As technology drives commerce, business is moving in a different direction. And that paves the way for a new type of consultant - one that specializes in technology and its application to business.
are really blurred now by what is a business strategy and what is IT," says Linda Cohen of Gartner Group.
"People are looking for someone with very specific technology competence plus a very strategic process competency."
According to IDC, the worldwide IT consulting market will almost double by 2003.
"We are usually called in when there is a problem or something they want to accomplish that they are just not able to do themselves. They don't have the time, human resources, or expertise," says Scott Engelman, a technology manager at Ernst & Young Consulting Services. Engleman recently worked on a three-year project helping a large hospital chain put in a new patient-management system.
When you're ready to hire an IT consultant, an assessment is usually the first step. According to senior manager John Norkus at New York–based Deloitte Consulting, what a company thinks it needs often differs drastically from what it really needs. Recently Norkus was approached to put in an information system for a client. After analyzing the problem, he decided it was a no-go: "We told them that putting in an information system wasn't going to help them. To a certain extent, it was only going to help them do the things they were doing wrong faster."
Technology consultants say that timelines are commonly considered rough at best. With technology changing so rapidly, most of these firms get paid hourly rather than with a fixed price. Projects often start at $100,000 and climb into the millions.
If your company wants to update an aging network or move to a new technology, calling an IT consultant may be a good idea. By 2002, Gartner Group estimates, nearly half the staff of a typical IT department will consist of consultants - up from 7 percent a decade earlier.
"Skills are very short in IT," says Ed Harrison, practice leader, U.S. Networking Practice, IBM Global Services. "There are not enough skills in the United States or globally to do everything we have to do."
This raises the issue of integrating staff and consultants. If a person or a team of people is going to be sitting in your IT department for the next six months, it's crucial that the department meet them and approve of the decision to bring them in - before they start.
"Get a sense of buy-in from the staff," says Todd Lappin, content director at Guru.com, a resource for freelance consultants and the people who hire them. "You don't want your permanent staff to become territorial."
After coming to an agreement on hiring, however, let consultants do their jobs. Too many people involved in a project will only complicate things.
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