IT consultants, by the very nature of the job, will face new challenges involving different technologies when moving from project to project or contract to contract. Each new opportunity involves evaluating a clients' requirements, and where necessary re-aligning those expectations or possibly re-defining the scope of the contract and its deliverables.

Clients can vary in their understanding of what a consultant will bring to the table and occasionally expect areas of expertise that are outside of the usual remit. Generally however a consultant will take responsibility for one or two specific tasks, namely to :

  • advise organisations on how best to use IT to meet business objectives
  • facilitate the implementation, deployment, and administration of IT systems on an organisations’ behalf

One of the areas of difficulty an IT business consultant may occasionally face is the level of technical knowledge he or she needs to make considered decisions, or more problematically the level of technical knowledge that the client expects the consultant to have. This can be especially true of smaller organisations who may be less familiar with consultancy practice, or may have limited technical knowledge of their own and expect the consultant to fill this gap.

In these circumstances it is worth stepping back and remembering the core benefits that a consultancy service best delivers, i.e. the ability to propose strategic solutions to business needs, and the ability to evaluate organisational impact and assist the client in determining the best approach to achieve improvement.

For these reasons the client should expect the consultants attention to be focussed on ‘the big picture’, and the finer detail of any technical solution should be the responsibility of those with specific expertise in the relevant areas.
This leaves the question as to just how much technical knowledge an IT consultant actually requires? If the role is one of management and facilitation then consultants primarily need the expertise to:

  • evaluate the benefits and technical strengths and weaknesses of a solution
  • evaluate the capabilities of suppliers
  • evaluate the organisational impact of any proposed changes
  • make appropriate recommendations

If a deeper level of technical knowledge is required to arrive at an outcome, the consultants’ best approach is to ensure that the appropriate team is in place to facilitate answers. The consultant can then draw on the knowledge pool of other experts and arrive at a more balanced view as to the merits of a potential solution. Furthermore, when a proposed solution enters the implementation stage the team has already played a collaborative part in determining the solution, and the ‘buy-in’ aspect is already in place.

To put it simply a consultant is not an engineer, a project manager, or a software developer etc, and one of the best ways to maximise benefit is to assemble a virtual team, and ensure that that team supports the consultant as appropriate throughout the selection and implementation processes.