Canadian Plastics

Why Hire a Consultant?

Every firm tries to get a leg up on its competition. My obvious bias on the subject notwithstanding, I believe that hiring a consultant for professional help is one way to help in getting there sooner rather than later.

May 1, 2004   By Jack Bradley, BA, CITT, P.MM



Every firm tries to get a leg up on its competition. My obvious bias on the subject notwithstanding, I believe that hiring a consultant for professional help is one way to help in getting there sooner rather than later.

The word “consultant” conjures up different visions in the corporate world. There is the standard understanding that a consultant is “someone who provides professional or technical advice”. There is also, however, the old standby that a consultant is someone who “borrows your watch to tell you the time.” As a practitioner in the field, I consider my role to be more one of “facilitator”; one who helps identify opportunities and then champions these opportunities in to real life solutions improving costs and/or processes along the way. It is the consultant’s ability to offer or create these improvements that, when implemented, will ultimately provide a cost-effective, tangible return on the company’s investment in associated consulting fees.

You may have some good ideas on how to improve your logistics processes, but in a time where we are seeing more people wearing several hats, those ideas are often sidelined due to associated time constraints. Because of this, and conflicting goals, decision makers may not be able to “see the forest for the trees”. Of greater concern is the fact they may not be taking advantage (or even be aware) of the tools and tips already available to them to sharpen their focus.

So Now What? (And Why)

A determination of your “logistics” strengths and weaknesses should be conducted to see if there are gains that can be made. For this you might wish to have someone from the outside come in and evaluate your logistics processes. This should be viewed as complementary to your current logistics support and not as a threat to your existence. Consulting requires “buy-in” to the process of continuous improvement. Having another set of “eyes and ears” with industry experience and a finger on trends and best practices will help you evaluate your strengths and weaknesses objectively. This in turn, will help you develop a plan of action; improve operations, costs, and customer service; all of which can create enhanced stakeholder value.

We typically see firms that do a great job at the tactical level and get the job done. What we as consultants can most often help them with is in developing effective strategies. With such strategies firms can benefit from systems that help in improving processes, identifying other opportunities for cost containment, control, and general overall process improvement. Employees are so busy being everything that is necessary for their customers that they forget to evaluate the costs and contributions they could be making toward more efficient operations.

Can some enhancements in software development in the logistics field help with the processing of customer orders, creation of bills of lading, carrier selection? Do you have the right materials handling equipment, warehouse layout, and trained/skilled management and support staff? Do you understand and capture private fleet costs, know how to evaluate those costs and manage to contain or reduce them?

Controlling Complacency

Another factor to consider is complacency in our logistics processes “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Most organizations feel they are doing a good job as long as they recover the (apparent) costs of their logistics processes. After that, “what’s the difference?”

Well it does make a difference, especially if your competitors are tweaking their costs and are improving their services. Doing well today is no promise for tomorrow, and in fact it’s an invitation for complacency to set in, resulting in being “left behind” tomorrow.

We have heard comments like “the company will just pass along the cost of freight, adding some percentage to it.” If this is your yardstick (or is that metre stick?) for evaluating your transportation expenses then you will eventually lose ground to those who see it as a cost to be managed. You and your transport provider must continually be working together to reduce costs. The more you both work together to reduce costs, the better chance that both partners will be rewarded with increased business opportunities.

Consultants can help you with your projects and/or provide an evaluation and determination of “best practices”. They likely have had exposure to a multitude of companies and circumstances, including perhaps some of your competitors.

Leading companies should welcome fresh ideas and embrace change. Recognizing it and getting a corporate senior level buy in is most important. You may have tremendously dedicated people but even they need some assistance along the way in evaluating alternatives. Facilitate them. You’d be surprised what you might learn and the competitive gains you might enjoy.


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