From In-House To Consultancy: Moving To The “Dark Side”

Consultant

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 is Technical Consultant at Plan-Net. After more than a decade working in technical roles such as server analyst and infrastructure solutions architect, she has recently made the leap to consultancy. Her technical background and experience of working in-house is valuable in helping client organisations complete their infrastructure projects successfully as well as advising them on the best solutions to improve their IT function.