Special Consultant’s Section
Consultants are… “Useless,” “A Waste of Money”
By Andrew Hill
Go to your internet browser, open it up and navigate over to Google. Input “consultants are” and you will find the top four automatic responses returned by the world’s most popular search engine are as follows: “…useless,” “…like prostitutes,” “…a waste of money,” and “…worthless.” Further review into these stinging criticisms of the field reveal that often this bile is directed more towards general business consultants as demonized in Mike Judge’s 1999 film, “Office Space.”
That said, you don’t have to be named “Bob” to come under accusations of over-charging for services or under-delivering common sense solutions. Sometimes the most consistent part of this job seems to be the perpetual task of justifying your existence. If you are not doing it during the proposal process (“Why should we hire you?”), you will be doing it during the project (“Why should we listen to you?”), or the final presentation (“What did we get for all those fees?”) It seems that for every client or stakeholder left marveling at the depth, breadth and insight of your analysis, there is at least one muttering “I already knew this.”
With all of this going for us, and a struggling economy, it would seem almost impossible to answer the question, “Why hire a parking consultant?” But now, more than ever, it may make sense to look at bringing in a professional. If you look beyond the common conjecture and popular myths, a parking consultant may be exactly what your city, institution or agency needs. Consider the advantages of retaining an outside expert:
Time and Attention
Parking and transportation departments, like almost every other business in America, are trying to do more work with less personnel as the current recession drags on. Often, it is all your staff can do to handle day-to-day operational responsibilities. Hiring a consultant allows you to augment your staff temporarily. The consultant can focus on the resolution of a particular problem, or delivery of a necessary product, without overtaxing your staff or neglecting your customers.
Every consultant should, by definition, offer technical expertise beyond that which the clients can provide themselves. A good consultant also brings with her a varied and colorful past that can be brought to bear on your project. A smart firm will pair consultants who have experience working in similar settings or with similar clients to your practice. A really great consultant will find a way to take disparate experiences from a variety of settings and clients and apply them for the benefit of your project.
One of the principal complaints about bringing in a consultant from the outside is that they don’t know or understand the history and context of the project or surrounding community. In due honesty, this can be an impediment to doing good project work. It can, however, sometimes be an advantage to bring in an outsider who has no personal stake in the question or history with the community to test and evaluate every option. Often the service we, as consultants, provide to our clients is the ability to give them an unbiased solution without the worry of political consequences. Outside consultants appreciate all perspectives on an issue and can present the merits of each potential solution.
One of the most common complaints parking consultants hear is that the solutions that we propose are identical to those put forth by departmental staff; the inference being why is the client paying for something they already knew? Knowing the answer, however, is only half a solution; if the department can’t provide data that supports their idea, build consensus and create buy-in, the problem cannot be resolved. A consultant has the ability to present a case in a voice that is undiluted by familiarity and supported by pre-qualified expertise. In addition, the consultant is also trained to present such arguments with abundant support and objective research.
Especially in the current era of budget cuts and cost reductions, departments, institutions and agencies are being asked to make harder, and less popular policy decisions to make up for lost funding. Often, towns, schools, hospitals, and other entities know what they need to do, but are loath to add to the already considerable burden of their constituents. A consultant can provide both the impartial voice calling for these changes and the focal point for community response. Change, as we all know, tends to be traumatic and emotional; a good consultant can manage this process and also absorb much of the initial reaction from constituents. A great consultant can structure the process in such a way that your parking and transportation staff, who have to live with the new policy long after we are gone, are partners with your constituents in the process, rather than antagonists.
Forward thinking institutions, municipalities and developers realize that good parking consultants can provide a value to their project that can be the difference between their development moving forward or going on hold. Hiring a consultant can ensure a successful project in an economy where failure is no longer an option.
Andrew Hill is a Senior Consultant in Desman Associate’s Boston office. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article Abstract from November, 2011