Careers – Spoilt for choice

Careers - Spoilt for choice

Not only does demand for IT consultants exceed supply in everysector, says Cosima Duggal, but the range of opportunities has broadened,enabling them to take different paths to a wide variety of careerdestinations.

The image of an IT consultant being locked in a darkened room for the whole of his earthly life, with no human contact and only broken pieces of computer components to talk to, is now all but obsolete.

In the past, career opportunities for IT consultants were quite limited; today there are a myriad of opportunities.

“Demand for IT consultants exceeds supply in almost every sector,” says Henry Morris, managing director of recruitment agency Armadillo Executive Resourcing. “Right now the market is more buoyant than it has ever been; it’s more buoyant than in the mid to late ’80s. And just wait until Year 2000 work begins to soak up everybody.”

The abundance of work is not the only thing that has changed. The whole career structure has been affected allowing the IT consultant to become the architect of his own destiny.

“There are tremendous opportunities for IT management consultants,” says Morris. “They have greater choice to develop their careers through to partner, and have a good chance of securing senior positions in industry.”

The advantages of being an IT management consultant far outweigh those of being an IT consultant within a user firm, whether that is Barclays Bank, Boots or Kellogg.

Moving from a consultancy organisation as an IT consultant into a more senior position within industry is the accepted norm, but a move the other way is more difficult, though not impossible.

According to Morris: “IT management consultants are increasingly sought after by the larger banks when they get to senior positions. Whereas if IT consultants develop a career in user companies, they don’t have the alternative to move to somewhere like the Boston Consulting Group – at a senior level that’s pretty difficult to do.”

Overall the outlook is good, and there is now so much flexibility in the information technology arena that there is often no clear-cut career path.

Cap Gemini is one of those firms that has a career model that allows for this type of flexibility.

The practice is divided into three separate IT groups: operational research group, which models business processes; the technology consulting group, which deals with clients’ understanding of emerging technologies, and the business and IT consulting group, focused on business process reengineering (BPR) and sector-related practices.

A common career progression at Cap Gemini, if there is such a thing, would take around five years – that is from process analyst to team leader level, where an IT consultant would manage a complete reengineering programme.

But most important is that, once an MBA graduate has been accepted, or an IT consultant has come into a group within the firm, they will be able to move across into other areas without any problem; provided, of course, they have the aptitude for that particular area.

“The overall practices concept is not to pigeonhole people into focus groups – that’s the fundamental way we work,” says Nigel John, head of the BPR practice at Cap Gemini. “The IT consultants who work on BPR, will not work purely in that practice. People who join BPR, join because they want to develop their skills.”

The firm has a central resources management team that has been set up to deal with the requirements and aspirations of consultants. It is there to match up their skill – set with new client projects, but also to develop their skills.

“If they want to learn about IT strategies, we’ll factor that into the way we work,” says John. “We can keep them in BPR and put them out to work with an experienced IT consultant; or we can move them into the IT strategy practice, or the technology practice – it’s very flexible.”

He adds: “The practice concept is that there are a lot of people who have been with us for a long time and this is the way to retain these people.”

Price Waterhouse and Coopers & Lybrand are moving along similar lines to Cap Gemini. But PW is trying to cut down on the number of grade titles and focus more on the skill – sets of each individual consultant.

The firm has just developed a new career model in a bid to move away from its traditional, hierarchical, single-line career structure to a multi-disciplinary workforce. It will focus on training people to implement both systems integration projects and large organisational change programmes.

“We would encourage IT people to understand change skills,” says Mike Okninski, human resource development partner for Europe at PW. “Clients are demanding breadth and variety and so are our people.”

The firm aims to be more attentive to consultants’ career needs and will focus on their skills more than the roles they have played.

Okninski says: “We don’t want to water down their specialist skills, but to give them additional insights. There are people who are genuinely hybrids, genuinely integration specialists. We have many people who understand the impact of change on IT processes and vice versa.”

Unlike PW, Ernst & Young and TCA Consulting are not looking to reduce the number of consultancy titles.

Ernst & Young IT consultants will still have to work their way through the ranks. Throughout that progression they have the options of moving into an industry group, such as finance or oil, and working in one of the client-facing groups. The latter include: the process and methods group, the programme and project management group, systems integration, or the technology strategy group.

Andrew Barstow, information systems partner at Ernst & Young comments: “If someone starts off in the technology group but is more interested in systems integration, there is now more flexibility in moving across the groups, certainly if they come in at a junior level.”

The emphasis is on having the right competencies: knowledge of systems integration, understanding processes around IT implementation and realising strategy into products, just to name a few.

Even at a senior level, Ernst & Young will take on partners with varied backgrounds from outside the organisation. It believes that flair and creativity brought to the firm from outside are a valuable asset, and accepts the additional training costs.

The opportunities in the marketplace as a whole are manifold, particularly if IT consultants specialise in a particular industry.

“Starting from a technology background gives people a greater advantage,” says Mark Gaunt, director at TCA Consulting. “The opportunities are excellent, not only within consultancy but also banking, where more and more leaders need to be technology literate.”

In fact, people coming into consultancy with an IT background have an advantage over the average strategy consultant. By the time they become a partner, they have a solid IT background and are also able to work in an advisory and leadership capacity.

Gaunt says: “They work on technology projects for two to three years and learn about banking in great depth, they learn to support systems for trading floors and risk management, and get to learn from a technical point of view how departments interrelate. So that if they work on a foreign exchange system, the work has a technical and also a business bias, because they implement it and help to test it.”

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