I had an interesting meeting this morning with Harry McDermott, the chief exec of a company called Hudson & Yorke, which provides consulting on negotiating LAN, WAN, voice, mobilty, conferencing and other networking and comms packages.
Perhaps the most interesting thing his company can do is help CIOs and others negotiating large, multi-year contracts that typically cost 100m euros and north. His 30 staff pride themselves on the ability to understand technology trends, spot value, decode contract terms and get you thought the convoluted process of discovering pricing models, SLAs and patching the transition/transformation period of bringing in new suppliers.
The pitch is good: CIOs spend between 18 and 30 per cent of their budgets on connectivity kit and people. Use Hudson & Yorke's bright people and you stand to save 10 to 15 per cent of the contract cost. That's serious money.
Sound too good to be true? Maybe but anybody who has been around this business for more than five minutes will know stories about waste on a massive scale because Ts and Cs were not properly understood, because break clauses were not set, or though other snafus. When the going is good these tend to be swept under the carpet but, at times like this, they're part of the spring cleaning and will get aired.
Being a huge fan of CIO columnist Andy Hayler's tales of everyday IT madness, its clear to me that even the largest firms -- especially the largest firms, you might argue -- are prone to all manners of oversight. The sellers are the specialists in their domains but for buyers it's just yet another non-core activity.
That's why I'm generally a supporter of boutique consultants that are lean and hungry and know how to do a single thing very well. Look, for example, at another one-trick pony, Miro Consulting, an outfit that helps firms figure out Oracle contracts; books that are as long and complex as some of the more abstruse works of German philosophers.
These two aren't alone, of course. There are also law firms out there with practices specialising in negotiation and renegoitiation of bespoke sofware and servcies deals, for example, but I like the niche-ness of their approaches and their resistance to chasing the horizontal buffet of opportunities craved by the big consultants.
What these companies have in common is a promise to save you a boatload of money by applying deep nous. Are there catches in hiring them? Maybe: you run the risk of upsetting the relationship with the supplier and the services don't come gratis. But then it's not supposed to be a love-in, is it, and the money on the table needs to be looked after.