Not All Advice is Created Equal: What to look for in a consultancy
All advice is not created equal

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By Lena J. Weiner

Does anyone else remember a very-odd-but-very-popular 1999 hit called Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen? Presented as a meandering, advice-filled monologue for that year’s graduating class, the only advice the speaker in the song is absolutely certain about is that everyone should wear sunscreen, but suggests further hints for living he would like to offer the young people of the day. Especially the following line:

Be careful whose advice you buy.

While the song speculates that most people who dispense advice are simply telling stories of an alternate path they wish they had taken, in the professional world, some people have less charitable motivations for giving bad advice. And sometimes, they just don’t know what they’re doing. Or they just don’t have experience in the area in which you need expertise.

Getting the right advice to move forward is vital, especially when dealing with something as tricky as a vendor contract or (God forbid) an audit. But before you decide to quite literally buy their advice, consider these questions about a potential consultant.

Do They Have a Conflict of Interest?

A large number of consultants have conflicts of interest. If the consultant you’re considering uses vendor-validated SAM tools, has a partnership with a vendor, or happens to be a former employee of that vendor, beware. 

Be very, very wary of any potential vendor or consultant that may be part of the vendor’s ecosystem and consider looking for a more neutral party. Maybe just this one time, you ask? Before making an exception, check out our previous blog about conflicts of interest for more information on why this is an important consideration.

Is This The Right Consultant for this Job?

Frankly, some consultants and vendors are simply more qualified than others. Especially if you’re dealing with an audit, you want to partner with a consultant who understands the technology itself, understands the vendors involved and their usual habits, the contracts, and the legal aspects as well. 

A good example of this, says Michael Corey, co-founder and chief operating officer at LicenseFortress, is the ex-Oracle auditor who, after leaving Oracle, then goes into consulting. “A lot of people that provide license advice [are] former Oracle auditors…. that’s not a bad thing, but that doesn’t make them a technologist,” he says. More to the point: “They’ve never implemented an Oracle database. And a lot of license savings can come down to understanding exactly how the technology works.” 

Not to insult the ex-Oracle auditors of the world, but wouldn’t you rather have someone who has actually implemented an Oracle database optimizing your licenses rather than someone who simply audited databases? Not everyone can manage your licenses, monitor compliance, defend you in an audit and offer up legal advice (in fact, I can only think of a single organization capable of all of the above), but it’s important to find a consultant (or consultants) who can competently offer all the services you need. 

How Much Experience Do They Have?

Now, I’m not saying that young professionals can’t be very capable. As any ambitious up-and-comer will tell you, sometimes it’s just a question of getting the experience so people will take you seriously. However (and this is a big however), there’s something to be said for experience, especially in an area as niche as this one. 

As an example, Beeman & Muchmore, LLP, a northern California law firm specializing in software licensing and auditing, has a combined 65 years of experience – and it shows. 

“We have experience dealing with the players at Oracle and most of the other major auditors,” says Joel Muchmore, partner and Beeman & Muchmore. “They follow a script… it’s a hard one to divine and a hard one to understand if you haven’t seen it in play before, but once you see it in action, you can start to discern the patterns. But if you… have never gone up against Oracle before… it can be perplexing if not downright baffling.”

Additionally, it bears mentioning that LicenseFortress’ leadership has been working with Oracle database since Oracle 3. While a newbie to this practice area might make a rookie mistake, hiring someone who knows the ropes is a safer bet, especially when millions of dollars are at stake.

What Do Other People Have to Say?

The same way you might check out Yelp to see whether the place you’re grabbing burgers this weekend is a safe bet or see how reliable your neighborhood Post Office is (apparently, this place has more than a couple haters), it’s a good idea to see what people have to say about any consultancy you’re thinking about bringing on. If they get a high score, it’s a great idea to work with them; if not, maybe not so much. In October, LicenseFortress received a Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 92.3%. While this is amazing under any circumstance, it’s even more impressive taking into account that the NPS for technology services industry average is only a dismal 38%. 

So, as the old song says, be careful whose advice you buy – and make sure it’s that of a non-interest conflicted, experienced, and competent consultant – and a great reputation should factor into your choice, too. 

Oh, and wear sunscreen. 

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