INTERVIEW: Colby Thames (President - On Demand Delivery, BSG)

Colby Thames has lived in the world of traditional consulting and large account management for a many years. At SunGard Data Systems, he was responsible for the company’s largest accounts, and before that he founded a consulting company and worked for Ernst & Young.

Colby Thames has lived in the world of traditional consulting and large account management for a many years. At SunGard Data Systems, he was responsible for the company’s largest accounts, and before that he founded a consulting company and worked for Ernst & Young. However, what really caught my eye is Colby’s present position, President for On Demand Delivery, at BSG Alliance Corporation.

BSG Alliance is trying to re-shape the traditional systems and business consulting in a way that reflects the latest tools and techniques for reducing project size and keeping project risk low. Based on this backdrop, I asked Colby some questions to help us understand what his company is doing to reduce failures on software implementation projects.

1. How does BSG’s consulting delivery model differ from more traditional approaches?

BSG helps its customers drive business innovation through use of technology. As a result, our projects are typically highly strategic, often serving complex businesses in situations where packaged software doesn’t exist or is inadequate to meet our customers’ needs. Traditional consulting delivery tends to be overly-focused on driving billable hours rather than delivering business value to the customer. We’ve invested substantial resources to construct a model addressing this shortcoming in the traditional approach.

Earlier this year, we acquired a business strategy consulting group, BSG Concours, as part of our effort to build a new type of consulting model. This acquisition gives us the real capability to define and drive business value, executing projects with high strategic importance and C-level endorsement. From the perspective of this value-based mindset, we’ve examined various project-related factors, such as the available technology and toolsets, software development methodologies, and the composition of our project teams.

Web 2.0 technologies, such as SOA, RIA, and so on, are finally delivering the software development cost and time benefits that we’ve been seeking for years. BSG makes extensive use of Web 2.0 technologies to enhance our projects, and we’re taking it a step further by developing an on-demand application framework to facilitate even more rapid technology deployment.

We’re firm believers in the Agile development paradigm. In our experience, Agile development leads to more engaged user communities, faster delivery cycles, and shorter user adoption curves. [Ed. note: see my interview with Don Dodge for more comments on using the Agile process to reduce project failures.]

Successfully deploying technology in complex environments can best be accomplished using smaller, more experienced project teams working in very close proximity to the user community. We use a ‘special forces’ approach to contain project cost and risk; this is superior to the highly people-intensive model often used in traditional consulting delivery models.

2. Are your projects really more successful than those performed by other consulting companies?

Our approach is tailored to the business problems we’re trying to solve. BSG works with organizations looking to renew themselves into next generation enterprises; success in their most important business initiatives is often highly dependent on the technology we are building with them. It’s these cases, where the technology and business stakes are both so high, which forced us to deeply consider the implications of our delivery model.

Consulting models that contain heavy project management controls do help limit risk, but they can also slow delivery and prove more costly. On the other hand, projects that don’t carefully adhere to a solid delivery methodology can quickly veer off course. We balance the elements of control and delivery speed to reduce risk while remaining responsive to our customers’ requirements.

The rhythm of our delivery process (shorter, more intense cycles, with deep customer involvement) produces a noticeable uptick in the emotional investment of the combined BSG-customer team. Our approach definitely erodes the ‘us vs. them’ mentality, which is so prevalent in many consulting arrangements. This ‘blended team’ method correlates very strongly with project success.

Clearly, some consulting organizations are successful using traditional approaches. However, having personally worked for large, conventional IT services companies, and seeing the results we’ve achieved to date at BSG, our model is clearly superior and produces better results for our customers.

3. Is this strictly a function of better project management, or are you doing something substantively different than everyone else?

Great project management is a non-negotiable ingredient, and we employ some of the best in the business. It’s critical for keeping projects on track, managing scope, and perhaps most importantly, managing the expectations and communications among the various project stakeholders. Our success to date results from a combination of the elements I mentioned before: delivering a business solution via BSG Concours, making full use of Web 2.0 technologies, adhering to the Agile approach, and bringing highly-experienced delivery teams to our projects.

We’ve also developed organizational self-awareness, which has helped us understand the importance of using smaller teams with more frequent deliverable ‘chunks’. The implication of this for billable hours and contract negotiations is significant.

Over the long-term, our on-demand Software as a Service (SaaS) application framework, which is currently under development, differentiates us substantively from the competition. This framework will enable BSG to deploy technology more rapidly and much more cost effectively than would be possible using traditional IT delivery models. SaaS applications reduce the implementation and infrastructure issues that are often associated with enterprise software deployment; our customers love that.

4. Why don’t more consulting companies follow this model?

Without a doubt, our approach will become more prevalent for companies trying to solve similar problems. We’re not the first company to advocate Agile development, but delivery models will adjust as more companies increasingly deploy Web 2.0 technologies.

Many of the global system integration (SI) companies are focused on different technology problems than ours. BPO or ERP implementations, for example, are better addressed by using large development teams located offshore in labor arbitrage markets. Although these consulting organizations have workable models for their focus, I question whether they can easily adapt to matters of complexity and innovation.

5. Your projects tend to be smaller, shorter, and more controlled than the larger software implementation efforts out there. In your private moments, do you sometimes hanker after these huge, money-churning engagements?

Of course we don’t walk away from large projects. However, we deliver those projects in smaller, shorter, and more controlled chunks than other companies!

[Thanks to Susan Scrupski for arranging this interview.]

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