Prioritizing Competency Over Excellence Will Net More Value From Your IT Services Consultants

Tim Norton, Director of Vendor Management at UPS, explains why an IT service provider's "best" resources aren't necessarily the ones he wants on his projects, and how demanding them can affect the final result.

Somewhere between the final negotiations with the external service provider and the initial start-up activities, there is a common request that clients often extend to their provider: “I want your best people”.

This, of course, seems logical and—given the perception that doing the work internally is always better—it aligns with a common belief that clients are helping the providers understand how important their project is and what they need to do to succeed. But what are we really saying when we make this request, and, more importantly, what is the provider actually hearing?

Impactful Hidden Messages

When you ask for a provider’s best people, you are actually saying quite a large number of things. First and foremost, you are giving away some of your leverage and implying—if not agreeing—to pay more than you otherwise should. Furthermore, you are saying that you don’t trust the vendor to deliver your requirements unless and until they put their “best” people on the project.

This is a relationship hit. The provider will find you harder to work with (meaning harder to meet your expectations), harder to please, and their opinion of you as a premier client may be downgraded. In this request, you are limiting the flexibility the provider has to staff the project in the best possible way, which in turn affects their success in both quality delivery to you and profitability for them.

Finally, you are causing a lot more work for the provider as they have to seek out who these “best” resources are and where they are positioned. Consider this: they are probably not sitting on a bench somewhere just waiting to be applied to your account. If they are indeed the best resources, they are probably highly unavailable and it would be up to the empowerment and stature of the account manager to negotiate their release from another client contract. The impact to that client and the longer-term potential benefit of your engagement would have to be weighed before such release would be granted.

Effect on Resources

Consider your specific request to get the providers “best” from the standpoint of their resources. How would those “best” resources feel about being extracted from the middle of another project and brought to your business in a capacity that may not provide enough challenge or interest to them?

A resource that is more qualified than they need to be to get the job done is not likely to be overly excited about doing the work. Their commitment to doing good work notwithstanding, they have likely done similar work many times before and there may be little challenge left to gain. Working with clients is hard enough when the contractual model does not empower the provider to get the work done the way they know how. This would likely frustrate an overqualified resource even more.

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Might it be more advantageous to get resources that are exactly qualified or even one tick less qualified to get that work done? They would be far more motivated as they are working to better themselves while stretching to complete your requirements. This, in turn, affords them that golden opportunity to please both the client and their own vendor leadership. The relationship you have with the vendor and the contractual model should protect you in performance and success of the provider with their staffing choices.

The Cost/Quality Factor

The best resources from a provider are probably not the cheapest; in fact, they are likely to be the most expensive. The vendor’s staffing model would have to be carefully crafted to accommodate resources that are likely more experienced and costly than is actually needed to get the work done. This will add cost to the provider’s proposal. Each action that a client takes in order to define how the work should be done by the provider adds cost, and is not likely to improve quality and performance; in fact, it likely has the opposite effect.

Regardless of what the clients’ industry domain is, the domain of external service providers is to execute IT services work efficiently, with minimal knowledge transfer, in a global model, with the highest quality, at a cost commensurate with what it takes to win the work. In parallel the provider wants to grow their business and facilitate constant enhancement of skills across their resource community. The client will always be the owner and master of their domain and surely similar domain knowledge within the provider enhances their ability to win work.

The provider is also a master and owner of their IT services domain, and clients that allow the provider to determine how best to get work done are best-positioned to succeed. This includes the choice of which resources are necessary and available to complete the work. These may not always be their “best” resources, but they are good enough to get the job done perfectly.

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