Does transformation require a consultant? Yes, absolutely! Oh, you wanted me to back that up with information, I suppose? Fine, then read this post.

But Seriously – A Little Background

I’d been reading some information about companies that were doing digital transformations. When I’d finished reading the information people wrote about their journeys with this and how well or badly it all went, my final thought was this – this is a project that needs a consultant.

Now, of course, I WOULD think that, wouldn’t I? Because I’m a consultant, myself, so of course, being a consultant is my “hammer” and all problems are my “nail,” is what you’re probably thinking?

However, doing a digital transformation has much in common with the projects I work on. There were many elements that were the same issues I work with and, in a bit, I’ll get back to those.

Before you ask yourself, “Does transformation require a consultant?,” we’ll get back to that question.

Defining “Digital Transformation”

But first, I’ll define what a “digital transformation” is. Basically, you’re using digital technologies to drastically change your business. It’s not just meant for a single department or function but is intended to change the way business is done across-the-board.

It could affect all types of transactions. It might entirely change the way you work with your customers. Possibly, it revolutionizes the way you work in the laboratory. The structure of how you communicate and collaborate with your co-workers could be drastically altered or built.

And it’s not about the technology, itself. It’s not like plans of “let’s put MacBooks in the lab” which are too specific to a technology and not specific-enough to outcomes.

With regard to “digital transformation,” if we ask the question, “Does transformation require a consultant?,” we might almost say that it would be a really, really good idea because this is something so big that it might even require an entire team of people to do.

Back to Our Own Laboratory Transformations

Stepping back, the transformations we work on for the laboratories and their customers share many of the same aspects to the more global “digital transformations.” Here are a few things they share:

  1. Making the transformation. Transforming the way the lab works or transforming its business processes is not about whether to buy a LIMS, an ELN or an LES. Nor is it about whether to use local servers or external cloud servers. It’s not about something that specific. It’s about making large and positive changes to overall work. That has to be the starting point. That has nothing to do with what type or brand of software to buy nor where to put the data. All of that merely supports the transformation.
  2. Working with many levels of people. Making a transformation often requires working with many levels of people. It can require people from middle to upper management, all the way down to the bench chemists and techs, and not to forget all the people who have to support all of this.
  3. Support and participation. All the right support and participation from the people listed in item (2).
  4. The specific work involved. They’re difficult and require special skills to traverse the roadblocks. They also require a large volume of time dedicated to the effort.
  5. Project-based. They’re projects. They’re one-off tasks with specific goals, a budget, and starting/ending points. There will always be an ongoing element to them but, by and large, they’re discrete projects.

Why These “Need” a Consultant

Being a consultant, of course I’m claiming you need a consultant to do these tasks. Once, again, it’s that hammer and nail situation. Seriously, though, let’s evaluate why these points above sometimes really do require an outside person. Digital transformations have plenty of situations where they have a less-than-desired outcome. So do the transformations in our own industry and these are expensive undertakings for which to get so little in return. Let’s review the points from above:

  1. Making the transformation. Internally, most companies are lucky to get people who know some methods of transformation happening out in the world. If they have to select tools to support these methods, they often know possibly one or two tools. The larger the company is and the more money and benefits they have, as well as the larger the pool of applicants they have access to, and they can more choices of people with more experiences. However, people with experience in doing any kind of transformation aren’t necessarily plentiful, regardless what you’re offering them. This is where it can pay to find someone who has done this, before, and multiple times. Often, there are consultants who have done multiple transformations.
  2. Working with many levels of people. In my years as a consultant, I’ve noticed that I’m often allowed to work with all levels of people who are related to the charter of my task. For example, if I’m writing LabWare LIMSBasic for a customer, no-one would expect me to go talk to upper management to give my opinions on anything. However, when a customer asks me to help them decide whether or not to buy a LIMS, at all, then I do find that I would be speaking with some variety of management. I’ve also noticed that most companies do have “caste” systems. This means that employees are typically seen at a certain level and that dictates who they can effectively communicate with. Even when employees are given more responsibility, then can sometimes find that managers besides their own ignore their requests for information. With consultants being outside this system, if they’re associated with a specific task, there’s less tendency to see a job title and think that the task must be of specific importance or lack of it based on the person’s title. Bringing in a consultant usually avoids this issue.
  3. Support and participation. When you’re paying an outside person, you take their time more seriously. The person whose budget this belongs to is typically watching the dollar signs quickly rack-up and is more likely to push other people in the organization to participate the way they need to in order to move the task along. When the boss gives an internal person the task, there’s an assumption made that they can just “figure it out” and get all the right people on-board. Without the people from above pushing on this, it’s probably not going to succeed. Everyone is busy and no-one wants to spend the time on this.
  4. The specific work involved. The internal person assigned to this task possibly doesn’t have the time to give to the task, either. They usually have more pressing matters to handle. On top of everything else they’re juggling, they now have this big, new task to manage. Some people will see it as a challenge that might advance their career and will practically kill themselves to try to make it happen, while others are really going to struggle to keep their head above water just with their everyday work, let along this additional task.
  5. Project-based. When you have something project-based, that’s a good time to look outside the organization and bring in someone that will take on the task and push it to completion. Outside people aren’t bound by all everyday tasks of the organization and can focus just on this task.* Even with the ongoing portions of this, someone who is good at this will set you up for success by listing the ongoing tasks and working with you to put this into maintenance mode.

* Customers often ask me, “How can you get so much done?!” Beyond being an expert in the task, I also explain to them that I don’t have the volume of interruptions that they have. Thus, it’s much easier for me to get the task done, regardless its size.

Finally: Does Transformation Require a Consultant?

Did I just convince you that consultants can save the world? Well, it sounds like that to me but I’m sure you’re reading with your own perspective. 😉

Let’s look at something a little simpler, for a moment, though – customers call me to put in large new blocks of functionality to their systems, such as the LabWare LIMS/ELN. They need something that will change the way they do business within one specific area of their system. They don’t have the time or possibly even the right expertise to do it.

That’s a transformation. It’s a much smaller one, of course, but it fits the model in the same manner, but for the technology. In this small example, the technology is set, but we’re using it to add transformative elements.

My point is merely that we do these transformations, all the time. Customers bring in consultants fairly frequently and the reasons tend to be about the same, whether the transformations are large or small. Question: Does transformation require a consultant? Answer: It just might.