There have recently been many blog posts exploring and debating the differences between Healthcare IT Staff Augmentation and Consulting firms. I believe the conversation began with newbie Healthcare IT Today blogger Arthur Damon’s post Why Many HIT Pros and Facilities are Choosing Staffing Firms Over Consulting Firms where he presented reasons why he believes consultants and hospitals should or are using staff augmentation firms. He made several generalizations that I would like to present the counter-argument to, and as a member of a consulting firm, build the counter-case.
Before I get to that, I’d also like to direct readers to veteran blogger Shirley Corsey’s post HIT Staffing vs. Consulting Firms – Going for the Gold! I found her post to be informative and an exciting read in which she compared staffing and consulting firms to America’s London 2012 Olympians individual and team medalists respectively. Both Shirley and I have worked for each type of firm and I found her comparison to be spot on as well as her sentiment that to execute an EMR implementation, a hospital will need resources most likely in both forms; think IT Governance and project management methodologies from a well-versed consulting firm and analyst build resources and trainers from a staffing firm.
However, back to presenting my counter-arguments to Arthur’s pro-staffing points.
Consulting Firms Use Only Their People – This is not necessarily true especially when a consulting firm may not have consultant assets at all levels of skills and experience for the implementation. For instance, many traditional consulting firms will not staff go live trainers because keeping those high volume individuals (a project needs more trainers than project managers) under their employ may not be feasible for the firm and the employee. If you are a trainer, I would highly recommend staffing firms over consulting firms.
The Fit – At a staffing firm, a contractor is typically placed in a contract for something s/he already knows how to do i.e. Facility X needs a CPOE Analyst so that exact person is staffed. However what if you are looking to grow your career for instance a Lead Analyst growing into a Project Manager? Typically staffing firms are helping hospitals fill an exact gap like in the example above. Consulting firms do this, too, but when you are with a consulting firm, your long term career is the focus and placing you on project and with project teams that can grow a person professionally. Those that join a consulting firm will also usually be the recipient of longer term investments like education and training.
The Money is Better – This is an area where I believe more in-depth analysis is needed over the aforementioned generalization. Yes, a staffing firm’s hourly rate will be higher than a consulting firm’s annual salary broken down into an hourly figure, but some careful mathematics is needed surrounding total compensation. Does that high hourly rate come with anything? Benefits? What about an employer-contributed 401K? Vacation and holiday pay? Also, the big one, bench and training time pay? A potential consultant should look very carefully at these numbers and subtract all my questions above from their hourly rate. I would also recommend accounting for the fact that a staffing firm often has no obligation to an employee once a contract ends i.e. once you finish working your contract, you will no longer be paid by that staffing firm. Now you’ve gone from a high hourly rate to no hourly rate. I like to call this, high pay, high risk.
For many, what consulting firms provide outside of just the hourly rate such as benefits are key. As well as stability of employment and other qualitative attributes like firm culture, organizational commitment, a predictable stable of colleagues, learning and development among others.
Ok, so which is the best – staffing or consulting? The answer is neither. The right question is, in your career, which type of firm is right for you?!