Software

Don't let your niche become an empty buzzword

When a reader asks for advice about whether to be a cloud migration specialist, Chip Camden suggests how to expand the substance of his niche offering.

TechRepublic reader Michael Nicholas sent me an email which said in part:

I've been working in IT as a middleware administrator with some project management. I worked on contract as an email migration consultant and loved everything about it.

I want to become a full time consultant on my own but want to specialize in the next generation of enterprise IT. Some say that's cloud computing. Keeping with the migration theme I was thinking of a cloud migration specialist. Email, apps etc.

In what area of training should I focus? Storage in the cloud? Microsoft cloud services? Any ideas you can offer I would certainly appreciate.

I certainly agree with the idea of establishing a niche for yourself that's in high demand, and it seems like everybody these days is trying to take a ride on the magic cloud. I often wonder, though, how much of that is mere fad versus solving a real business need. If you tie your identity too much to the fad, then when it inevitably fades, so will your business.

That doesn't mean it isn't a good niche, but it does mean that you need to be careful to make a solid business proposition out of it, and not just ride the hype. There are at least two dimensions in which you can expand the substance of your offering. We'll call them depth and breadth.

  • Depth: get beyond the fanboyism and analyze exactly what benefits and constraints the various cloud-based strategies provide, so you can tailor a solution to exactly what the client needs rather than forcing them into a "one size fits all." From that perspective, it doesn't make sense to me to limit yourself to one vendor's solutions, even if you tend to prefer one over the others. Remember that the most important thing is solving your client's problems in a way that will make them want to come back to you with their next problem.
  • Breadth: avoid limiting yourself to only this specialty. Cloud-based strategies aren't the best solution to every problem. Think about auxiliary or alternative services that you can provide as well. If you demonstrate an ability to work with different technologies, then your client will call on you to advise them on all sorts of problems. Most importantly, you won't get written off as the cloud guy once something else becomes the new cloud.

Most new technologies go through a hype phase where they're touted as the answer to everything. Some of them pass and we never hear from them again, but most survive in some form or another because they contain important innovations that led to the hype in the first place. For the long haul, it's important to identify the substance, and exploit it for the benefit of your clients.

I have to admit I haven't really addressed Michael's question about training. Are there any cloud migration specialists out there among our readers who would care to offer suggestions?

About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

6 comments
Greg Miliates
Greg Miliates

Whatever your niche, you need to provide value. Most often, value can be boiled down to either helping the client make money or save money. Figuring out ways to save money--by streamlining and/or automating workflow, for example--is typically easier than finding ways for your clients to make more money. Although being in IT, we're typically in the know about new tools & technologies that can be used to help make clients more money. Either way, what you probably want to do is see whether people are actively searching for solutions in your niche (Google Keyword Tool is great for this), since you can often estimate the size and profitability of a market by looking at how many people are searching for relevant keywords, seeing how competitve particular keywords are, and how much advertisers are willing to pay for advertising using relevant keywords. Greg Miliates StartMyConsultingBusiness dot com

biancaluna
biancaluna

Guys, I've been assisting clients with feasibility and integration of cloud based services for over 4 years. When does cloud start to become a service offering? I am not quite sure anymore if this is a niche. After I did my first cloud transition for a large Uni, I was doing a lot of consulting with other universities as it was a bit of a bleeding edge project. IMHO feasibility and integration are two important areas to assess and address within the consultancy and assisting your client with the decision making process if a cloud based platform/service/storage/application is the best solution for their business problem. Here is what I have seen in the past 4 years - a view of cloud from a migration perspective only leads to failed projects. There are significant business issues to address before one can make the decision, risk assessment is an area that must be in the consultants tool set. I also think that it is important to know the players and their services in and out and keep yourself abreast of the market. Some of the Tier 1's such as HP are offering Cloud but it is really a rebadged centralised computing platform. Typically, I would take a client right back to a business case stage and explore the options based on economic, cultural, ongoing support, integration and technical criteria and I would include an exit strategy and the ability to separate data from application tiers in hat assessment. From a training perspective, I would recommend Michael may need to get the skills to undertake a feasibility study and the development of a business case, I would also recommend that some form of enterprise architecture is desirable. Cloud has some interesting aspects in the data and privacy space and you need to understand the legislative framework of your country at a high level - and understand the Patriot, Safe Harbour and other data protection acts that go beyond borders. If you look at a Salesforce for example, the way requirements are done is a bit different than the way we did it in ye good olde days and Salesforce provide training how to do that. Not every project is suitable for a Salesforce app and you need to understand how you can assess that pretty quickly. I am being a bit specific, but it is to illustrate a point. Integration is a key component of implementing cloud based services, and I have done some training on data modelling, applications architecture and all that good stuff. I guess any cloud based migration requires a transition to an operational mode, whereby the support and service delivery frameworks are almost like an outsourced structure, so if you want to do some end to end consulting from feasibility through to implementation migration and transition, I would also suggest ITIL foundation is a good training. A lot of the cloud providers (wether it be for collaboration, storage, application or any other service in the cloud) work with integrators, I guess you could choose to get on board with one of those companies for a bit before you venture out on your own. Having said that, I jumped in a project that implemented a cloud based environment with a different set of eyes and somehow ended up as an "expert" - which still makes me laugh but it also keeps me in contracts. Technically? APIs, Python, migration tools, data conversion, .NET, third party controls. I guess has all come in handy for me but the technology side is not my forte - feasibility, project planning, risk management, exit strategy and integration has been feeding my desire for wine and cheese for quite a while. Sheesh I am always wordy, I don't get out much :). Chip and Glen are right, if you apply broader high level skills that I have mentioned to Cloud, even when Cloud becomes Rain or Thunder, you can continue to work. Good luck!

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I like to avoid buzzwords and try to describe what it does instead. On the other hand, it would be good to get a marketing boost from the cloud craze. What do you think?

apotheon
apotheon

Once "cloud" comes to mean something specific and relevant -- that is, once it comes to mean something meaningful -- it will perhaps qualify as a service offering rather than a buzzword fad. As long as you can say "cloud migration" and people aren't sure what the heck that means in technical terms because it could mean almost anything, it's just a buzzword fad.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

Sorry Chip ... but one of the difficult concepts that IS/IT people have is understanding the difference between solution, market and customer. So I'm going to have to jump on your use of the word niche. Think of it as three layers: micro-market = problem being solved niche = customer being served solution = how you are going to solve problems In IS/IT we often mix up the three. It's one of the reasons we have so many problems trying to sell our solutions ... and yet when we get it right we tend to have explosive sales. You can think of it as a three dimensional matrix (e.g. a Rubiks cube without the ability to move). Your job is to reach the specific block that will give you the best results. From the top you are seeing all the customers you could choose. From one side you are seeing all the problems you could solve. From the remaining direction you are seeing all the ways to solve problems. Your job is to identify the specific customer you are going to deal with (the niche). This allows you to identify how best to connect with them. Your next job is to identify the problem that you will solve (the market or more properly micro-market). This allows you to state the solution in terms the customer understands. The third task is to identify the solution you will use. (Which noone really cares about). (I'm going to call this the fad in a moment). Do all three and you've found the buyer. (Presuming there are enough to justify the effort). The problem is that in IS/IT we tend to go the other way round and skip pieces. If we actually get all the pieces then we've got a methodology or solution. If we skip we've got a fad (or solution looking for a problem). There's nothing wrong with jumping on a fad to market our solution. But we need to be sure we have a niche/market/solution combination or we'll just end up making marketing noise. Glen Ford, PMP http://www.trainingnow.ca http://www.learningcreators.com/blog

apotheon
apotheon

You're basically using a pseudo-buzzwordy redefinition of the word "niche" to claim that Sterling is misusing "niche" as a buzzword. That's either ironic or simply funny. niche (n.): 3. a. A situation or activity specially suited to a person's interests, abilities, or nature b. A special area of demand for a product or service Meanwhile, a target "market" is your pool of customers based on their economic demands. In essence, then, a niche is a subset of problems you are qualified to solve for customers within your target market. When you start redefining terms to make "niche" equal "customer" and "market" equal "problem" (micro- or otherwise), you're inventing buzzwordy labels for things, which is the opposite of what you seem to think you're doing -- correcting Sterling's supposed use of a buzzword.

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