What exactly does it mean to be an IT consultant? What does an IT consultant do? Those are interesting questions with even more interesting answers.
At its most basic level, IT consulting is really an advisory service. IT consultants are trusted advisors who provide their clients with advice, guidance, and recommendations on a variety of use cases and problem sets. IT consultants generally specialize in a specific field — anything from IT-focused areas like cloud computing to general business functions aligned with IT tools and processes, like human resources. Specialization provides consultants a deeper understanding of their chosen industry sector, better enabling them to provide guidance to their client.
The types of advisory services provided by IT consultants are as varied as the enterprises, products, and services which they support. In general, IT consultants perform tasks such as helping organizations to assess current business and technology strategies and processes and then advise enterprises on how to ensure alignment to meet future organizational goals. This may include guidance on selection of software, hardware, or network infrastructure. Guidance on project management methodologies may also be provided.
IT consultants often assist clients with strategic planning from inception to implementation, including evaluation of strategic business goals and the technologies and architecture required to prepare for and meet those goals. IT consultants may also assist clients with tasks such as determining operational efficiencies and developing improvement plans or creating deployment plans for new products.
Demand for IT consulting
Information technology is constantly changing — new technologies seemingly appear almost overnight. The emergence and increased adoption of technologies such as generative AI, robotics and automation, digital identity, blockchain, augmented reality, and the Internet of Things (IoT), are opening the door to the creation of new use cases and driving innovations and application of IT into new industry sectors.
As enterprises adopt new technologies and develop product lines to meet new industry requirements, it can be difficult to maintain the knowledge, resources, and tools necessary to remain competitive. IT consultants can fill in these gaps by providing enterprises with the required knowledge, specialized skills, and expertise enabling them to achieve their strategic goals with minimal disruption to core enterprise business functions.
IT consultants provide numerous benefits including:
On-demand access to broader knowledge base, skills, and talent
Increased efficiency and productivity
Competitive advantage by maximizing the use of new technologies
Reduction in downtime
Improved cost efficiencies
Optimization of time and resources
IT consultants can also free up enterprise personnel allowing them to remain focused on core business functions.
The IT consulting career path
From entry-level interns and analysts to senior IT consultants and partners, the career opportunities for those interested in IT consulting are plentiful. While there is no specific career ladder, a typical career path for an IT consultant might involve the following progression:
Internship — Breaking into any career path can be challenging and IT consulting is certainly no exception. Even at the entry-level, many employers require experience, subjecting newcomers to the age-old paradox: How does one gain real-world experience without the benefit of employment?
An internship can be an excellent way to gain the experience required to open the doors to future employment. Many IT companies sponsor internships (both paid and unpaid) allowing undergraduates the opportunity to gain real-world experience. Tasks for internships vary depending on the needs of the business.
In addition to IT-related opportunities, aspiring IT consultants who wish to specialize in a particular industry sector (such as finance), may choose to explore internship opportunities with businesses focused on the specific industry sector to gain a better understanding of industry needs.
IT Analyst — A common first step towards the goal of becoming an IT consultant, is that of IT analyst. Unlike IT consultants who generally specialize in a specific field or domain, an IT analyst’s skillset is focused on a single area within the field or domain.
As a result, an analyst is only able to provide guidance and advice within that domain. While the scope varies depending on organizational needs, responsibilities may include tasks such as collecting and analyzing data, conducting research, compiling and presenting data and other findings to leadership.
Junior or Associate IT Consultant — Junior or associate IT consultants build on the skills gained as an IT analyst. Associate consultants typically support their senior-level counterparts. As an associate consultant, individuals should expect to provide direct services to a client.
Candidates should ensure that they possess the necessary technical and business skills to fulfil this role. Employers may require that candidates possess advanced degrees to earn a place at the table.
Senior-Level IT Consultant — A senior-level IT consultant possesses the experience necessary to provide guidance and advice to their clients. Senior-level consultants also have strong technical, managerial, and leadership skills They may also be called upon to work with associate consultants, as well as client personnel and provide ongoing training in new technologies, processes, and best practices.
In addition, it’s not uncommon to find senior-level IT consultants serving in roles such as IT director or IT manager. Senior-level consultants frequently provide support fulfilling project management and project leaders roles. The most experienced IT consultants may become senior managers or form their own IT consulting firms.
Background and training
Successful IT consultant candidates possess a combination of experience, education, and certifications.
Experience — Experience requirements vary depending on employer needs, but IT consulting candidates will find that senior IT consulting job roles typically require extensive experience in both the industry sector as well as the technology component of the job role. In examining numerous real-world job posting, employers typically required five or more years technology experience, as well as three or more years in their particular industry sector.
Education — Most employers seek candidates who possess a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information technology systems, engineering, business, or a related field. Some employers may also require a master’s degree or an MBA.
Certifications — Many IT consulting roles are project oriented and require strong project management skills. IT consulting candidates should consider obtaining project-management related certifications such as the CompTIA Project+ or the Project Management Professional (PMP) credential.
Certifications related to common project methodologies like Agile, Waterfall, and Six Sigma may also be useful. In addition, candidates should consider certifications targeting industry or technology specific skills to demonstrate their technical savvy to prospective employers.
In addition, IT consultants should possess excellent verbal and written communication and presentation skills. Good organizational skills are a must along with the ability to build and lead strong teams. IT consultants possess keen analytical skills, are proven problem-solvers and able to think outside the box.