Consulting By Design

For one thing, successful consultants display a high tolerance for risk and thrive under pressure. “I get to bail out of the stable part of the execution and move on to the next project,” says Ellis. Yet even someone who enjoys the pressure-cooker lifestyle can feel squeezed. “Everyone has heard of projects that went three times over budget and took three times as long. Every day that you’re on a complex project, that potential is there. You have to constantly have your finger on the pulse of the project and ask yourself what could go wrong.”

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In addition, most consulting requires a lot of travel and very little in the way of support. Pettibone’s staff all carry laptops and fire off their own presentations and visuals.

The pace of change is much faster in consulting, where one must rapidly understand -and provide value- in new situations. Most consultants labor near the front-edge of technology, says Ellis, and must continually invest in understanding emerging technologies.

Ultimately, successful consultants must demonstrate a unique combination of confidence and showmanship. “Otherwise it’s difficult to convince someone to spend a lot of money to listen to your words of wisdom,” says Ellis. Knowing that a company is paying $300 to $400 an hour for his services also contributes to the pressure to deliver.

The fact is “good consultants work hard because they enjoy it,” says Pettibone. As a result, they may be well paid. But don’t expect to make the $300,000 you made last year right off the bat, he says, suggesting that some CIOs were overpaid and are having trouble adjusting to the competitive open market. “If you just go into consulting because it’s the only thing left to do, you will be unhappy, do a lousy job and disappoint clients.”

More information

BlueSpline Ltd.

Enterprise Technology Management

Executive Recruiter

Transition Partners Co.

Yet even CIOs who choose to stay in corporate jobs can benefit from better internal consultants to senior managers, Ellis points out. And certain skills -the ability to listen, to hold a big-picture view, and to implement change rapidly- are important for every top technologist. Whether they choose to stay in the corporate space or try their hand in the advice business, CIOs can benefit from understanding the role of consulting in a changed economy and in their own careers.

Eva Marer is a freelance business and technology reporter based in New York. She covers investments, personal finance and corporate technology issues for a variety of trade and consumer magazines. Contact her at [email protected].

Editor’s note: Join an ongoing discussion about CIOs becoming consultants in the CIN Forum. Visit the thread under Focused Discussions by clicking here.