Chapter 18. The Toolkit Approach to Consulting
In this chapter, I speak of the consultant in the framework of the independent, self-employed individual. Staff consultants, those who are employed by technology companies, are no less consultants, and some of this information certainly applies to them, too. However, a good portion of this content is related to those issues that are specific to the independent.
The path to consultant is one that many technologists have taken. However, with a tighter job market, many are finding that the move, once so attractive, is more challenging. It's not because companies aren't hiring consultants; rather, it's because technology professionals who are currently employed are hesitant to leave the perceived security of their current position.
The consulting/contractor industry, despite being slightly less appealing of late, will continue to serve a valuable purpose. In addition, those who can create the "complete consultant" package will still garner high pay and find ample opportunity. In fact, Bruce Tulgan's book, Winning the Talent Wars, indicates that the economy is moving closer to a true free-agent, talent-driven workforce. This is good news for those who are interested in consulting.
In short, companies are now staffing for projects and talent, not for long-term commitments. This means that the need for independent contractors will continue to rise.
During the technology boom between 1995 and 1999, many technologists were drawn into contract agreements. Large hourly rates and a glut of projects made the move simple, requiring little personal marketing and, in many cases, even less hands-on ability.
Corporate America became caught up in the technology craze, abandoning more conservative models of profit and return on investment. Because of their need to ensure that their technology was up to date, these companies began throwing large sums of money at ill-advised and poorly planned technology projects.
This created an artificial salary curve that skewed many technology professionals' view of their long-term worth. A veritable industry gold rush ensued, with college students quickly shifting majors from anything to information technology (IT).
The seemingly endless need created a talent hunt that left few out of its sights. Consultants popped up everywhere, many of whom had never worked previously in corporate America or implemented much in the way of technology.
But as quickly as the boom began, it ended. Contractors who had previously had their phones ringing with prospective projects suddenly found themselves reducing their rates. And instead of referring to themselves as consultants, they more accurately stated that they were out of work.
However, consulting can be rewarding both financially and personally. A truly effective consultant can take satisfaction from knowing that he provides excellent advice and implementation skills to his clients. Few industries warrant a need for consultants the way that technology does.
This is because of the transitory nature of technology. Normally, a company implements technology and then grows the usage of that technology until such a time that business growth or technology direction warrants a change. It is during these times, when the company's technology must change, that a company finds itself in a transition period.
During these transitory periods, the in-house staff, saddled with maintaining the day-to-day operations, has neither the time nor the necessary skills in the latest technology. Consultants serve the valuable role of introducing new technology effectively into an organization. They might be involved in the recommendation, the implementation, and the training of in-house staff.
In addition, smaller companies—those that don't warrant a full-fledged IT department—can use a consultant or consulting company to outsource their IT functions.