IT is Information Technology, 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:
Cloud Computing. 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."
Big Data. Organizations have increased the amount of data they gather by orders of magnitude in recent years. To make use of all this data, companies needs 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.
Outsourcing. 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 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.