Selecting a BI Consulting Firm: 5 Pitfalls to Avoid
Building a business intelligence solution requires specialized skillsets such as data modeling, data integration, data analytics, and visualization design. Leveraging a consulting firm’s services can offer a cost effective alternative to hiring permanent specialized resources while also acquiring some of the most skilled practitioners. However, there are risks involved in depending on a consulting firm to deliver a solution as specialized as a data warehouse, dashboards, and reports. When selecting a consulting partner it is common practice to check for financial stability and to ask for project references. Also considering the following less commonly addressed pitfalls will greatly improve your project’s chance of success.
Who’s on the bench?
This one is simple. Don’t take just any resource that a firm assigns to your project. Check resumes, and after selecting push for a named resource agreement. Everyone has their priorities, and for consulting firms this is often their largest client.
- Ask for named resources. If not named, then define minimum experience & skills.
- Ensure that your resources don’t churn. Set a minimum duration on project.
- Be sure all skillsets are covered; PM, BA, Architect, ETL developer, OLAP, front-end, etc…
Partners of Partners of Partners…
There is nothing wrong with a firm using partners to deliver, but you should be aware of what is going on. Treat partners of partners the same as all other resources and hold your direct consulting partner responsible for their performance.
- Insist on disclosure of all partner & sub-contract resources.
- Check the partnership durations. Avoid untested partnerships.
- Avoid situations where partners outnumber the consulting firm’s resources.
Time & Materials with a Fixed Budget
Asking a consulting partner to estimate a time & materials project and treating that estimate like a fixed bid is a recipe for disaster. The firm wants to win the project so there are going to be many assumptions in the estimate to keep it reasonable. The estimate is probably a best faith effort, but the assumptions are often not controllable. Skip all of this nonsense and demand an agile delivery.
- Don’t be guilty of requesting T&M with a fixed budget.
- Demand an agile delivery methodology with a set number of iterations.
Sure, We Can Do That Too!
If there is one thing that consulting firms don’t do lightly it is turning down the opportunity to provide more services. No firm has expertise in all practice areas. Be sure to use the right firm for the right project.
- Don’t select a partner based on delivery of unrelated projects even if they did a great job.
- Ask how many consultants work in the BI/DW practice exclusively.
- Call project references directly. Strive to find a similar project with successful results.
Cut & Run
The last thing you want is to invest thousands of dollars developing a solution using consulting resources only to find that near the end of the project your partner is no longer interested in being involved. This is a good reason to avoid fixed bid projects, or at least structure your agreement in a way that keeps everyone invested in the ultimate delivery.
- Structure the project around balloon payments at key milestones.
- Include a contract clause that provides the option to contract directly with consultants if the project doesn’t meet key milestones. You may not want them all, but you don’t want all of the knowledge walking out the door.
Partnering with a consulting firm to deliver a BI/DW solution is the right choice for many organizations. Select a reputable firm that offers the resources and commitments that give your project the best chance of success.