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Choosing Sustainability Management Software for Your Business

The SSC Team April 23, 2015 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

This article was written as an expansion of our white paper “Choosing Sustainability Management Software for your Business” published in July 2011.  If you’re looking for information on how to make your software selection, check out the full article.  If you just want to make sense of this particular topic, keep reading. Enjoy:

Now that you’ve decided to purchase sustainability software, an important related decision is whether or not you want to do the implementation work in-house or if you want to bring on a consultant to help out.  Making the right decision will be critical to your overall project success as well as impact the total cost of ownership for your solution.  And depending on your specific situation, either answer can be the right answer.  This article covers four key considerations:  Culture, Cost, Capabilities and Confidence.

Culture

Your business culture is an important first consideration.  Either you are consultant friendly or you prefer to do projects internally.  Making a decision that fits your culture and is consistent with your values will be important throughout the project.  That’s not to say that you might not go in the other direction for a specific project, or even choose a hybrid approach to delivery; just be true to yourself, as that will contribute to project morale for the entire team regardless of who signs their paycheck.  

A hybrid approach may provide the best of both cultures for you without offending the purists on either side.  Bring in specific subject matter expertise that you don’t already have in-house and then match it up with the right internal members of your Green Team to deliver the project.  On a high performing team, your consultants should be looking to train the internal employees on all the ins and outs of the system so that eventually your people can take over and run with the operational system. A good consultant instills confidence that they provide specialized expertise and trust that you will feel comfortable to call on them for further assistance in the future, instead of keeping them on the project unnecessarily for extended or prolonged periods of time.

Cost

After culture, cost is a major factor in the DIY vs. consultant decision.  For many firms – large or small – the preliminary inclination is to try and do the work internally.  The general premise is that it will be cheaper to use people that you already are paying because there is no additional cash out of pocket like there would be with an external consultant.  Consultants seemingly come with a high, upfront, fixed cost as your employee costs are already embedded in your budget.  Don’t forget to account for the “opportunity cost” of your internal employees – after all, they would be working on something else valuable for your firm if they weren’t picked for this project.

Beyond the opportunity cost consideration, looking only at the incremental expense doesn’t address an important aspect of choosing your own internal people to do the work: Do they actually have time?  Presumably, all of your existing employees have a “day job” that brings them to work every day.  Some of them are probably even doing two or three different jobs during a regular workday.  Determining if you actually have the available slack time within your existing team members is an important determination.  After all, if you’re on a deadline and your employees just can’t carve out enough time to meet that target, it may end up costing you more money to bring consultants in later than it would have if you had engaged them at the start of your project.  If you engage them in the beginning, the consultants are competing for your business; if you wait to bring them in until later in the project, they know you are hiring them to help bail you out so the leverage has shifted into their favor.

A final cost consideration when hiring a consultant (or going the “cheaper” internal route) is that “you get what you pay for.”  This can be taken as advice that the lowest cost doesn’t always provide you with the best result – nor for that matter does the highest cost.  Just make sure that the cost is right for the work being performed and for your situation.  That brings me to the second aspect of “you get what you pay for” – which is to MAKE SURE you get what you paid for.  Pay your consultant based on their delivery of the results you are looking for on the project, not just because they send you an invoice.  If possible, get a consultant to sign up for a risk-reward component to their payment so that they will be incentivized to do a better job since some of their compensation is on the line.

Capabilities

One of the primary reasons to hire a consultant is that they have the necessary skills and/or expertise to perform the software implementation that you may not already have in-house.  Beyond the skills that they bring to the table, a consultant should also bring some other benefits to make a strong business case for hiring them.  Your consultant should bring the necessary tools, techniques, and methodologies to the table that their consultancy uses and which you don’t have.  This may be as simple as them showing up with their own laptops and software licenses that you don’t need to pay for, or them having the necessary data gathering systems to pull in all the info you need for your new sustainability software platform. 

As consultants, you are also expecting them to bring prior experience to the table.  Whether or not they’ve worked on a project exactly like what you are asking them to perform, you should be able to get veteran individual consultants and/or teams of consultants to come help you out.  And by teams, we don’t mean the kind where the senior partner sells the deal and then you don’t see him again except when he stops by infrequently to check on the team of freshly minted MBA’s that he’s actually assigned to your project.  We mean the kind of team where your senior (and junior) consultants are actively engaged on a daily basis to help you get the project done quickly and effectively – i.e. on time and on budget.

In addition to experience, your consultant may be able to offer a cost advantage, especially if their firm is already doing business with you and you can get any sort of bulk discount.  The discount opportunity may extend to software and/or hardware purchases as well since they may be able to aggregate purchases across multiple clients.  This discount opportunity may also arise if you are able to hire your software vendor as the implementation consultant.  While this may raise some concerns about “the fox guarding the hen house”, it may help keep your costs down. 

Confidence

There’s an old adage in the software industry: “No one ever got fired for hiring IBM.”  While this is generally an explanation of why you should hire a bigger firm over a smaller firm, it also illustrates the importance of having confidence in your choice.  Regardless of whether you feel the need for a big firm with vast resources, or if you prefer a smaller firm that provides a more personalized experience, the most important factor for you is that you find a good consultant that you can trust.  They should have a proven track record, have a solid network of resources they can draw on (regardless of whether they are internal or external to the consulting firm), and be able to instill the necessary confidence in you that they will deliver.  If they can’t do that, then you shouldn’t hire them.  If they’re the best solution to your need however, then by all means, hire away!

Now that you’ve read this article, tell us what you think!  And be sure to check out the full white paper.

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