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Advantages of Using a Boutique Consultancy

There are many reasons to seek the assistance of an outside consulting firm. The most common reasons we see are:

  • You have too much on your software roadmap and desire a trusted partner who can deliver some portion of the roadmap to your standards. Hiring is expensive, so bringing someone in to accelerate development is enticing.

  • You have identified a new ideal technology for a particular problem but lack in-house expertise. Partnering with a team who can work alongside your team to teach best practices while implementing the technology sets you up for success.

When choosing a consulting agency, there are many choices. A large consultancy can appear attractive because they claim to perform a broader set of services and can be held accountable for more work, providing the illusion of efficiency in fewer contracts and a single point of contact for escalating concerns. While these are advantages on the administrative side, if you dig deeper, you will find many other inefficiencies and pitfalls when doing business with these larger organizations. Here are five examples of why a boutique consulting company can be a better choice for you:

In larger consulting firms, the sales and delivery teams are usually disconnected. The sales team gets bonuses and incentives based on what it sells and is not worried about how the work gets done or whether there is the capacity for taking on new work. In a boutique consulting company, the delivery engineers who will be executing the work are incorporated from the start to discover pain points, define the work, and estimate the level of effort. They have the direct experience to make accurate estimates resulting in realistic expectations from the beginning and giving the delivery team a much better chance to meet those expectations.

We had a prospect come to us with a severe pain point. The application powering their large and complex website had suffered from neglect and needed urgent attention. Periods of downtime were unacceptable, and they didn’t have modern, resilient REST services to power a mobile application. The client had another “sales-forward” organization tell them they needed to throw everything away and start over. This competitor proposed a 2-year project requiring a small army of engineers. Rather than guess what they needed, Commerce Architects sent in 2 of our principal architects to assess the situation during an 8-week discovery phase. Our “engineer-forward” approach of digging into the code and analyzing the application revealed a better plan. We created a roadmap to refactor the existing application and introduce modern REST services with robust monitoring and alerting. Our proposal would take nine months with a gradual ramp-up to 10 engineers as work was ready and a subsequent ramp down as we got through the bulk of the development. We hit the deadline on time while finishing slightly under budget. The architects who performed the assessment stayed on as active team members throughout the project to ensure we delivered as promised.

In contrast to larger consulting firms that attempt to do everything, boutique consulting firms typically have a narrower focus on a core set of technologies. In the case of Commerce Architects, we have been building large-scale transactional websites that orchestrate billions of dollars in annual transactions for 13 years. We aren’t going to try to solve your call center problems or build your mobile applications. However, we will deliver for you if you want rock-solid, cloud-based microservices to power your business. In addition, we have well-established partners who are best-in-class in other areas and will refer them to you if appropriate.

Commerce Architects had a client who hosted their Software-as-a-Service product in Rackspace. Unfortunately, Rackspace didn’t offer the agility or cost-effectiveness of a true cloud environment like AWS. As a result, the client asked us to assist with migrating to AWS. Since we don’t specialize in large-scale lift-and-shift migrations or the following managed services, we pulled in one of our partners. This partner is an AWS Premium Tier Partner with a sole focus on migrations and cloud-managed services. This resulted in less work for Commerce Architects, but our client got a best-of-breed solution and was grateful for our referral. We are still working for this happy client and continue to focus on modernizing their application in AWS, which is the sweet spot of our core competency.

We frequently hear from our larger enterprise clients that they want to be more agile and innovate more like a startup. However, it is difficult to infuse that startup mentality into an existing team who has come to accept the slow pace of a large organization. The lean organizational structure of a boutique consultancy allows, and sometimes requires, more startup-like agility. When slower-moving enterprise organizations receive exposure to the speed and agility of a boutique consulting company, they see how quickly innovation can happen. We have seen this motivate internal teams and change the culture of whole engineering departments.

We have a relatively small team working within a much larger engineering organization at one of our clients. The client engineers outnumber us 10:1, and they had been talking about either building or buying an experimentation service to be used by the large number of microservices that power their website. There was talk, then more talk, and even more talk, and no walking whatsoever. Our team had been itching to get actual data to direct our feature development, so we decided to build a quick cloud-native experimentation service coupled with an existing segmentation service to experiment with our service. Our team designed, built, and launched an MVP experimentation service in less than two months. Many other microservices now use the service, and it constantly provides insights and improves user experience.

For smaller organizations, every project is vital to the financial success and well-being of the company. If a large consulting organization has one project go sideways, that’s not alarming since they have tens or hundreds of other concurrent projects. However, when each project represents a significant portion of revenue, the boutique consulting organization has heightened motivation for ensuring it goes successfully.

We typically staff teams of 6-12 people on projects. That means we only have 5-6 projects going at one time. Every single one of these projects is extremely important to us. Our comprehensive documentation and knowledge transfer practices make it so our clients can stop using us at any time. However, the sense of urgency we bring to our projects results in a level of service that our clients want to keep buying. The proof of this can is in the numbers. Of our current three largest clients, they have engaged us continuously for over two years, and in one case, more than six years.

The boutique consulting company has a lower overhead than a large consulting company. If you have layer upon layer of non-billable resources, then you have to charge more for your billable people. When you use a large consulting firm, you pay for much more than the engineering talent on your project. With the boutique consulting organization, you get more engineering value from your consulting budget.

Given that our clients are in the mid-market segment or above, they have seen many consulting organizations before us. They have paid much more for someone claiming to offer a similar level of service. Our smaller teams of highly-trained experts focused solely on their core competencies deliver much higher value than the larger, bloated consulting organizations. The most extreme example is when one of our clients accepted our bid for a $2.1M project and rejected a $10M+ proposal to do the same work over a much more extended period. We delivered what we promised on time and slightly under budget. It may sound too good to be true, but a consulting company founded and run by an all-engineering group is focused on value and efficiency.

Working with a boutique consulting company like Commerce Architects results in higher value, fewer surprises, and realistic expectations. You won’t fall into the trap of a slick salesperson who overpromises while the development team has no chance of delivering on those promises. Our track record of on-time and on-budget delivery speaks for itself: We have 100% referenceability with every one of our clients and welcome all prospective clients to talk to any one of them.


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