What is an IT consultant?

An IT consultant helps organizations to make best use of information technology (IT). They usually offer their professional services in return for a fee. The scope of their work ranges from solving specific computer problems to devising IT strategies and systems for whole organizations.

IT consultants have various modes of employment. These range from independent freelancing to working in large consultancy firms. Their mode of employment often dictates the type of work that they do.

For instance, a freelancer might spend a lot of their time fixing computer problems for small businesses. In contrast, a firm of IT consultants will likely be involved in large-scale corporate projects.

Example of a self-employed IT consultant

Javid works as an independent IT consultant in a medium-sized town. Most of his clients are small businesses. His smallest client is a freelance newswriter who works with a laptop and smartphone. His largest client is a firm of accountants with a network of computers and cloud-based data storage and computing power.

Both types of client use Javid as a computer doctor. They call on him to fix unexpected problems with their existing systems. For instance, he once helped the newswriter to remove a nasty virus from her laptop. He then recommended and installed robust antivirus software in her laptop, smarthphone, and tablet.

Before launching himself as an independent, self-employed IT consultant, Javid spent 7 years working in the IT department of a small utility company. He got that job straight after completing a diploma in computer science at college.

In addition to staying abreast of technical changes, Javid has also completed a short course in consultancy. On that course he learned how to qualify and position his service offering and find clients. He also learned essential skills on managing client relationships, running contracts, and organizing his business and personal finances.

IT consultants and large-scale projects

IT consultants who work with large organizations typically operate as large firms themselves. Their clients hire them not only to solve specific problems, but also to help them use IT to meet their business goals. These contracts often take the form of large projects that focus on the structure and effectiveness of IT systems throughout the organization.

When working with large businesses, IT consultancies deploy teams of individuals with specific skills. The consultancy team works with the client organization through all stages of the project. When IT consultants are delivering large projects, the factors that affect success can become complex.

McKinsey & Company is an international management consulting firm that includes IT services in its repertoire. In 2012, the company reported a study that they undertook in collaboration with the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. The study examined large IT projects whose initial price tags exceeded US$ 15 million.

The researchers found that around half of all large IT projects massively overrun, both in money and time. Those projects also deliver considerably less value than predicted.

One of the risks that can occur in such projects is that teams can lose sight of the goal. Instead of focusing on the problem and rigorously testing new systems to eliminate faults, they focus on perfecting the IT architecture.

Following a survey of IT executives, McKinsey came up with four areas that firms should concentrate on to maximize the chances of success in large IT projects:

  1. Manage stakeholders and strategy as well as budgets and schedules.
  2. Secure key internal and external skills to master technology and project content.
  3. Align team incentives with project goals.
  4. Practice rigorous project management and quality checks and keep  delivery cycles short.