Information technology (IT) and IT consulting is an umbrella term for a variety of interrelated activities, including:
- Providing advice and expertise on the use of computers, telecommunications equipment, and distribution networks that store, retrieve, transmit, and manipulate data to effectively achieve business objectives, and assessing operational efficiency and capacity of your IT environment
- Planning, designing, testing, implementing and managing IT technologies on behalf of a business
- Developing and supporting change management activities to transition users to new technologies and procedures
- Writing technical and user documentation
- Purchasing hardware and software systems on behalf of a business
- Providing and monitoring network security
- Training and supporting employees and customers in the use of IT technologies
- Staffing technical job functions on a temporary contract basis
An IT consultant can be an individual (either a self-employed independent contractor or a professional employed through a staffing firm), a small, specialized firm, or a large national or multinational company. Generally, smaller companies offer specific competencies and/or serve smaller enterprises; they could also subcontract their unique skill sets to other IT consultancies that serve larger corporate clients.
Some common trends of late include the following subsets.
The big attraction of cloud computing, where your software and data are housed off-premises and accessed via a web portal, is that it's generally less expensive. Moreover, software updates are usually relatively painless, eliminating costly and time-consuming installations, reducing the need for IT consultants. But, as more companies move their data to the cloud, more IT consultants are needed to get them there. It's not just the need to migrate to new technology in the cloud, it's also the need to sure legacy systems work in the cloud.
Thoran Rodrigues, writing in Tech Republic about the new role of IT in a cloud-based world, says:
"In our new world, IT must shift its perspective from owner to custodian. While it is still very important for IT departments to take a proactive approach in learning about and presenting new technologies and solutions to users, the most important side of the updated IT department will be its ability to act as a custodian of multiple technologies and systems. Instead of worrying about purchasing the technology and building out the infrastructure where it will run, it will have to work to ensure that all contracted SLAs are being respected, that the systems are interoperable and can work together, and that the service providers have long-term visions that are compatible with the direction that the company is heading."
Organizations have increased the amount of data they gather by orders of magnitude in recent years. To make use of all this data, companies need to sift it. IT consultants can help parse this data into useful and manageable reports.
In a story on big data in InformationWeek, writer Jeff Bertolucci quotes David McJannet, vice president of marketing for Hortonworks. "Big data isn't this nebulous thing," he said. "Very pragmatically, it's about building net-new analytic applications based on new types of data that (an organization) wasn't previously tracking."
It could make sense for your business to hire outside consultants for this specialized IT task.
It is generally easier and less expensive to have your IT needs handled by outside consultants rather than developing the expertise in-house, particularly given the ever-changing dynamic of IT technologies and requisite competencies to manage them.
One of the advantages of outsourcing IT, according to an article by Colette L. Meehan in the Houston Chronicle online, is that "outsourcing allows management to defer the details to a specialized company. Removing the details permits management to focus on the larger issues within the organization."
Whether you outsource or not, the key to any successful relationship with an IT consultant is always the same: effective communication. You have to ensure that you and the consultant are always on the same page.
And that job belongs to you. The one thing you can't outsource is leadership. You need to stay close to the consultant at the beginning to build a working relationship and ensure that objectives are clear and the measurement of progress is well understood. Then you need to see how the new system is being received and provide feedback to the consultant that others may not feel free to convey.
The internet of things
The internet of things (IoT) is a term used to refer to the network of communications smart devices make with one another. According to an article by Linchpin SEO, over 8 billion devices are connected to the IoT – which is why it’s important that IT consultants understand IoT. Devices no longer require human interference to analyze data and make decisions. Studying the logic and capabilities of the IoT will make it easier to gather analytics, study trends and make predictions.
Blockchain is another technological advancement that is likely to greatly impact our society. Blockchain is closely associated with cryptocurrency, however, it’s a strategy being employed to revolutionize a number of industries. IT consultants are wise to pay attention to blockchain because it will likely provide the technological framework for a variety of transactions. The efficiency and security blockchain enable could transform fields like real estate, law, accounting, and many more. Understanding technology will allow consultants to solve complex problems for clients more effectively.
AI is being adopted more widely every day. Neural nets are used in a variety of different software to analyze data and make decisions. Many technologists predict the future will be something of a fusion between human and artificial intelligence.
Utilizing machine learning to solve problems is a practice every business owner should learn, and that goes double for IT consultants. The benefits of the technology are massive, and understanding the nuances of the field will give you insights into where the culture is headed. The interesting thing about AI is that it has so many potential applications. Those who possess a thorough understanding of the technology will be able to innovate quickly and develop a strong competitive advantage over those who struggle to adapt.