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Cliff Holste

Supply Chain Digest
Material Handling Editor

Logistics News - Sorting It Out

Cliff Holste is Supply Chain Digest's Material Handling Editor. With more than 30 years experience in designing and implementing material handling and order picking systems in distribution, Holste has worked with dozens of large and smaller companies to improve distribution performance.

March 15, 2017

Sorting It Out : Consultant Verses Industry Expert – Understanding The Difference

Knowing Whether to Hire a Consultant or Industry Expert can Save Time & Money


With ProMat 2017 beginning in just two weeks the opportunities for adopting new order fulfillment and shipping technologies will once again be on display. Mixed in with all of the equipment and system providers will be a broad range of service providers offering their project planning, management and system implementation expertise. All of this buzz of activity can be very distracting. This is especially true if you are looking for ideas that may be beneficial to improving your operation.

Holste Says...

Having an independent, properly credentialed and experienced advisor in your corner can save time, money and be reassuring.

What do you say?

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In this case, instead of an actual equipment based solution, you may be searching for someone who is objective, knowledgeable and has some specific experience relative to your business. You would want to work with someone that can listen and be trusted with highly sensitive and confidential information, and who can offer applicable expert advice.

Having an independent, properly credentialed and experienced advisor in your corner can save time, money and be reassuring. The key question is what type of adviser do you need? The following will provide some basic information that may help answer that question.

Independent Industry Consult:

Executive level managers often make the mistake of selecting people like themselves to manage their projects when in fact someone who has different characteristics, such as a more hands on practical thinker, would make the project team more effective. 

Operations managers who are primarily responsible for running day-to-day operations may not be up-to-date on current technologies that can improve DC operations. Therefore, independent consultants are often engaged early in the development process to quickly asses the operation and suggest appropriate and cost effective improvements. An independent consultant can fill the technology gap, develop and present the business case for improvement to the Board of Directors, and provide advice on how best to negotiate with the current workforce to overcome objections and gain buy-in. In addition, an independent consultant can help executive management consider who among the available staff will best champion the project going forward.

Industry Expert:

If management has developed a clear understanding of what needs to be improved, but for whatever reason does not have the internal resources to fully develop and implement the project, then an industry expert may be the answer. Facilitator is the natural role for the industry expert. This can be a single independent trusted advisor or a company that provides design-build services such as a System Integrator.

Specific design, application, and project implementation knowledge of appropriate and up-to-date technologies is the critical skill set. As a follow-up to providing project related advice, the industry expert will do (at a minimum) the following:

  • Collaborate with both internal and external process, operational and functional resources
  • Specify and analyze appropriate data
  • Develop a proposed solution that satisfies operational, schedule, and budget constraints
  • Obtain and evaluate proposals from sub-contractors
  • Develop a project schedule and implementation plan
  • Recommend options and alternatives

Note: If the company is interested in a fast track project then contracting with a single source design-build provider may be the best bet.

Final Thoughts 

As distribution center operations become ever more automated and complex, engaging the specialized skills of a consultant or industry expert will provide an important competitive advantage for shippers looking to improve operations and stay in the game.

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