Why specializing may help IT consultants cash in

The U.S. government and private industry predict growth in specific IT areas over the next five years. Susan Harkins says having a niche often means being able to charge more for your services.

 "Knowledge is power." — Sir Francis Bacon

If you're an IT consultant, knowledge can also mean money in your pocket. Knowing where IT managers and leaders expect their departments to grow over the next few years is the first step to preparing yourself to meet their needs.

One piece of interesting information that's being repeated in a number of technology publications is that Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 will be a boon to the IT industry. A cool $20 billion is predicted to create one million technology-related jobs. The bill aims to modernize our technology infrastructure in several ways:

  • Digitizing healthcare records. Only four percent of U.S. physicians have a fully functional electronic records system, and a large part of stimulus payments will go toward training personnel to use electronic record systems.
  • Adopting energy efficient practices, aimed mostly at large data centers.
  • Expanding broadband networks. As a consultant, you might not be involved in the expansion, but you can certainly help your clients take advantage of that expansion.

Companies within the industry who are lucky enough to secure those government contracts will need more developers, managers, and even IT consultants. Being prepared to support the necessary technologies could put you in demand.

You don't have to look to the government bailout for new business. A 2008 survey by Forrester Consulting reported that companies are encouraging in-house specialties among their IT staff. In particular, companies are looking for professionals who specialize in wireless networking, security, and voice (telephony and VoIP). The surveyed companies plan to increase dedicated coverage over the next five years. According to the survey data:

  • Security will grow 34 percent.
  • Voice will grow 29 percent.
  • Wireless networking will grow 27 percent.

What does this mean for your consultancy?

Most importantly, it means that both the government and private industry are increasing their IT budgets. Money for IT professionals is going to be available if you know where to look. Furthermore, these dollars will chase those professionals who specialize in specific areas. If you can specialize in one of these hot areas, not only will you have plenty of work, but you'll be in a position to charge more for that knowledge. Specialization almost always equates to higher fees.

If you're an independent consultant, it might be time to consider a coop agreement with other consultants who specialize. You won't be competing for the same money, and the referral fees are a nice bonus.

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Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

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