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Consultants need technological foresight to capitalize on growing sectors

TechRepublic members predicted the government, healthcare, and financial services sectors will be hot consulting service consumers in the coming year. Find out where consultants should focus their skill-building efforts to stay competitive this year.

In a recent TechRepublic poll, our members predicted that the healthcare, government, and financial services sectors would have the greatest demand for consulting services this year. To follow up, we asked experts from the tech trenches to explain why these sectors will require consulting services and how consultants can make the most of the prospective needs.

Dean McMann is the CEO of Ransford, a firm that tracks trends in the consulting industry and provides consulting for professional services firms. Eric Goldfarb is the CIO for Global Knowledge, a provider of IT education solutions and certification programs. In interviews with TechRepublic, the two weighed in on their recommendations for newbie consultants and their experienced counterparts.

They both said consultants should bone up on their core consulting skills, like presentations and public speaking, and continue to hone their technical knowledge and skills, perhaps in a specialized area like wireless technologies and Web development.

Second of two parts
This article discusses the skills that consultants will need to capitalize on growth sectors this year. Last week’s article, "2002's hottest industries for consulting work," gives McMann’s and Goldfarb's explanations for the increased spending in the government, healthcare, and financial services industries.

Focus on how technology will transform business
Instead of focusing on a specific technology, McMann said consultants should strive to be a part of teams working on projects that focus on how technology is going to change business. He also suggested that consultants should get involved in any research projects their firm is conducting.

"I'd want to drive myself into those technology 'new thought' projects," he said. "I always want to be on the cutting edge of what we are using technology for today, what we will be using it for tomorrow."

To that end, McMann advises that consultants should try to become " the ultimate generalist in abilities and a specialist in technology." Although he cautions consultants not to focus on any one technology, he thought wireless could be an exception because he believes it will become a pervasive technology that will change the way we do business.

What are other consultants learning?
In addition to security—which cuts across all industries—Goldfarb said many of the IT training requests he’s seen recently have been concentrated in five areas:
  • Programming languages, especially Java, C++, and C
  • Web development courses focusing on HTML, XML, Oracle Developer 2000, Visual Studio/Base, and Active Server Pages
  • Database training in Microsoft SQL Server, and Oracle
  • Operating systems, especially Windows 2000 and Linux
  • Networking, especially TCP/IP, routing, Ethernet switching and 10BaseT switching, Windows NT/2000 Server on local area networks

Goldfarb said the programming languages in particular could be applicable in healthcare, government, and financial services because those industries set up business-to-business type applications to streamline processes. Web development courses, on the other hand, seem to be more in demand in the government sector, which will require consultants to implement better document management techniques in the coming years.

Consultants with XML and/or database expertise, and who can help automate transactions for the financial services sectors and manage content for the healthcare organizations, are also in demand, Goldfarb said.

Choose your sector: Advice for the inexperienced consultant
Depending on your level of experience, you'll look at different areas on which to focus your growth, McMann said. New consultants who are choosing a sector to grow in may find financial services work most appealing, he said.

"That's one of the most exciting fields," McMann said. "It doesn't preclude you from moving, whereas if you're in healthcare, you get segmented eventually."

He said consultants who choose healthcare or government as a focus now are making a choice about their entire consulting career because the work in either industry is so specialized.

"Government is a perennial great place to consult, but once you're in there, the procurement process and the relationship process really tends to be repetitive,” he said.

Beyond financial services, McMann’s next choice of a focus area would be the telecom industry, which he expects will continue to grow during the next 15 years.

Advice for more experienced consultants
If you have mastered the writing, speaking, presentation, and sales skills that successful consulting requires, you might gravitate toward the government and healthcare sectors, McMann said. While they don't offer the "fun work" of financial services and telecom, those sectors will offer steady work with opportunities to make "a big impact."

"You can get into them at any point in your career, really," McMann said. "There's a learning curve, but it's not like the learning curve of how to consult, which is what you learn your first five years."

How are you preparing to serve these sectors?
Are you enrolled in new certification courses? Are you networking with potential clients in the healthcare, financial services, or government sectors in the hopes of landing some new contracts? Tell us how you're preparing to serve these industries.

 
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