INTELLIGENT SYSTEMS

 

Volume XIII, Number 1                                                                                                           January, 2006

 

A newsletter for clients and friends of Chenault Systems

Copyright © 2005 Chenault Systems, Inc.  All rights reserved.

 


Adaptable new Features for APAPT

Unlike traditional software products, award-winning ADAPT becomes adaptable to customer needs before ADAPT becomes on-line.  The following examples are typical of some of the new features that came from our customer ideas:

The Marketing List Generator has been completely updated, providing extra features plus a new look and feel.  The Marketing List Generator incorporated quite a bit of invisibility; the user could focus on included aspects or excluded aspects of selected shows, but could not see both at one time.  The new look and feel uses a tab, or folder, based approach with each tab associated with a specific show aspect.  Now the user can view both included and excluded values for the same aspect at one time.  However, for those who like the status quo, we have left the untouched original  the classic version – version in ADAPT too.  The classic version, however, does not have any of the new features.

The Marketing List Generator now incorporates ad campaign processing.  Any list may be associated with an ad campaign.  Afterwards, new lists can be created using association, or lack thereof, with a campaign.  This feature allows the user to precisely pinpoint those potential attendees based on information previously received or not received.

The Marketing List Generator now lends itself to company-based list generation.  The user may set a threshold value.  All attendees who meet other selection criteria and belong to a company that falls within this threshold are automatically added to the list; other in companies who exceed the threshold are placed on a list, allowing the user to select who will be included.  This helps the user minimize marketing expense by allowing him to select key players within a company who can in turn spread the word about an upcoming event.

The Marketing List Generator now allows more than one show to be selected for list exclusion.  Previously, only one show could be selected for exclusion, which required users to sometimes come up with novel list merging to produce the desired results.

The Show Tracking report has been enhanced to allow tracking by registration code, or codes.  This allows the user to track registration for specific target groups.  Also, a forecast feature has been incorporated, allowing the current registration trend to be compared to a desired trend.

Using Consulting Firms for Profitability

By Tom Chenault

Now that our consulting practice is nearly 14 years old, we have developed a pattern of attributes associated with successful consulting engagements.  These observations have led us to come up with the following conclusions on how outside consultants and companies can work together as a partnership.

Define the project in terms of return on investment.  We make sure that the client will benefit in terms of return on investment, or we simply cannot embrace the project.  If the client is not sure, in business terms, of the expected returns of a project, then the project will not be a business success for client or consultant.

Years ago, we helped a hotel resort client save $1.5 million per year in long distance telephone cost – which was their pre-project estimate.  Actually, the client knew the return on investment and savings before the project began.  Our fee of $18,000 could seem high to some prospective clients, but quite reasonable to a client who already did the homework.

For a landfill operation, we created a new system for managing dirt usage.  Information from this system enabled the company to reduce dirt usage by 42% saving $120 million over a period of 18 months.  In this case, the client knew ahead of time the consulting and system development would be beneficial.  However, none us of quite realized it would be that beneficial.  The results were a very pleasant surprise for everyone.

The best consulting firms will not take a project unless they perceive a reasonable return on investment for the client and the consultant, in terms of both revenue and reputation.  The profit fuels the consulting firm by making more training, experienced personnel, marketing, computer hardware, and software possible, which further benefits the clients.  The reputation provides more business opportunities.

Understand expectations and make sure they are realistic before any work takes place.  Reliable, accurate estimates regarding the scope of the project are necessary.  Calendar deadlines should also be realistic.  Prospective clients should be wary if a consultant makes unrealistic claims in terms of low estimates or short timetables.

It is not uncommon for a prospective client to underestimate manpower or time requirements for a project.  The best, independent consultants are unmoved by political pressure to pursue impractical deadlines or a fixed bid project.  They will argue for reasonable manpower and timetable estimates, and if the chasm cannot be bridged, they withdraw from the engagement rather than suffer the consequences for accepting an unrealizable task.  They will not lower themselves to become a commodity.

A simple engagement letter between consultant and client should be drawn up to state the consultant will give best effort and the client will pay for the best effort.  This agreement should include language that the consultant promises not to disclose important or sensitive information.

Constant communication between the consultant and client is imperative.  Successful projects are never developed in a vacuum.  Many projects fail because the client did not make at least one person with a good understanding of the project’s goals available to the consulting firm for questions and guidance.  Many projects fail because consultants assume they know better how things are done, and will not seek the client’s advice.  This is tantamount.  All the project management courses and paper certifications in the world, which are overrated, will not make up for poor communication skills due to personality.

Certification from a non-profit organization should be preferred over certifications from a vendor.  Paper certifications from software and hardware vendors may reflect some degree of competence in a specific technical area, but can compromise objectivity.  For example, a consultant with one vendor’s certification may be likely to recommend that vendor’s solution when another vendor may be more appropriate.  Vendor certifications are very expensive to consultants and are a revenue and promotional boon to vendors.  Who really benefits?  A true professional certification comes from a non-profit organization, but even that is meaningless unless a code of ethics is stressed.  For example, the Institute of Management Consultants (IMC) has made a very strong effort to stress a strict code of ethics with their Certified Management Consultant (CMC) designation.  This distinction between non-profit certification and vendor is very important.  Imagine a medical doctor being certified with a specific pharmaceutical company, but not by the American Medical Association.  Imagine a mechanical engineer certified in Carrier when Trane may be better for an office building.  Keep in mind it’s fine for a professional to represent a product, as long as this affiliation is stated up front.  Consultants must avoid conflicts of interest and will disclose to a client any conditions that might impact their objectivity.

Make sure the consulting firm has reasonable experience and rates.  This may seem an obvious point, but there are many pending lawsuits where consulting firms have not delivered what was promised.  Lack of delivery is usually due to of lack of experience.  The lack of experience is a result of poor recruiting procedures.  If a consulting firm lacks the right people, it is a poor long-term business strategy to take on a project, hoping that somehow things will work out.

Some larger firms, to support high overhead and high partner salaries, have actually resorted to low cost, inexperienced personnel and inflated rates.  Improper off-shoring is the latest tactic.

Recently, a well-known Big 5 consulting firm was sued for $100 million for breach of contract and fraud.  The client felt that the large firm “oversold, over committed and under performed, and didn’t have the technical competence or the experience that it represented it had.  As a result, the project was doomed from the start.”  The scope of the project was grossly underestimated, which resulted in large budget overruns.  The big name consulting firm may lose this lawsuit (for once), since their inexperienced staff left behind electronic mail messages discovered by the client.  The e-mail messages bore sufficient evidence indicating a deficiency of staff competence and experience.  The sad thing about this episode is that the consulting firm chose short-term profit over developing a long-term relationship, causing them to pay a large price in reputation.  Even if the consultants had been competent, the e-mail messages clearly indicated that they did not really care about the client’s best interest.  They only cared about meeting the firm’s objectives, which was solely profitability.

Doing the right thing is the best business strategy.  In the book True Professionalism, written by David Maister, a professional is defined as someone who simply cares.  Professionalism has nothing to do with technical skills.  “Very few professionals become known by their clients as ‘great’ purely as a result of technical abilities.  The opposite of the word professional is not unprofessional, but rather technician.  Professionalism is predominantly an attitude, not a set of competencies.  A real professional is a technician who cares.”  In other words, doing the right thing is not only ethical, but also the best marketing strategy regarding professional services.  With this in mind, smaller firms should be considered.  They are staffed by seasoned professionals who take on the values not associated with some of the larger firms.  Smaller firms normally do not have the larger economic appetites associated with the larger firms, where additional overhead and high partner salaries are the rule, not the exception.

Quotes Worth Noting

“Congress can raise taxes because it can persuade a sizable fraction of the populace that somebody else will pay.” -- Milton Friedman

 “It stands to reason that where there's sacrifice, there's someone collecting sacrificial offerings.  Where there's service, there's someone being served.  The man who speaks to you of sacrifice, speaks of slaves and masters.  And intends to be the master.” -- Ayn Rand

“If Fed Ex and UPS were to merge, would they call it Fed UP?” -- George Carlin