Careers: telecommunications – Making the connection

Telecommunications is a dynamic and wide-ranging marketplace for consultancy, embracing not only telcos and media companies which require competition strategies and change projects but also demand across the board for advice on networks, the Internet and related embryonic technologies such as e-commerce.

“The telco sector is booming,” says Jon Daniel, executive consultant with IBM’s telecoms and media practice in the UK. “In Europe it is driven by deregulation and in the UK by a lot of consolidation and the need for businesses to become more efficient.”

And that is good news for consultancies. Jacky Olivier, director of the telecoms and media practice at Cap Gemini, says: “In any market where there is significant structural, regulatory and competition-induced change there is a huge requirement for companies who understand that change and know how to help organisations exploit it.”

According to Greg Perl, a director at recruitment consultancy Douglas Llambias who specialises in the telecoms sector, the burgeoning market means that job opportunities for candidates with the right kind of experience abound.

“The telecoms market is very buoyant. It is an industry that is generating all the time and good quality telecoms professionals are at a premium,” he says.

He says consultancies are looking for a range of skills: “They need e-commerce, multimedia, wireless or fixed line telecoms experience, customer care and billing experience, research and analysis skills, and strong network skills, whether at the local or wide area level.”

And it is not just industry experts who are in demand, he says; those who are already consultants in the field are very sought-after too.

Remuneration is good, he adds. “Depending on experience, salaries can range from #40K up to packages of #120K while at partner level they can rise to #170K.”

He says when the big consultancies recruit from industry they mainly focus on blue-chip companies. “The exception is very emerging markets such as e-commerce and multimedia where recruits are coming from smaller firms.”

Tony Jackson is responsible for recruiting consultants to the telecoms industry for PricewaterhouseCoopers’ change practice. He says: “Our mindset is to recruit specialists with industry knowledge, knowledge of business processes and development technology who will add value to our clients.

We are looking for a certain level of expertise, along with all the social skills and personal competencies that you need to be a consultant. You can give the right person consultancy skills and tools but you cannot give them industry knowledge. So we take people who have been in the industry, or acting as consultants in the industry and give them consultancy training.”

According to Daniel, IBM takes a similar approach. “Generally within the industry there is a shortage of people. Certain skills are very much in demand; for example, the customer care area – managing the relationship with customers – is at the forefront of clients’ minds. The opportunities and strategic perspectives of the Internet domain is an area of growing expertise for us.”

The practice is heavily involved in the outsourcing of Cable & Wireless Communications’ IT operation and is looking at “package enabled business transformation”. An example of the latter would be the implementation of a new billing system, how staff would be organised to use it and the implications for the back office.

Daniel himself worked in the telecoms industry itself for 10 years.

“I was responsible for strategy development in a UK cable company and also worked as a programming director,” he says. He set up his own consulting company before joining IBM. “I felt that I acted like an internal consultant for many of the companies I worked for and concluded that it interested me. I also felt I would get the best recognition for my skills if I became a consultant.”

Going freelance is an option for some. Both Daniel and Cap Gemini’s Olivier make use of freelancers for very niche skills. Says Daniel: “It can also be a way of proving people’s capability before offering them a job.”

Jackson says PwC uses freelancers very rarely. “We want our people to be recruited against our best and brightest criteria and have been through PwC training,” he says. “But where a project has specific needs which fall outside our business focus we may enter into third-party agreements or use subcontractors.”

Malcolm Vernon is a freelance consultant to the mobile telephone sector, working in the marketing, sales and strategy sector. “As a freelancer you swap the certainty of full-time employment for the opportunity to experience lots of challenges, companies and geographies. I have worked on customer management, fixed/mobile convergence, the provision of user services via the Internet and the implications of the next generation of mobile telephony,” he says. Freelance contracts are lucrative, he adds, but the critical thing is to maintain a good workflow. “You need to have very good contacts, be prepared to work long hours and be flexible about where you work. You also need the ability to increase your knowledge quickly, as developments take place.”

He is not too concerned about the looming recession. “There are two ways of looking at it. There may be a slowdown in demand for contract staff but a recession may also intensify competition between operators, driving up the demand for people with specialist skills.”

DLA’s Perl thinks that telecoms is a recession-proof type of industry and will be buoyant for many years to come.

Cap Gemini’s Olivier agrees but adds “it is hard to say whether the telcos will spend money on value and business differentiation if the economy is receding.” Despite such forebodings, Cap Gemini sees significant opportunities in the global telco market and is recruiting heavily but, says Olivier, “it is hard to get people who understand the jigsaw puzzle of infrastructure, business processes and systems for a telco”.

The company recruits from industry, consultancies, suppliers and vendors, she says, and apart from pedigree in terms of technical skills and process knowhow, culture is important. “Recruits have to fit in with the teams we have: we are quite an entrepreneurial company and we want people who are prepared to go the extra mile.” Interestingly, she claims, recruitment is relatively easy because the company is seen to have attractions for employees.

The importance of employer image is echoed by PwC’s Jackson: “It is a very competitive recruitment market but we have consistently met our growth targets over the last few years. We have put a lot of effort into making ourselves the employer of choice and we are very attractive in the market.

I wouldn’t like to imply that it is easy but we find we can get the good people when they are available – the issue is whether they are actually on the market.”

It is this that concerns DLA’s Perl. “There are significant numbers of people working in the commercial sector who have the skills necessary to move into a consulting role,” he says, “but they are unaware of the opportunities available.”

Mary Huntington is a freelance journalist

E-Commerce: linking customers and suppliers

Brendan Mullany, partner in charge of electronic commerce at Ernst & Young, oversees a team of 20-30 people . And their services are much in demand. Says Mullany: “All businesses are talking about wanting ‘it’ but they are never too sure what ‘it’ is. A lot of it involves themes they should have been trying to progress in any case. Supply chain optimisation is the classic example. E-commerce can tighten supply chain links and make them more efficient. In time it will become merely part of the classic mental model in the same way as the telephone is today.”

Mullany is recruiting staff for his growing team from industry, other consultancies and some of the systems houses. “E&Y wants a broad range of skillsets – from the business consultancy end of emerging business models and processes to technology build skills in EDI and the Internet.”

But, he says, he is finding it difficult to find quality recruits. “A lot of people think if they have built a website then they are skilled in e-commerce, but the complexity businesses face in trying to exploit e-commerce goes way beyond that. It is about how the on-line world integrates with current businesses, their internal and external supply chains and how it impacts the way they fulfil the whole customer value chain.” Mullany looks for recruits with major scaled experience in the major blue chip companies, or in “gazelles”, firms which are particularly innovative in their field.

Once in, recruits will work on client-facing projects, internal work directly leading to projects, known as “pursuits”, or internal thought leadership and knowledge development. “If someone had deep experience of e-commerce in manufacturing, for example, we would want to capture their knowledge,” he says.

Managing consultant Tomi Davies joined the practice 18 months ago from Marks & Spencer, where he was head of advanced technology. As such, he put the company on the Internet and worked on multimedia kiosk trials and electronic payment mechanisms.

When the board ignored his recommendations on e-commerce, he decided to leave and soon realised that he had the competence to work in consultancy.

From a number of offers, he plumped for E&Y because of “its culture and its international reputation, especially in the US”.

Since then he has worked on strategy – showing firms how to respond to the introduction of interactive TV, for example – and advised on the commercial exploitation of the Internet.

“The Internet is not just a big advertising medium: companies have to change processes and understand the customers at the other end,” he says.

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