Archive for the ‘IT consultant’ Category

From in-house to consultancy: moving to the ‘dark side’

November 23, 2011

There are many exciting directions a career path can take when one works in the IT field. This is not exclusive to skill development or career advancements within the same company or field. Many IT people with in-house experience at some point choose to ‘move to the dark side’ and embrace the world of consulting. It can be a positive change for a Service Desk-bound professional to finally be able to get to the clients directly without all the layers of sales people, and be able to make good use of the inside knowledge they acquired by advising companies in different fields and with different environments on what is best for them.

Moving to consultancy is a choice that more and more IT professionals are making, while other professions are slowly becoming less popular. According to the research paper ‘Technology Insights 2011’ published by e-skills UK, there were as many as 149,000 ‘IT Strategy and Planning’ professionals in the UK in 2010. This category consists of professionals who provide advice on the effective utilisation of information technology in order to solve business problems or to enhance the effectiveness of business functions, and in particular computer and software consultants. This sector has an average growth of 2.22% per annum and is expected to grow by another 29,800 people by 2019, with 178,900 professionals working as IT consultants in the UK. Whereas the IT Strategy and Planning field has enjoyed a growth of 15% since 2001, jobs like computer engineers and database assistants on the other hand have decreased, the latter category by a striking -34%. It is evident that the more technical roles are suffering from the increased use of automation software, remote support and best practice processes that allow less skilled and therefore cheaper staff to take the place of qualified engineers without losing efficiency. So it is no surprise that more strategic roles are winning ground and many techies are making the choice to use their skills in the role of advisers.

While moving to a consultancy role can be a very positive choice for an IT professional from a career point of view, it might however also face the person with new challenges – in particular, the negative prejudice they could encounter when approaching clients. Consultants are often seen as salespeople who want to trick companies into buying their services, perhaps long projects that they don’t really need, and overcharge them when they could do the same work themselves, for less. This gives way to many issues. It is difficult for consultants to get hold of business heads or get them to listen to their proposals, and when they do manage to have a meeting, they need to be very well-prepared and find the right balance between cost and quality, where they do not undersell or oversell their services. Finally, they have greater responsibility with regards to the outcome than they had in their in-house role, so it is important that their plan is feasible and effective and that they check and monitor constantly to be sure that everything is going as expected, making any necessary correction along the way.

It is not all bad, of course. At the top of the ‘positives’ list, there is the fact that consultants get to see many different environments, rather than just a few in their career lifespan. This allows them to build a greater, wider knowledge and experience base and improve their professional skills. But it also helps to avoid the feeling of stagnancy, keeping their level of enthusiasm high as they can enjoy working on a variety of projects.

A former in-house professional may also have some advantages over consultants who do not have that kind of background: having experienced ‘the other side’ helps them understand what clients want and, especially, don’t want from a consultancy, so that they can deliver a better service and even identify new work opportunities. They know and understand how things work inside organisations – the communication issues between business and IT, the difficulty in justifying IT projects to the CFO or the blaming game when a project doesn’t go as predicted.

Balancing all the positive and negative sides of this move, one thing is certain: these kinds of professionals have an edge over those without an in-house background, and can therefore be a valued acquisition for a consultancy firm as well as a resourceful advisor for any company in need of IT improvements. And if taken advantage of appropriately, work success and personal satisfaction are natural consequences.

 

 

Jennifer Norman, Technical Consultant

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Brace for the feared double dip: IT planning can maximise mergers and acquisitions

October 28, 2011

As the business world lies in fear of a double-dip recession, companies are advised to ‘think smart’ and try to find a way to profit from further economic downturn and not to simply aim to survive it. Or, if they are struggling, to have a ‘rescue plan’ in place that will spare them from drowning in debt or sinking altogether. As a consequence, mergers and acquisitions flourish remarkably in times of financial difficulties, and can be a way to gain during a tough spell – either by buying or joining with another business and expanding or by selling up before collapsing completely.

Mergers and acquisitions, however, are not just the ‘combining of commercial companies into one’ (to quote the mini Oxford dictionary). Business leaders are missing a significant trick if the joining of two businesses is not maximised, i.e. that the market share of the new entity is greater than the sum of the two companies when operating on their own.

It is, however, an ever repeating trend that mergers and acquisitions do not address operational, cultural and technology considerations as part of the consolidation. These often remain ‘off the radar’ long after the legal part of the merger or acquisition is complete.

So, rather than just ‘think smart’, a better message is perhaps for companies to ‘think smarter during tight times and to make the most of these mergers and acquisitions right from the start, by ensuring that the fabric of the new bigger company is appropriately adapted so that it functions in a manner that maximises the now greater trading capabilities.

Those within the IT services industry will have experienced customer organisations that bear the signs of a merger or acquisition and, worst still, continue to tolerate them. The tell-tale signs are classic and include: performance issues; geographically separate and siloed support teams; a large list of supported applications; technical complexities; a high support staff headcount; a disproportionate number of managers; and complex organisational structures. None of these ‘features’ of an organisation can positively contribute to its on-going ability to compete and win in its market place. And if the cost of these inefficiencies could be demonstrated, senior management might just fall off their chairs.

The good news is that mergers and acquisitions can be conducted with a better overall outcome at low cost – through the use of some external aid. These are the kind of projects where the use of a consultancy can really make a difference. Employed during and soon after the merger to improve what is at heart of an improved approach to mergers and acquisitions, ‘people, process and technology’, the cost of a consultant will be a drop in the ocean compared with the overall cost of trying to fix all the possible IT-related faults and issues in the years following the merger or acquisition. The value of the work is likely to be recovered quickly by enabling the business to operate better and by making people’s working practices more efficient. Efficiencies will emerge during the analysis stage of consultancy by identifying opportunities for synergy which will have a positive impact on the on-going investment made by the business in people and systems. The outcome: doing more and doing it better, with less.

So far, all this sounds obvious and nothing more than common sense – so why is it that the ‘people, process and technology’ side of mergers and acquisitions isn’t dealt with early on? Speed, assumption and procrastination are usually the causes.

‘Speed’, because a merger or acquisition deal is usually time sensitive, and focus must be on closing the deal by a given date. ‘Assumption’ because aspects like company culture, people, processes and technology are assumed to be similar and therefore likely to gel. ‘Procrastination’ because activities required to streamline the new business are often planned post-deal, but with human nature being what it is, the plans take an age to implement or never happen at all.

So, if like the United States Army you want to ‘be all you can be’, it is important that people, processes and technology are properly considered and addressed as part of a possible merger or acquisition. You should ensure the IT planning and transformation work starts during the merger/acquisition process so that its importance is clear and understood, then follow it through post-deal before your people return to their normal mode of operation and their old working ways. And, if you are using a service provider for any or all of these steps, be sure to choose one that has a record for properly identifying synergies and efficiencies and who have successfully implemented these. As the recession will not be worsened by losses caused by a faulty or inefficient IT service, the outcome of a well-planned IT merge will surely make the difference.

 

Jon Reeve, Principal Consultant

IT consultants should drop the ITIL clichés to win clients over

October 14, 2011

Good sense and demonstrable results make a winning proposal

Things have significantly changed since the recession affected companies’ budgets and made them re-think their needs and priorities – something IT consultancies have to take into consideration when proposing their services.  ITIL, once a priority within many corporate IT strategies and individual’s personal development plans, is no longer regarded in quite the same way.

‘ITIL is dead’ and other similar statements have been circulated in past months within the IT press. But this is not exactly the case: it’s not that ITIL is dead – there’s plenty left in it yet; it’s simply that ITIL is now ubiquitous within IT and everyone’s had as much as they can take of ‘ITIL this’ and ‘ITIL that’.  IT Managers now want sensible solutions to their IT problems, where value can be demonstrated and which are based on sound thinking and good old common sense.

ITIL is therefore still important; it’s simply not the whole of the answer anymore.

When contributing to customer proposals, I’m finding it difficult to write lines such as ‘support the needs of your business’ or ‘align with best-practice’.  These rather out-of-date terms no longer need to be said. After all, who would buy IT services that weren’t these things?

With a growth in global IT spending this year predicted by analysts such as Gartner and Forrester, IT consultancies have to really think about what to offer clients.  The rest of this year and the next will see an increase in companies buying IT consulting services, which together with software and system integration services are expected to account for 44% of the global IT market.

But if we’re not paying homage to ITIL anymore, what is it that needs to be said when pitching for IT services work?  The answer is quite simple, though it does require credible and demonstrable qualities from those submitting their proposals.  The problem or requirement needs to be fully understood, preferably backed with supporting data that is undisputed.  The solution proposed has to make good sense and be achievable, and the cost of the exercise must clearly demonstrate value to the customer.

As a result, it is likely that IT services companies will need to invest more time in the requirement, supported with sound data analysis, ahead of writing the proposal.  This does mean a greater willingness to invest time before formally engaging with the customer, but, following this, they will have written a proposal which is specifically focused on what will be done (without all the gushing marketing speak).  If compared with proposals from a few years ago, it will lack the blurb and clichés that we’ve all endured for so long and will be clear, detailed and relevant.

Of course, this does mean that businesses needing help need to be a little more forthcoming with providing data, and even access to the business, ahead of receiving any proposal.  They will also need to avoid unnecessarily ‘playing the field’ with IT consultancies, because, by investing a greater amount of unpaid work ahead of submitting a proposal, consultancies will be less inclined to continue in their efforts for no return.  But the outcome of this fresher approach will be far more useful than has been experienced previously.

 

Jon Reeve, Principal Consultant

 

This column originally appeared on ITSM Portal: http://www.itsmportal.com/columns/it-consultants-should-drop-itil-clich%C3%A9s-win-clients-over

 

5 reasons to employ an IT consultant

May 23, 2011

Have you ever found yourself in that situation where you look all over the place for your glasses, until someone tells you they are on your head? When it comes to IT, it can be difficult to see what is wrong with the system you are using and how it can be improved when you are directly involved in it. In these cases, an external view would be helpful – and it is also beneficial when you don’t have the time or resources to maintain up to date knowledge of your sector’s latest developments or have little experience of alternative environments and IT systems and the benefits they may bring. There are many reasons why the use of an external consultant for IT projects covering infrastructure, service management and even security will bring advantages. Here are five reasons why it is beneficial to use an IT consultant for making improvements to your IT Service Desk:

1 – Unbiased view

An external view can be more objective than an internal one. People directly involved with the IT Service Desk may not want to admit that the Desk is not delivering well, fearing it might be seen as being their fault; that their latest project wasn’t managed or delivered correctly or was a waste of money; or even that some roles, perhaps theirs, might be unnecessary. Some Service Desk managers are protective about how well their department is doing to avoid losing their job or reputation, and prefer to be creative with figures to give the rest of the business the impression their Service Desk is generally doing better than it actually is. As for consultants, it is in their own interest to be completely transparent in the results of their assessment and to make the appropriate recommendations in order to improve service levels and overcome existing issues, demonstrating evidence of the results to the organisation who hired them.

2 – Diverse experience

Normally, an experienced consultant will have worked with many other organisations from different industry sectors and with different solutions for their IT, and they can compare your solution with others, noticing differences and similarities. They might also have experience of new technologies and processes that you are thinking of implementing. Having seen what worked and what didn’t in other contexts, they will be able to suggest the adoption of processes, tools or management systems already in use in other environments that may be suitable for yours. Thanks to this experience, the risk of implementing the wrong solution is minimised and so are the chances of losing money, time and efficiency.

3 – Similar experiences

Consultants may also have experience of environments that are similar to yours, either because they are the same type of company, from the same sector or are using the same IT system. This can obviously bring some advantages – consultants can compare your system to others in use in similar environments and recognise where improvements can be made and pitfalls avoided quickly. Based on this analysis, they can easily make recommendations relating to changes that are quick and easy to implement as they already have proven results. Consultants’ experience is a precious instrument to add value to your IT projects.

4 – Professional skills

With certifications on top of their experience, consultants are usually more prepared than in-house staff. Since their work involves helping people make the right decisions, it is part of their job to keep up to date with the latest technologies, processes and case studies and be able to suggest the right choices, tailored to each individual environment. Obviously, certification alone does not mean a person is able to put theory into practice, therefore it is very important that you choose your consultant carefully, checking if they have already worked with organisations that are similar to yours or have experience of similar environments to be more certain they will be able to meet your particular needs.

5 – Cost savings

Hiring a consultant for your IT projects is less expensive than training your Service Desk manager for every new tool, technology or process, not to mention perhaps taking them out of their day job and having to back fill. For instance, you may want to implement a new tool set and align that to a couple of ITIL processes, those that are relevant to your organisation, without putting your managers through the whole training. An external consultant can perform a short assessment of your environment and from this will make specific recommendations for service improvement, process design and Implementation as well as clarifying requirements for toolset evaluation and selection. This is an advantage of having previous experience: this way, it is easier to understand if it fits the company’s structure and aims – and avoid wasting financial resources on dead-end projects.

External help for your internal needs

Investing in your in-house IT staff, keeping them up to date with the latest innovations within IT and educating them to Best Practice and the culture of constantly changing and adapting will surely have a positive outcome, but the skills your organisation has internally might not be enough if you want to reach maximum efficiency, cost savings and keep innovation risks down to a minimum. For every improvement needed, the use of a consultant trained and experienced in that field can be a less expensive and more effective choice that can ultimately improve the success of your IT projects and add value to your bottom line.

Sharron Deakin, Principal Consultant