Information technology is another term for computing, which is the use of computers and other devices for exchanging, retrieving, storing, and networking of electronic data. Information technology consultants advise companies of all sizes, from startups to large international corporations, on the fastest, most efficient, and cost-effective information technology systems for their business. The specialty areas that information technology consultants may focus on include hardware, software, networks, communications, and Web design, among others. The IT consulting industry consists of large companies that offer IT consulting services as well as other business services to other companies. IT consultants may also work independently.
The general consulting industry has origins in the early 1900s, when manufacturers sought advice on how to increase worker productivity and maximize profits. Consulting businesses were established in the United States to help companies solve these and other problems. Information technology consulting businesses first emerged in the 1980s, after the personal computer was introduced to the mass marketplace. Since the 1990s, the evolution of the Internet and social media have contributed to the growth of the information technology consulting industry.
In May 2015, there were more than 4 million people employed full time in computer and mathematical occupations, including information technology jobs, in the United States, as reported by the Department of Labor. The industries with the highest concentration of employment in computer and math jobs are computers systems design and related services; software publishers; data processing, hosting, and related services; computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing; and other information services.
According to the market research group IBISWorld, the U.S. information technology consulting industry is a $376 billion business. There are nearly 433,000 information technology consulting businesses in the United States, employing more than 2 million people. Application design, development, and integration services account for almost 25 percent of total IT consulting industry revenue. A growing number of small and medium-sized companies are hiring IT consultants to help them develop and create custom software or fine-tune their existing software and hardware applications to improve their business operations.
Information technology consulting firms offer various services to clients. Depending on their specialty, IT consultants may plan and design integrated hardware, software, and communication infrastructure. They may also write, test, and support custom software. IT consultants also help clients with computer network security. Other services they may provide include helping with search engine marketing and providing strategic advice regarding social media issues. They also work on site with clients to help manage the company’s computer systems and data processing facilities. Job titles in the industry vary depending upon specialty and experience; some examples include information technology manager or director, information technology consultant, project manager information technology systems, health information technology consultant, information security risk architect. The specific products of the IT consulting industry are computer systems design, development, and integration; computer application design and development; information technology technical support services; IT network and infrastructure design; and IT technical consulting services.
the following companies in its 2016 list of the best firms for information technology strategy consulting, by order of rank starting with number one:
- IBM Global Services
- Deloitte Consulting LLP
- McKinsey & Company
- PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory Services LLC
- Oracle Consulting
- The Boston Consulting Group Inc.
- Booz Allen Hamilton
- Cisco Systems Inc. (IT Consulting)
- Gartner Inc.
- SAP Services (IT Consulting)
- Bain & Company
- KPMG LLP (Consulting Practice)
The field of information technology consulting emerged in the 1980s and 1990s, as computer operating systems started to become more complex and businesses needed outside help to manage them. To understand the foundation of the industry, however, it’s helpful to look first at the origins of the two different areas of the business: information technology and consulting. Information technology has roots that date back thousands of years, while the general consulting industry is young by comparison, starting in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Some inventions that laid the foundation for information technology are the abacus, the digital calculator, the punch-card system, the computer, and the Internet and the World Wide Web. The abacus is considered the first computer. Invented in China around 500 B.C., it’s a simple device made of strings and beads that helps with counting large numbers. It gained popularity during the Middles Ages and is actually still used today in some parts of the world. In 1642, French scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal created the first digital calculator, also known as the Pascaline, which consisted of toothed wheels that were turned by hand to calculate numbers. He invented this mechanical counting device to help his father in his work as a tax supervisor. In the 1970s, early computer programmers acknowledged Pascal’s major contribution to the field by naming a programming language for him.
The punch-card system was the originator of data-processing techniques. The first appearance of the punch-card idea was at the World’s Fair in 1801, when French weaver Joseph-Marie Jacquard introduced a loom that used cards with holes punched into them for different patterns. These punched cards could be arranged in certain orders to create the patterns. The cards enabled designs to be repeated, and for the design information to be stored—concepts that are the basis for computing. Punch cards evolved over the next 150 years, with important contributions by Charles Babbage, in 1833, who invented the analytical engine, and by Herman Hollerith, who in the 1800s and early 1900s discovered the electronic capability for punch cards and founded the Calculating-Tabulating-Recording Company (later named International Business Machines, or IBM). By the 1940s, punched cards were used in Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator (ENIAC), the world’s first computer that was created for the U.S. Army.
The computer evolved from the 1950s as other inventions were incorporated, such as transistors, integrated circuits that increased operating speed and capacity, minicomputers (which were smaller than the room-sized computers of the earlier days), and microchips. The Apple Macintosh computer got its start in the 1970s, when Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs created a computer that was user friendly and affordable. IBM and other computer manufacturers soon followed and introduced their version of personal computers to the market.
The Internet, which refers to the back-end network system, got its start in the late 1960s with the U.S. government’s ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), which was a system of several computers connected to each other in a lab at the University of California in Los Angeles and at the Stanford Research Institute. The World Wide Web, which is the body of online information available for retrieval, originated in late 1980s and early 1990s, when software engineer Tim Berners-Lee introduced his idea for information management and wrote the foundations for the Web, including the language (HTML, hypertext markup language), uniform resource locator (URL, the identity of the Web page), and hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP, used for linking and transferring information in the Web). By 1991 the Web was available to the general public. Since then, the Internet and the Web have revolutionized how the world shares information. Today there are e-mail services, social networking, video conferencing in real time, e-commerce, as well as online education and entertainment. The development of mobile devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops, have increased the use of Internet and the Web for information sharing. As of February 2017, there were more than 1.1 billion Web sites and more than 3.5 billion Internet users, according to InternetLiveStats.com.
In the United States, consulting businesses started to appear in the late 1800s and early 1900s, during the Industrial Revolution. Companies sought the help of consultants to improve worker productivity, tackle management issues, streamline their business operations, market their products and services, and increase sales.
The first management consulting firms were Arthur D. Little, established in 1886 by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor of the same name, and Frederick Winslow Taylor’s practice, established in 1893. Little’s firm specialized initially in technical research and later became a general management consultancy. Winslow, a mechanical engineer, focused his consulting services on scientific management, which studied how work flowed and how labor was divided. The consulting work that Ivy Ledbetter Lee did in the early 1900s also helped to lay the foundation for the consulting industry. For instance, in 1906, he helped to open up communications between coal mine operators and the press, to bring more information about mining activities to the public. He went on to offer his public relations expertise for clients such as the Pennsylvania Railroad Company and the Rockefeller family.
McKinsey & Company, which today offers information technology consulting services among numerous other services to clients, is also an early management consulting firm. It was established in 1926 by James O. McKinsey, former professor of accounting at the University of Chicago, to provide financial and accounting advice for local companies. His innovative idea was that management consulting advice could help not only ailing companies, but also improve and optimize operations for companies that were already healthy and in good standing. After McKinsey’s death in 1937, his business partner, Marvin Bower, expanded on his work and helped to grow the management consulting industry over the next few decades. Bower recruited graduate students and MBAs to work as consultants, which helped to grow U.S. business schools. He established a high level of professionalism in the business: Clients’ needs were the top priority, and superior service and the adherence to high ethical standards were expected of McKinsey’s consultants. These standards continue to this day and are what have made McKinsey & Company among the most prestigious consulting firms in the world.
Consulting firms grew during the 1930s, when companies needed help because of the Great Depression. Laws that were passed after the Great Depression to tightly regulate banks, such as the Glass-Steagall Banking Act and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, increased demand for consulting firms to help banks and financial organizations comply with the mandates. World War II created the need for consultants’ help with wartime manufacturing issues and wartime fundraising and publicity. Starting in the 1950s, politicians hired consultants for help with political campaigns. The 1970s saw the globalization of the general consulting industry.
The information technology consultant field started to appear in the late 1980s and the 1990s, when computer use became prevalent in businesses. Management consulting firms started to add information technology consulting to their services for clients. The big accounting firms also realized the potential for IT consulting and added it to their services. The Big Eight accounting firms at the time that introduced IT consulting services were Arthur Andersen; Arthur Young & Company; Coopers & Lybrand; Ernst & Whinney; Deloitte, Haskins & Sells; KPMG; Touche Ross; and Price Waterhouse. These companies are now known as the Big Four: PricewaterhouseCoopers; KPMG; Ernst & Young; Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu.
Today, companies around the world offer IT consulting services. Information technology consulting continues to be in demand by businesses, governments, nonprofit organizations, and schools. The growth of mobile devices, cloud computing, the Internet, social media, and other technological innovations have added to the areas that information technology consultants cover for their clients.
The information technology industry consists of large management consulting firms that include IT consulting services. There are firms that specialize in technology, and then there are information consultants who work independently. Large management consulting firms such as McKinsey & Company, Booz Allen Hamilton, and Bain & Company offer IT consulting services in addition to a full range of other services. For instance, McKinsey & Company has 22 industry practices, with consultants who have experience in those particular industries, and 12 business functions that range from analytics and business technology to sustainability and resource productivity. Other companies focus more specifically on information technology. IBM Global Services, for example, specializes in business consulting and systems integration, and application management systems. IBM Global Services has more than 100,000 employees in offices around the world.
According to the market research group Hoovers, computer systems design, development, and integration services account for about 35 percent of industry revenue in the information technology consulting field. Application design and development services account for about 25 percent and technical support accounts 10 percent of the total revenue.
Jobs in the information technology consulting field typically include information technology director, manager, supervisor, consultant, and associate consultant. Bain & Company described the career ladder of a general consultant employed at its company as the first step being associate consultant for two years, followed by senior associate consultant for up to 12 months, and then consultant for two to three years. The consultant advances to become case team leader. After successfully holding that job for one to two years, they advance to become a manager, and can move up to be a principal after two to three years. Bain has more than 200 information technology consultants who help clients with four main business issues: information technology strategy; improving and developing IT performance; planning for and resolving IT problems that occur during corporate mergers and acquisitions; and implementing new IT systems and programs.
The closest jobs to information technology consultant that the Department of Labor (DOL) provides information on are management analyst and computer systems analyst. Management analysts, also known as management consultants, often specialize in certain industries, such as health care or telecommunications. Many have experience in business management and information technology. They work closely with a team of consultants to study companies’ problems, develop solutions, and follow up to make sure the solutions are working. In May 2015, there were approximately 614,110 management consultants working in the United States, according to the Department of Labor (DOL). The majority worked for management, scientific and technical consulting services, government agencies, and management companies.
Approximately 556,660 computer systems analysts were employed in the United States in May 2015, according to the DOL. They often work as consultants, studying companies’ computer systems operations and designing information technology systems solutions to help the company operate more efficiently and effectively. Computer systems analysts may specialize in certain computer systems or in certain business areas. For example, there are systems designers or systems architects who advise companies on the types of hardware and software systems that fit best with their business goals. They work closely with the company’s managers to ensure the IT infrastructure and systems are effective and meet the company’s needs. There are also software quality assurance analysts, who test and diagnose problems with computer systems and write reports with recommendations for solutions. Programmer analysts work closely with management and business analysts to design and update system software to address an organization’s needs.
In general, computer systems analysts’ work entails collaborating and coordinating with other information technology specialists, and may involve some travel for client meetings. The industries that employ the most computer systems analysts are computer systems design and related services, management of companies and enterprises, insurance carriers; management, scientific, and technical consulting services; and state government. The states that employed the most computer systems analysts were California, Texas, New York, Ohio, and Illinois.
The state of the economy affects companies’ spending on consulting services. During the economic recession in the late 2000s, many companies tightened their budgets and held off on information technology upgrades and replacements, thus scaling back on IT consulting services. The economy has been improving the past few years and the need for information technology consultants is on the rise. IBISWorld reported that the U.S. information technology consulting industry has performed fairly well since 2011, in spite of the still-sluggish economy. Annual growth was at 1.8 percent from 2011 to 2016. The industry’s steady growth is attributed to the strong performance from major markets such as financial services and insurance providers. And the outlook is good through 2021, with demand for information technology consultants increasing due to increasing mergers and acquisitions in other industries. As more companies consolidate, information technology consultants will be needed to help with the integration of accounting, information storage, and other technology systems.
Information technology consultants can look forward to good employment opportunities in the coming years. The employment of computer and information technology professionals is expected to grow by 12 percent through 2024, which is faster than the average, according to the Department of Labor. Nearly 490,000 new jobs will be added to the field during that time frame, growing from 3.9 million to 4.4 million jobs.
Much faster than average employment growth is expected for computer systems analysts. The DOL projects 21 percent employment growth through 2024. As more companies rely on information technology, computer systems analysts and consultants will be needed to design and install new computer systems. Smaller companies that have few IT needs will find it more cost-effective to outsource to cloud service providers and to organizations with IT service providers. This will offer more opportunities for computer systems design and related services. The health care industry will also need computer systems consultants for help with implementing electronic health records, e-prescribing, and other health care information technology services.
Management consultants will also have faster than average employment growth (14 percent) through 2024, according to the DOL. The demand for management consultants will be especially strong in smaller consulting companies that focus on specific industries or business functions, such as information technology and human resources. Good job opportunities are also expected with government agencies and in international companies. The competition for jobs will be keen because this is a lucrative field that attracts many jobseekers. Consultants who have an advanced degree and/or certification, specialized industry experience, and fluency in a foreign language will have the best prospects for securing work.
Information technology consultants earned salaries that ranged from $44,964 to $114,154 in January 2016, as reported by PayScale.com. The median salary was $71,887. IT consultants with more than 20 years of work experience earned $118,000 or more per year. Computer systems analysts earned a median salary of $66,858 in January 2016. Salaries ranged from $43,227 to $93,931. As PayScale points out, people in this job don’t usually have more than 20 years of experience. Computer systems analysts with skills in Microsoft SQL, Server, Oracle, and UNIX earned higher salaries than analysts without these skills.
Information technology (IT) consultants, also known as computer consultants anddigital consultants, help clients design and implement IT systems or develop better IT practices; provide strategic advice on social media and IT issues; and train staff members working in IT areas such as hardware/software design and setup, computer security, network setup and administration, and search engine marketing.History
In the early days of the computer, technology consulting was considered a small subsector of management consulting. But the massive growth of technology, fueled by the emergence of the personal computer in the 1980s and the Internet in the 1990s, has created strong demand for information technology consultants. Today, IT consulting has grown into a separate specialty (although many management consulting firms also have their own IT consulting practices). In fact, the U.S. IT consulting sector had revenues of $383 billion in 2016, according to IBISWorld. This was more than double the amount earned by the management consulting sector. With new technology being developed at a breakneck pace, IT consultants will play a strong advisory role in the public and private sectors for decades to come.The Job
Information technology consultants utilize their in-depth knowledge of the IT industry, computer and telecommunications hardware and software, and the Internet (including social media and cloud computing) to help clients achieve their technology goals. They have a wide range of duties, depending on their employers and the needs of their clients. Generally speaking, their work can be divided into five broad categories:
- 1.Creating an IT strategy that will help their client implement its overall business strategy
- 2.Designing a specific technology solution (software, hardware, data-mining/analysis strategy, etc.) that supports this strategy
- 3.Managing the development and implementation of the new system or technology, including training staff and providing help-desk services to the client’s customers and/or employees
- 4.Devising and implementing strategies to integrate existing technology with new systems
- 5.Overseeing newly implemented technologies through their entire life cycles, and possibly taking responsibility for all or a portion of their client’s IT department/strategy
Some typical duties for IT consultants include the following:
- 1.Designing a company’s e-commerce Web site, and helping it create a consistent digital message
- 2.Analyzing a client’s current use of the Internet to determine what markets the company is reaching—or failing to reach
- 3.Helping an online retailer plan for future IT growth and increased capacity requirements
- 4.Studying a client’s data-mining software, and providing advice on how to optimize and expand data collection and analysis capabilities
- 5.Training a company’s staff to use new software or hardware
- 6.Developing and implementing IT security strategies that protect a government agency from hacking and industrial espionage
- 7.Helping a major health care system transition from paper records to a digital record-keeping system
- 8.Creating a customer relationship management system and strategy for a retailer that identifies top customers, studies customer behavior online, and develops strategies to better communicate with and serve customers online
External IT consultants work for IT consulting firms such as Accenture, IBM, and Capgemini. They are employed by clients on a project basis, and clients are billed by the hour for consultants’ services. Internal IT consultants work as salaried employees for companies and other organizations and provide advice only to their employer. Some consultants work independently (running their own businesses) and are paid for their work by the hour; others may be paid by the project.
Salaries and hourly rates for IT consultants vary greatly, based on their levels of education and experience, specialization, and employer. Management consultants who worked in computer systems design and related services had mean annual earnings of $98,850 in May 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Salaries for all management consultants ranged from less than $45,970 to $150,220 or more.
Many independent consultants charge by the hour, with fees ranging from $45 to well above $100 an hour. Consultants who work on a contract basis must estimate the hours needed to complete a project and their rate of pay when determining their contract price. Independent consultants must also realize that not all their work time is “billable” time, meaning that general office work, record keeping, billing, maintaining current client contacts, and seeking new business do not generate revenue. This nonbillable time must be factored into contract or hourly rates when determining annual income.
Although independent consultants may be able to generate good contract or hourly fees, they do not receive benefits that may be typical of salaried employees. For example, independent consultants are responsible for their own medical, disability, and life insurance. They do not receive vacation pay, and when they are not working, they are not generating income. Retirement plans must also be self-funded and self-directed.
Information technology consultants can expect to work in a variety of settings. Depending on the project, independent consultants may work out of their homes or private offices. At other times, they may be required to work on-site at the client’s facilities, which may, for example, be a hospital, office building, or factory. Consultants employed by a large or small consulting firm may also spend time working at the consulting firm’s offices or telecommuting from home.
IT consultants generally can expect to work in a clean office environment. Consultants may work independently or as part of a team, depending on the project’s requirements. Consulting can be a very intense job that may require long hours to meet a project’s deadline. Some settings where employees or consultants are driven by a strict deadline, or where a project is not progressing as planned, may be stressful. Many people in the IT field often work over 40 hours a week, and they often work nights and weekends. About 33 percent of management consultants work more than 40 hours per week, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Intensive computer work can also result in eyestrain, hand and wrist injuries, and back pain. In addition, IT consultants must devote time to keeping current with the latest technology by reading and doing research.
In 2016, the following IT strategy consulting firms (in descending order) as the best in terms of prestige and a good work environment: Accenture, IBM Global Services, Deloitte Consulting LLP, McKinsey & Company, and PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory Services LLC. The top five for IT operations consulting were: Accenture, IBM Global Business Services, Deloitte Consulting LLP, Capgemini, and PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory Services LLC.
You can explore your interest in computers by getting involved with a computer users group or club in your community or school. If an information technology trade show comes to your area, be sure to attend. You’ll be able to see new advances in technology and talk with others who are interested in this field. Search the Web for interesting sites, and look at the source code of these sites to see how they were developed. Increase your knowledge by experimenting and learning independently. Check out library books about computers, and teach yourself some programming or Web site design skills. Mastering a Web page authoring program is a good introduction to Web design. Develop a strong presence on social-media sites.
Offer to help people you know set up their home computer systems, or do upgrades for them. Gain experience by volunteering to help seniors or others learn how to use computers at a community center. Try to get a summer or part-time job at a computer store. Large retailers, such as Best Buy, also have computer departments where you might find work. The business experience will be beneficial, even if you are not working directly on the Internet. Create an imaginary social-media marketing campaign for your favorite band or video game in order to try out the work of IT consultants.
Contact IT consultants, Web site designers, or programmers in your area, and set up information interviews with them. You can ask them questions about their educational background, what they like about the work, how they market their business, what important skills someone wanting to enter the field should have, and any other things you are interested in knowing about this career.