How do you choose an ITSM consultant?

I did some improvement planning work for a customer recently, and when I delivered the report they were delighted with it. The IT director said that he really appreciated the specific, actionable recommendations that would help him to achieve his goals.

I was a bit surprised by his comment, and reminded him that our contract said I would provide specific actionable recommendations and his reply was very revealing. He said that many ITSM consultants he has dealt with create reports that are very generic, with recommendations that could have been copied from a book and aren’t really relevant to his organization. Apparently he had worked with a number of ITSM consultants who had failed to deliver any real value.

This got me thinking, how can you identify a consultant who will actually deliver targeted advice that will help you meet your goals, rather than generic advice that could have been delivered to any customer? Surprisingly I think the best approach is exactly the same as the one I would use if I wanted to find a reliable plumber or builder.

The best way to select an ITSM consultant is by word of mouth. Talk to people you know and find a consultant that has done good work for other organizations. This approach will be fairly easy if you regularly talk to people who carry out similar roles to your own in other organizations, so you may want to think about attending events run by your local itSMF chapter, or other similar membership organization. You can use the networking opportunities at these events to form relationships with your peers and to share knowledge and information that will benefit everyone. You may also be able to get recommendations from other consultants you have worked with. I have often recommended other consultants to my customers when they have wanted work that is outside my area of competence, or at times when I haven’t been available.

If you’re not lucky enough to find a consultant this way then your options are more limited. You should probably check that potential ITSM consultants have been certified in a framework that you want to use (ITIL, PRINCE2, COBIT etc.) but this mostly tells you about their ability to pass exams, rather than how well they will be able to help you. You can ask them for references, but they may select the only customer where they have ever delivered a good job, rather than the many where they failed. In any case it can be very difficult for consultants to get references as organizations are often reluctant to provide these.

I wonder if we could set up some kind of register for ITSM consultants, a bit like the UK Federation of Master Builders? The register could provide a check that consultants meet minimum criteria when they join, with regular reviews thereafter. It could also provide a mechanism for managing complaints and dispute resolution. A register like this could possibly be created by itSMF, or by AXELOS, to help develop the IT service management industry.

I can see lots of potential benefits from creating an ITSM consultant register, but there are also a number of risks and issues.

  • It could be ineffective. How would you ensure that registered ITSM consultants really did do good consulting, rather than just pay a subscription and say the right things?
  • It could easily become overly bureaucratic. How would you make sure it didn’t require registered consultants to spend a lot of time and effort to maintain their membership?
  • It could lead to conflict and legal issues. How would the owners of the register avoid being sued by consultants who were removed from the register, or were not added in the first place, or by customers who were not satisfied with the consultant they chose?

So what do you think? Does the ITSM industry need a register of consultants or are we not yet mature enough for this kind of thing? Who do you think could run something like this? Who could fund it?

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