There is great demand for recruits who have worked in telecoms for a few years and have the right technical abilities. Mary Huntington looks at the skills consultants need to do well in this fast changing industry.
According to Andrew Webber, principal in Arthur D Little’s global consulting group, the telecoms sector is an area of huge opportunity for consultancies. “The rate of change of technology, opportunities created and deregulation are causing the industry to change faster than operators can develop business plans and investment policies. And there aren’t enough experienced people to go around,” he says. “Every new venture needs a management team, people who understand the business and can create and plan it. Finding good people is one of the biggest constraints – the industry is growing faster than people can learn.” Much of ADL’s work in the sector, he adds, is with operators planning new ventures, such as starting up a new mobile operator or an alternative fixed carrier. All are investing substantial sums of money with a planning horizon that is beyond the rate of change in the industry. “There are immense opportunities to create shareholder value by getting in early with the right business model at the right time – but it all hinges on being quick.” Peter Marcham, principal consultant at Cornwell Affiliates, agrees. A significant area of work for his firm involves assisting start-up telecoms companies and new mobile network operators in Europe and parts of the developing world, and he says that one subject much on clients’ minds is “the blurring of lines between conventional telecoms and the new IT technologies, particularly the Internet and e-commerce”. Another issue is that of outsourcing. “Many companies are trying to concentrate on core business activities and outsource IT infrastructure and support,” he says. A good example of such a move is BT’s PFI Inca project for the Ministry of Defence, under which the latter’s communications systems are being replaced and managed by BT over a 10-year period, with input from firms like Lockheed Martin and Marconi Communications. Programme director Huw Rees says: “The most challenging aspect of the project was building the team and getting the processes and culture right. In effect we have set up a £100m-a-year business from nothing in a short space of time. Obviously we had the backing of BT but we had to recruit people, develop processes, negotiate the contract and develop the relationship with the MoD. All that was going on simultaneously with the development of new platforms and the running of the old.” He adds wryly: “One colleague described it as drinking from a fire hydrant.” The contract is set to run until 2007 and involves huge numbers: 1,100 sites and 250,000 telephone users. “Inca is very much a management team,” says Rees. “We subcontract out everything we can.” Mike Richardson, an associate director in CMG’s telecoms division, says that different issues concern different sides of the market. “On the fixed operators side it’s very much around customer retention, churn management and margin improvement; on the mobile and network implementation side it’s how quickly can you get your network out and get revenue flowing, and then implement value-added services to lock your customers in.” But, says Richardson, people skilled in the development of added-value services, which are what differentiate telecoms operators, are particularly difficult to find. Lucy Manie, head of the MCS practice at recruitment agency Executive Connections, concurs: “As one of the most rapidly growing sectors in consultancy there is a very high demand for recruits – the consultancies are screaming out for experience of billing systems and CRM, for example.” But, she says, finding people who want to join consultancies on a permanent basis can be a problem. “It is far more lucrative to be a contractor – particularly when technology is changing so much and they can build an incredible repertoire of skills.” The intense competition for recruits, however, does not mean that consultancies are willing to drop their standards, says Jason Botelho, a recruitment consultant in Douglas Llambias’ telecoms management consultancy sector, focusing on convergent technologies. “The consultancies are very demanding about whom they take on. They want a strong depth of technical ability, whether that’s in fixed or mobile integration, billing systems, GSM networks, or e-commerce, complemented by commercial awareness.” Successful candidates tend to have seven or eight years’ experience and come out of major operators such as BT or any of the major UK mobile operators. “They tend to have worked in technical engineering roles, have moved into project management roles and then, perhaps, internal consultancy positions,” says Botelho. There is also significant transfer of staff between consultancies. “Clients almost prefer it if candidates come from a known consultancy because they can make assumptions about them in terms of background, training and methodology. They feel they can rely on a known label so there is strong demand for consultants from the top five or more industry-focused consultancies,” he says. There is also movement the other way, Botelho says. “I also recruit for start-ups, and established fixed and mobile operators that are looking for internal consultants. Candidates are often consultants with five or six years’ experience, offering geographical sector knowledge, whether in Europe or America, who are tired of the consultancy lifestyle and want more stability in a more strategic, end-user role.” One attraction here, he says, is that it is becoming increasingly common for start-ups to offer potentially lucrative share options to recruits. The partnerships being formed between players in the market are also creating demand for consultants. One such is the recent tie-up between Nokia and consultancy CSC. Kevin Cox, who moved from CSC to become head of service integration at Nokia, says: “We are moving from selling products to providing end-to-end business solutions, which is what large numbers of telcos are asking for. The CSC alliance can leverage that for our customers and provide the complete business proposition from consultancy to implementation.” Nokia has been seeking recruits with front-end consultancy and systems integration skills. Says Cox: “People with classic design, development and project management skills are difficult to find – so when you do find them you have to make your mind up quickly.” Strategy house Analysys is also intent on growth. The firm plans to create 40 new positions over the next year. Simon Jones, divisional director of consultancy, says: “We need people who can develop connections in ambiguous situations. Telecoms is very complex and our client base very sophisticated. We have to be able to frame issues in economic, technical and market terms and then develop real insight.” The pace of technological change, he says, puts pressure on clients and consultants alike. “We have to be ahead of the game all the time, which is the thrill of working in this industry.” The most difficult aspect is staying focused on what you are good at and then understanding how to exploit it, says Jones. “We have to understand the impact of e-commerce and networked applications on the way we deliver consultancy services. For example, we are trying to get an effective balance between providing insights and advice directly to clients and what we can provide through continuous subscription services on the Web.” Mary Huntington is a freelance journalist.