We know what being a consultant is like. But what do things look like from the other side? What really is the advantage of using consultants, and what should you consider before hiring one? We had the opportunity to speak with Karin Viestam, who has been buying consultancy services for 20 years. She currently works as Supplier Quality Engineer at JBT FoodTech.

Hi Karin, tell us a bit about yourself!

I’m a chemist who loves to exercise and I have spent my whole life working with mechanics: 20 years in procurement, sourcing and as a procurement manager, ten years in machine development as manager for a group of product developers and, for the last five years, in quality and compliance. Leadership is something that is close to my heart and having had the opportunity to combine this with technology in two of Sweden’s biggest companies — Tetra Pak and IKEA — has been an exciting challenge.

The main benefit is the breadth and experience that a consultant brings. It is easy to become blind to what you see all the time. The solutions you work with, and have sometimes even developed yourself, become obvious and are taken for granted. External expertise allows you to leverage an influx of ideas and influences from our companies and industries. Consultants are often able to question both structures and technological solutions in a constructive way.

Another benefit, of course, is that it simplifies resource management, seeing as the need goes up and down within a development department. By hiring consultants, you can easily boost project staffing with the right expertise throughout the entire development process.

Consultants can also bring an outside perspective and a fresh approach to lifecycle activities. Creating a good partnership with a consultancy firm makes it possible to simply outsource product maintenance that “steals” time from development work. This also give the consultancy firm the opportunity to introduce young technicians and employ consultants who are “on the bench” – making it a win-win solution.

What should a client consider before deciding to hire a consultant?

To me, it is hugely important to ensure that the right person joins the development project. They need to fit in well with the group in order to be able to contribute. The fundamental requirement is naturally the right expertise, but in order to be able to translate that expertise in practice, the team need to gel. Personal chemistry is important.

Giving a good introduction, having all the tools in place, opening up for networks and providing access to the required information. Simply creating the conditions that allow someone to do a good job.

What is the best way of handling the mix of employees and consultants? What do you need to consider?

I don’t think you should differentiate between employees and consultants in any way. I believe that it will be difficult to do a good job unless everyone is given the same working conditions. The consultant must be given the same trust and conditions as the employees; otherwise, the company will not be able to leverage all the expertise that they possess. The consultant is often present for a longer period of time, which makes it even more important not to differentiate. The only thing that truly separates a consultant from an employee is who pays their salary.

The basis for doing a good job is having the right conditions, and that applies to everyone. If someone fails to perform, you need to consider whether they were given the right conditions to begin with, no matter who they are.

How do you think product companies will work with consultants in the future?

I think companies will have to hire in more specialist expertise. The level of technical complexity is increasing, and companies cannot have cutting-edge expertise across all areas in-house. In order to keep up with developments and stay at the forefront, they will need to hire in external expertise in order to succeed.

What is it like to work with Avalon Innovation?

I only have positive things to say about my experiences with Avalon. The collaboration has been straightforward, and they are good at listening and reading my needs as a client. They sound out what expertise is required and identify the solution capable of generating the best possible results for the client. I feel that Avalon’s main focus is finding the right solution for the specific need, and not selling volume and hours. Quality and customer satisfaction over quantity. Of all the consultancy companies that I’ve worked with, Avalon is right up there with the very best in the business.

The interview was conducted by:

Agneta Andersson, Marketing Manager at Avalon Innovation