The life of a big data consultant can take many different turns. If you’re interested in pursuing this path, make sure you understand how consultants fit into an organization’s strategy from both top-down planning to bottom-up execution.
Consulting careers have the potential to be rewarding, both financially and intellectually. But that high reward comes with high demands. For example, you’re expected to spend 80 percent of your time conducting billable hours. You can charge billable time when you’re actively working on something related to your customer.
Who is a consultant?
As a consultant, you need to be a problem solver. You need to recognize what needs to be done to help businesses overcome pressing issues.
Types of consultants
There are two main categories within the consulting community that pretty much any consultant will fit into: management consultant and systems integrator.
The management consultants are focused on business or the business of technology and strategy, whereas systems integrators are focused on the implantation of technology.
Management consultants focus on strategy and planning. They tend to operate at the executive level and address issues that have an impact on the balance sheet.
Here are some common questions that management consultants are hired to answer:
- “I’ve heard a lot about big data, but what does it mean to my business?”
As a management consultant, you help set the strategy and build a road map for the business leaders to capitalize on big data. You help them translate technology into business value by driving out costs or increasing revenues from the application of big data.
- “What does big data mean for my business and how are we going to react as an organization?”
Competitors are getting big data, and as a result, the market conditions are changing. How will companies react? As a management consultant, you help companies adjust to changing market conditions.
- “My marketing executives say they can use third-party social media data feeds to make product pricing decisions. Can we do that in our firm? What about privacy?”
Management consultants also help drive corporate policy and how companies will use customer data. Sometimes it is legal to use customer information for business purposes, but will it erode trust? Management consultants can help answer these questions.
- “We need to use big data here at our company, but we have no idea where to start and what this will mean for our operational model.”
Management consultants provide a strategic road map for clients to implement new initiatives. With those plans, clients can employ their people, or hire systems integrators to implement the work.
- “I have an idea to start a new business unit, but I need help to operationalize the data and understand the impact it will have on the balance sheet. I need to build the business case for my executive committee.”
Executives often need the help of consultants to build the business case to justify the needed investment in big data.
- “We’re changing how we procure and use technology for data — from hardware, software, to implementation resources and even our chargeback model. We need help to look at how we procure and finance our data strategy for the future.”
Management consultants provide advice about what technology to purchase and how to finance that purchase.
Systems integrators are responsible for the actual implementation work or the delivery of projects. Here are some common questions that systems integrators are hired to answer:
- “We’re building a big data team and need business analytics experts to help us execute.”
Systems integrators can come in and shore up gaps in skills for companies.
- “The CIO is supporting the marketing department on big data this year. We need help to establish best practices around data management.”
Systems integrators not only provide discrete tech talent, but also can manage large projects, provide best practices, and teach their clients how to execute after they’ve left.
- “Our IT department has no skills in Hadoop. We need a consultant for six months.”
Systems integrators can provide entire project teams with skills for a fixed amount of time.
- “Our firm has 60 petabytes of customer data, and we need help getting our big data team up and running.”
A systems integrator can help augment the existing in-house talent.
- “Our firm has released a request for proposal for a big data Center of Excellence within the company. We need a consulting firm to help us start and run that project.”
Management consultants help companies write requests for proposals. These requests are sent to systems integrators to bid and are usually for very large and complex projects. Systems integrators bid on the projects with their solutions, prices, and schedules to provide solutions for clients.
Companies in the management consulting industry
Just like in any profession, some companies stand head and shoulders above the others. These are the companies that have stood the test of time and have a long trail of successes to point to. In this section, we look at companies in the consulting industry that fit that description.
Management consultants Management consulting is great place for you to work if you want a dynamic career in big data. Within that world, technology consulting has grown more than 10 percent. This community is dominated by two groups of companies: the Big Three and the Big Four.
The Big Three includes:
The Big Four includes:
Big data is a growing trend within all these organizations and they’re building focused big data practices, which means they need more consultants at both introductory and experienced levels.
These firms put a high priority on intellectual prowess and problem solving in their hiring methods.
Aptitude in statistics, math, and analytics is critical when working within the consulting firms that have big data practices, but your chances of landing and succeeding at interviews depends on
Performance on case interviews: How you do on case interviews is a huge part of landing jobs. Case interviews reveal how you think, solve problems, react under pressure, and display your analytical abilities. You must prepare in order perform well here.
Systems integrators Years ago, there was a funny commercial advertising IBM services. The ad showed three consultants in suits with a 300-page plan for implementing new technology. The business sponsor asked when they were going to do it. The consultants looked at each other and, with a snobby laugh, replied, “We actually don’t do anything.” I’m certainly not saying that management consultants don’t do anything, but when it comes to marshaling people to go about the work of implementation, companies look to systems integrators.
The systems integrator community is dominated by firms like the following:
Boutique consulting firms
Boutique consulting firms can be either management consultants or systems integrators. They’re characterized by being focused on a particular discipline or industry, like marketing, financial services, or construction. Here are 15 boutique data analytics firms in india: boutique analytics firms
Career path of a consultant
The Career Path of a consultant, from Associate to Partner Career paths within consulting firms may differ from company to company, but they generally follow a prescribed path of growth based on experience, contribution, and the ability to generate fees for the firm. Consulting firms are typically organized as a partnership. The following list of titles can vary from firm to firm but they tend to follow this general pattern:
- Associate: Associate is the entry-level position right out of school. Associates have high analytical and business aptitude but limited experience. These people are generally hired straight out of undergrad.
- Consultant: Consultants have been with the firm for a few years and have grown in experience, industry knowledge, and skill. As a consultant, you gain more delivery responsibility and are in line for a leadership position.
- Project leader: This role can be multilevel. Some firms break this job out into manager and senior manager. Here, you must serve as a playercoach. You’re expected to plan, deliver the work product, and lead the team. More senior-level leaders are also responsible for identifying and winning new business.
- Principal/partner: The top rung of the ladder is reserved for the partner. The partner shares in the profits of the practice and is often personally responsible for key clients.
As a consultant, you’re there to produce fee income while building value for your client. Fee income is how consulting firms make money. When you work, you produce for the consulting firm. You also need to provide value for your clients, or your firm won’t get hired to do more work and thus generate more fee income. The more experienced you are, the more you can bill.
What is experience? It’s a combination of showing a successful track record and happy clients over time. Most professionals enter a consulting firm as an associate and follow the partner/principal model. The associate makes up the bulk of the workforce and often does the real work in the firm, be it as a management consultant or a systems integrator.
As an associate, you can expect that your life will be filled with a high volume of client work and career development training. People generally spend a few years as an associate and gain competencies in their area of specialty. As those skills grow, so do the areas of responsibility. Associates move to levels like senior associate, manager, and senior manager.
In most firms, a senior manager (or the equivalent like a project leader) is expected to generate new revenue for the practice. This is a critical step toward gaining the coveted partner or principal position.