What Does It Mean To Be an IT Consultant, Really?

by HSG on Apr 15, 2014 in Articles from Software Fans

The line between IT consulting and management consulting is quite often blurred, with overlaps between the two fields habitually happening. Worse still, most people do not understand who an IT consultant really is, or what he/she does. There are those who think the job entails fixing computers, others – selling computers and associated accessories. This is misleading though.

In a nutshell, IT consultants are professionals who aid businesses in deciding what computer tools and technologies are best placed to grow and sustain a profitable business. They work hand in hand with clients to help integrate IT systems into the latter’s business. They show clients how to use technology more efficiently, and in so doing, the client is able to get a higher return on their technology investments, and ultimately, increase the bottom-line.

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IT consultants, or IT advisories, could work independently or for a consulting firm, with their clientele spread across all sorts of businesses and industries. Companies hire or contract the consulting firm to come in and analyze their IT systems and structure.

The job itself is not short of challenges, however, and the path to becoming a successful IT consultant is fraught with its fair share of ups and downs. But hey, which job isn’t? Experience is the best teacher they say, and only after you’ve worked as a consultant for a number of years will you finally gain invaluable understanding of what is expected of you. Learning from the experiences of those who’ve been in this business for long is a good starting point for those who decide to venture into the world of IT consultancy.

The Go-to Guy

According to Tech Republic, one of the biggest mistakes an IT consultant is prone to make is becoming a jack of all trades. It’s advisable to specialize in a particular field of technology rather than trying to master all. Common areas of specialization include infrastructure, data management, security, web analytics, risk management, Java, storage and backup among others. Keeping up with the demands of the industry through continuous education and training would help in staying on top of the game.

The same sentiments are echoed by Computer World where an interview of leading EX-CIOs advise against plastering your business card with the job title ‘IT Consultant’ which isn’t going to land too many clients for you. Specialization is key since people won’t know who you are if you master all technologies; rather, one should start with the two or three things they are best at. It may be tempting to take on everything that is thrown your way, but experts advise against it because in the long run, you risk doing long-term damage to your credibility.

However, this is not to mean you should shun other basic areas a technology expert ought to be proficient at. The reason for this is because clients have a problem differentiating technologies and expect a know-it-all kind of guy. Few can tell the difference between databases and applications, a switch and a router, or even software development and systems administration.

This is particularly the case when you’re attending to smaller businesses. It is not unusual for them to reach out to a technology consultant to help in troubleshooting a stalled email server and expect the same technician to also flawlessly troubleshoot and repair a failed PBX phone system whose manufacturer went under years ago, a decade-old digital video recorder or a CCTV system integrated with a legacy access control system that never came with documentation.

So, what exactly is expected of an IT consultant?

Roles/Responsibilities of an IT Consultant

Working as temporary staff: Small businesses tend to have temporary, one-time project needs that don’t necessitate the need to hire staff on a full-time basis. Hiring IT consultants, or outsourcing your IT requirements if you rather, is more cost-effective than having staff employed on a full-time basis.

Providing specialized expertise: IT consultants are trained to offer specialized expertise that an organization may lack in-house. This offers access to certain specialties that a company may not have, minus the costs involved in training internal staff to carry out the same duties.

Offering unbiased, objective advice: An outside consultant is required to offer insight into how to proceed with various technological changes, upgrades or other choices that a small business and its day-to-day operations could be faced with. The good thing with an outside IT consultant with respect to this is that they are not biased in their selection of a given technology that inside staff would otherwise opt for based on personal reasons and preferences.

Outsourcing all or part of an organization’s IT needs: Some companies may lack the financial muscle to hire full-time in-house staff to take care of their IT needs. Outside technology consultants can recommend what can or cannot be outsourced, or they could even perform the duties they recommend for outsourcing. For many a business, outsourcing IT-related services enables them to focus on their areas of expertise rather than wasting time and effort musing over yet another infrastructure issue that would be better left to the experts.

Last Word

IT consultants possess the skills and knowledge to deploy multiple solutions that solve many problems, and not the ones just listed here. They could train staff so that it knows how to fully harness the benefits of a company’s technological tools. Being answerable to the client, they also generate periodic reports that details the implementation processes to the client, not to mention reviewing the technology in use periodically and coming up with recommendations for system enhancement.

For all that, you need capable hands to do this for you: hands that will guarantee a return for your money.  “Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.” Thomas A. Edison


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