The Operations Role in a Consulting Firm

The NetSuite team spends tons of time talking to our consulting/professional services customers about operations responsibilities. We tend to focus on the areas where we solve problems—improving profitability, increasing utilization and automating back-office processes (timesheets, expenses, invoicing, etc.) One of our newer account representatives asked me about the typical resource management expert at a consulting firm, and while discussing the topic, we identified two camps:

  1. Partnership firm model: The resource management function is handled by one of the partners/principals, often on a rotational basis, or sometimes by a partner looking for less travel and fewer hours.
  2. Software professional services (PS) model: Specific PS resource management experts are hired to create and maintain skill sets, staffing models, staffing workflows, etc.

One theory is that how resource management is handled is driven by scale. Partnership firms can be somewhat limited in how big they can get, and thus their consulting offerings tend to be less diverse and their resource-management needs are less onerous. A partner can be the resource manager for a year to help out the firm, but return to client-facing work after the assignment as resource manager is complete.

In contrast, many software PS executives come from the biggest software vendors (Oracle, SAP, etc.) or from large IT implementation consulting organizations (Accenture, PwC, Deloitte, etc). At such companies, professional operations of resource management is required to keep the process moving forward, and has to be done by professionals 100% dedicated to operations.

Another theory is that partnership firms, particularly those in management consulting, feel that their human assets and manner of client relationships are unique, and only an “insider” of the firm could appropriately manage the staffing of consultants to client engagements. Conversely, at technology firms, the resources are less unique and the use of contractors, third-party firms, etc is more commonplace.

Making generalizations is of course always dangerous. So maybe the takeaway isn’t to define the type of organization that you are, but to consider the best practices of the type of firm you are not. If yours is a partner-managed consulting firm, perhaps consider the pros and cons of hiring a professional resource manager to run your operations. What would be different, and what might be better?

And if you are with a software professional services group, are you getting enough input from your senior management that your human assets might be unique? How would your processes differ, for better or worse, if resource management was handled by an “insider?”

Ed Marshall — GM of Services Vertical, NetSuite

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