By Karen Gildea , Managing Partner, Amick Brown

Just over five years ago, with four of my long-time colleagues, we started an IT consulting firm specializing in SAP and Business Intelligence.  Together we had led teams that designed and built an integrated BI solution for AT&T’s SAP implementation before being outsourced to a large consulting firm.  Over a 10 year period, we had developed and supported a system that served and was secured to hundreds of thousands of people.  This was no easy task and we learned a great deal along the way as building anything that serves a population that large with the varying security and usability requirements that go with it requires an enormous effort on many levels.  We knew and still know….that we have unique experience that other companies implementing large SAP BI solutions would benefit from.

So we left the large consulting firm and created Amick Brown – a certified small business, woman-owned business and minority-owned business.

We decided we would try to expand our business in the government sector.  The government has small business programs and set-asides for small business.  It is a lot of work to respond to a Request for Proposal with the government, but each time we respond we get better at representing what we have done and what we can do.  We are achieving success, but we are still sometimes questioned about our “bench strength” – in other words, the number of consultants we have employed. 

Because we have been the big company client and we have also been one of the big box resource providers as well, we have a perspective on bench strength that some others may not.

While many big companies or government agencies may feel that bench strength is an indicator of a company’s ability to provide resources when needed, what they really need to know is – can a company provide the specific expertise needed for their unique situation.  In order to truly gain the outcome desired from any new project, the specific expertise or experience of each consultant should be the focus. 

All consulting firms, big and small respond to the unique requirements of a company or agency similarly.  They determine the specific expertise and experience that is required, they look at their available resource pool to determine if that expertise is there and available, and if not they begin their search for that expertise in the market.  The resource pools of big and small consulting firms alike are also very similar in makeup – the respective pools invariably contain partner consultants as well as employees.

So – is bench strength really meaningful?  I say no.  A firm’s ability to evaluate and understand the project requirements and challenges, determine the expertise and experience required and then to identify the most qualified candidates to successfully respond is key.  As well, the firm should be vested in the long term success of their client.

A question we often get is “is your consultant an employee”?  Again I believe the question should be – who is the best candidate for the position?  We have found that the very best and most experienced consultants may be interested in coming on board to work on a project, but aren’t necessarily interested in changing “employment”.

There are numerous reasons why a consultant may not want or be able to be hired as an employee. Perhaps they are tied to their current company through an H1B visa, or personal relationship. It may be due to wanting the freedom to grow at the pace which they prefer.  It might even be about not wanting to lose accrued vacation at their current company.  If all federal and state requirements regarding payroll and payroll taxes are being adhered to, and if insurance and contracts are in place – does it really matter?

For every engagement, we assemble a team of the best experts with the most relevant experience for the unique requirements presented.  We hire consultants as permanent employees when it makes sense for all and subcontract when it does not.  Regardless of employee or subcontractor designation, the placement is done only after thorough cultural matching and a vested commitment to long term success.

Over the past 15+ years, we have worked with  many consultants and small business consulting companies.  We continue our relationships with only the best and through those relationships we are introduced to others of the same caliber.  For each consulting partner we ensure agreements are in place, insurance verified, and background checks done, and for those we are new to, full due diligence is completed. We work with only the verified best consultants and have developed long standing relationships for the ongoing success of all.  We provide a team that can rival any big box organization.

A consolidated bench of consultants with the specific expertise required is what will provide a successful project team – regardless of where the individual consultants come from.

bench strength

The reality is that the big box firms call smaller consulting firms on a regular basis to provide the expertise they need for their client projects.

After all, it really is all about gathering the best people to tackle the project.

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