create a similar metric in XPage web components or in system admin work?
I believe the trend towards System Integration has accelerated this problem. A traditional Lotus Partner takes pride in their product and their skill set and associated Lotus certifications, and has no problem in declaring comparative ignorance in (say) Windows networking issues. They would rather stick to their knitting and are happy to see other IT work go to other specialist IT providers. On the other hand the non-specialist 'System Integrator' has no clear boundaries on what they will sell to a customer and has the temptation to work towards grabbing the customers entire IT budget and then finding a way of providing lower cost services (while still charging at the original skilled rate) in order to maximize their profit. If Lotus consulting services aren't making a profit then they might consider reskilling their people in Sharepoint and getting their technicians to multitask with Lotus and Sharepoint consulting work. If the volume of Sharepoint work is increasing then maybe forget about doing Lotus work entirely (but keep demanding the right to sell annual Lotus license subscriptions to existing customers).
The problem is that (apart from failing their certification exams) there is no obvious bottom line for a consultant when maintaining their technical skills in Lotus software. The atrophying of their Lotus skills happens one day at a time and their customers don't notice that they are receiving a sub-standard consulting product because they have no external 'nnn-bricks-per-day' IT standard with which to measure their supplier.
I've blogged on this topic before, but this time I'm asking a question:
How do you show your own value-added technical superiority in Lotus software to a customer when the customers doesn't have sufficient Lotus technical skills to see through the smoke-and-mirrors they are being fed by their current incompetent incumbent?
Or, in John Cook's terms, how do you demonstrate that your productivity with Lotus software far exceeds that of your competition?