A consultant is an experienced individual in a given field who provides expert advice for a fee. Consultants typically work as independent contractors and are hired on a short-term basis. A consultant may also be an employee at a consulting firm.
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Consultants are often hired to help troubleshoot problems in complex systems, including the human body. Because a consultant performs in an advisory capacity and is not responsible for the end result, he or she has the freedom to identify problems and propose solutions that an internal source might be reluctant to advance.
Management and strategy consultants may be generalists, providing expert advice for a fairly wide range of business concerns. They may focus on business process reengineering, working with line-of-business and/or mid-level managers to implement a new process or revise a current process to get things running smoothly again. More typically, however, a consultant provides expertise in a highly targeted area, one in which it would it would be impractical or too costly to hire someone as a full-time employee.
Types of information technology (IT) consultants
IT consultants help individuals or businesses make technology purchase or strategy decisions and resolve technology challenges. A consultant may serve as a short-term virtual CIO, providing expert advice on IT strategy to a company that lacks high-level IT expertise in house.
Today, IT consultants often work for value-added resellers (VARs), systems integrators and other service providers that offer consulting services within a broader portfolio of offerings. An enterprise deploying a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system may opt to hire a consultant recommended by their vendor, rather than train employees in-house or hire new employees who would become surplus to requirements once the system is installed.
VARs sometimes partner with consultants in a sales engineering capacity. Such a consultant examines the client's immediate business or technology needs and recommends products, services, or other IT solutions that can address those needs. Similarly, systems integrators may rely on IT consultants to assess a client's business and technology challenges, identify opportunities for process optimization and suggest ways technology can support the organization's business objectives.
Managed service providers (MSPs) may use consultants to work with customers who need to create an IT plan or manage technology refreshment projects. MSPs are often founded by technicians and engineers, so the consulting approach helps them bridge the gap between their technical services and their often non-technical customers. Many MSP clients are small businesses that lack an IT department.
Consultants focused on cloud computing help clients define their requirements, select public cloud services, build private clouds and manage data and application migration. They may also help create cloud governance strategies that aim to keep cloud costs in check and help organizations get the most value out of the cloud investments. With cloud consulting, specializations occur within the cloud specialization. A consulting firm may specialize in a particular cloud platform such as Salesforce, ServiceNow or Workday.
Other popular areas of expertise include IT security, information governance and e-discovery and compliance. Consultants in these areas of expertise may be hired to assess an organization's security risks, identify vulnerabilities and recommend remediation strategies, help clients comply with government regulations and mitigate risk.