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Computer consultants are information technology professionals with proven expertise in a specific area of information technology. There are two main types of computer consultants; functional and technical.
A functional consultant has expertise in the actual use and support of a technological solution. They are skilled in the actual functions or duties performed by the solution. They are hired to act as a bridge between the business needs and the ability of the technology to meet those needs.
Functional computer consultants tend to have business degrees, together with an average of five to eight years business experience. Skill sets required include excellent communication skills, analytical thinking, complex problem solving and people skills. These types of consultant are hired by consulting firms to provide longer term support and advise.
A technical consultant has expertise in the hardware, programming and configuration of the technological solution. They are usually hired for system implementation, upgrades, changes and re-engineering projects. The technical consultant can be hired to provide a greater depth of knowledge that the existing technical staff or to meet a niche requirement.
Technical computer consultants have university degrees in computer science, math, engineering or a related discipline. They are hired by consulting firms, hardware and software manufactures to act as a resource during implementation projects and sales presentations.
Within the two groups of consultants, there are sub-groups, with areas of specialty. A functional consultant has usually taken a wide range of product specific courses to gain an expert level of knowledge in a particular product or solution. A technical consultant must stay up to date on the latest product offerings, industry connections and be aware of trends and the future direction of their niche market.
Computer consultants' job descriptions typically involve 80% to 90% travel, higher than average salary and long hours. There are also periods of inactivity and computer consultants bears the risk of a no income during a slow period. Consultants must constantly upgrade their skills, manage a network of industry contacts, both as a consultant and to increase their exposure to potential clients.
Computer consultants can start their own businesses or work for an agency. There are pros and cons to both options. Working for yourself can be great, with increased financial rewards and freedom. However, running the actual business involves looking for work, bidding on jobs, administration and paperwork. On average, 30% – 50% of a computer consultants working hours are spent on the management of the business itself, with only 50 to 70% of the time available for billed work.
Working for an agency increases the time available to actually work and keep your skills up to date, but there is a cost that must be paid to the agency for the locating and management of the project engagements. Some agencies offer health benefits and training allowances. These options may be worth the difference in net income in the long run.
One thing fascinating about these guys is the different conclusions they reach about saving the same basic problem can be. That's because all computer guys are extremely opinionated and have vastly different beliefs regarding hardware, software or anything else.
For example, if you wind up hiring a Linux guy, he'll implement all sorts of solutions for you based around that operating system. The same goes for folks who advocate Windows or Mac.
The point? It's a good idea to take stock of what your company has invested heavily in and to find out whether the consultant is well versed in that technology. If not, you might have to make more costly changes than you had in mind to solve problems that may have been handled well with at least some of what you already had.